10 Items Or Less: Season 3 Preview

Season 3 of the TBS comedy 10 Items or Less premieres Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 11pm ET/PT, and we’ll be back to recap the highlights from each episode again this year. (Click here to catch up on our coverage from Season 2.) Season 3 brings a new nemesis for Leslie Pool (John Lehr) and the employees of the Ohio family-run grocery store Greens & Grains. The SuperValueMart next door wants to put the G&G out of business for good, and they’ve hired Mercedes “Mercy” P. Jones (Kim Coles) from New York to do the dirty work. We talked with Lehr again this year to give us a little preview of what’s ahead this season.

In Season 1 your goal was to introduce these characters, and in Season 2 you wanted to kind of branch them out and give them some more depth. What kind of goals did you have in mind for the show when doing Season 3?
John Lehr: The outside of our show is so absurd. I mean, we have some crazy stories. But now that we’ve grown these characters a little bit, I’d like to begin to kind of reroot them. Let them kind of be in the place that they were at the end of Season 2 and dig in a little bit. Now that we’ve expanded them in Season 2, to kind of get to know what we’ve expanded to. Ingrid is a great example. In Season 2, she lost her virginity. So this season, that’s kind of out of the way, and it’s like, “Who is this more powerful, sexually aware woman now?” Who is she? What’s she really about? And I think we get to it, especially in the “Sesquicentennial.” It’s about the 150th anniversary of the Greens & Grains, and she ends up getting hit on by a — well, I don’t want to give it away — but it’s a polygamist who hits on her. She’s dressing like a pioneer because we’re celebrating the 150-year history of the Greens & Grains, and he mistakes her for an FLDS woman. And he’s totally a handsome guy, and we see her go to this next level of dating and guys and what it’s all about.

So I understand that Leslie gets a new nemesis from SuperValueMart in Season 3, since Amy is now in a work camp serving time for tax evasion.
JL: Amy’s in jail, although you never know, she may appear again. Jennifer Elise Cox did such an awesome job for us, and we love her. But you know, we want to continue to expand the world of the show, so the nemesis is just such a great way of doing that. We’re bringing in Kim Coles. And she delivered beyond my wildest dreams. She really comes through. She’s just as evil as Amy, but she’s got kind of this New York thing going. She’s from New York — her character is — and Kim is too, actually. She’s got this New York thing, and she’s also I think a lot smarter than Amy, so some of her evil deeds are much more subtle and interwoven and they kind of grab you from behind.

Was it sort of weird adding a new principal cast member after working with the same group for two seasons and building a bond and a chemistry?
JL: Absolutely. I was nervous about it, because we have been so lucky with our cast. This show relies so heavily on the actors, more so than any other show I think — except for maybe Reno 911! or some of these shows that improv like we do. You’re really asking these people to generate material as well as inhabit these characters, and we’ve just been so lucky to get some great peeps. So yeah, I was a little nervous, but I did an interview in Chicago on Kim’s show. Kim was hosting a show in Chicago, and when I met her, she was awesome. I told my partner Nancy [Hower] about her, and we met with her and she was just perfect. Just perfect. She has just such a great attitude. This show is really hard to do. It’s not like a sitcom where you roll into the studio at 10:00 and you leave at 3:00. Sitcoms are super easy jobs, but this show, you actually have to work for a living. You have to constantly generate material for 10 hours a day. Finally actors actually have to earn their money. To throw her into that — you never know how people are going to react — and she just totally rocked it from the beginning. And in fact, her first day on the set was really disturbing because we shoot in Reseda in a real grocery store, and we had a terrible fly problem. Terrible. Our offices are above the store, so we had all of these flies all over the f***ing place. And Leslie’s office — we built an office upstairs above this grocery store — it was like The Amityville Horror. There were like maybe 25 flies in there, and she walks in on her first day of shooting, and I was like, “Oh my God, she’s going to just turn around and just walk out.” But she didn’t. She was a total team player. She rocked it.

Sometimes during the show I see random customers reacting to what the characters are doing, and I’ve always wondered if their reactions are real or scripted. Do actual customers at the store serve as extras for you?
JL: We do have extras, but most of the customers that you see are real people. The store is open for business while we shoot. We’ll be shooting a scene and somebody will walk right in. We’re not a big setup, and we have lights, we have three cameras, but you can never tell when we’re rolling. We don’t leave a big footprint in the store. We’re pretty mobile. So people don’t really know if we’re shooting or not, and they’ll just walk right into a scene, grab a loaf of bread and walk out. Most of the people you see are real. They’re real customers.

And their reactions are real?
JL: They’re reactions are real. We can’t direct them at all. We can’t or then we’d have to pay them. It usually works out. Usually I’m doing something outrageous anyway, so somebody just staring at me works. If they’re really featured in the shot, chances are it’s an actual extra. But if they’re not featured in the shot or if they just walk in — there’s countless times — some of our best extra reactions have come from real people.

One of the things I love most about the show — and maybe other people find them annoying — are the product placements and the clever ways you fit them in.
JL: [laughs] You know, I don’t know if people do find them annoying. I think people don’t like product placements that aren’t funny and are badly done, which I am one of those people. People know you’ve got to pay for the show somehow, because the commercials really aren’t doing it. Viewers are pretty savvy, for the most part. They get it. As long as it doesn’t take away, they’re totally good with it. In fact, we’ve won some awards for product placement, viewer-voted awards. The show would not be possible without them, and I think our regular viewers know that. They know that you’ve got to pay the bills, and that commercials just aren’t doing it. And so once you kind of accept that, then it’s like, “How well can we do it?” And we love it, man. We look forward to the product placements, because we really want to figure out a way to make it truly integrate. And the fact that we’re in a grocery store makes it just so easy.

What’s your process like for writing in a product placement?
JL: It’s kind of haphazard. We get assigned products early on. They’ll say, “Hey, it’s looking like Pepsi wants to do a spot on show No. 3.” And we’re in various stages of writing, so sometimes we’ll get the information at the perfect time. “Oh, we happen to be writing this episode. Perfect!” Other times, we’ll have already written the episode, and that’s the way it happens mostly. It happens very last-minute sometimes. Sometimes, literally things will change a few days before we shoot, even. We do have a hard cutoff where it’s like, “Look, you have to tell us by here or it’s not in.” But, for the most part we are very flexible and we are able to work it in. Nowadays, my partner Nancy and I, who write all the scripts, we kind of make a placeholder in every script that we know we can easily put a product placement in there. So we do that kind of for every script. Then if there’s a product placement, we slide it right in. And if not, we just go on with the scene as is. It’s kind of haphazard.

Do they give you free rein with the placements?
JL: No, not at all. There’s a person from network who’s there, who’s watching, and making sure that we don’t do anything untoward. And every now and then the product will get a chance to see it before we air it. But our reputation is so good, that most of the time they don’t even need to see it. They know we’ll do a good job with it.

And I hear the Season 3 premiere is going to be commercial free.
JL: It’s pretty cool. It was just such a joy to not have to worry about act breaks, to have more time. It was lovely. And it’s a great episode. It’s about turkey bowling, and it’s gonna rock. There is nothing more satisfying to the human being than throwing a frozen piece of poultry down a grocery-store aisle. It’s unbelievable. You can’t not enjoy the turkey bowling. It’s impossible for human beings not to enjoy it.

Do you have a end in mind for 10 Items or Less? Is there a set end time in your mind when you want to stop telling the story?
JL: Oh, God. No. I will do 10 Items or Less when I am the only guy left from the original cast and I’m, like, bald with one leg. I’ll still be doing it. That show is so much fun to do. And you know, it’s my baby. It’s the first show that I’ve gotten on the air. And I’m involved in so many different ways. I don’t know. Probably we’ll talk in a couple of years, and I’ll be like, “Remember when I said that?” It’s just so much fun. TBS could pay me half what they pay me and I’d still do it. And I only say that because I know I have a contract.

Photo: ™ & © Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.

About Ryan Berenz 2120 Articles
Some things I like (in no particular order): Sports, Star Wars, LEGO, beer, 'The Simpsons' Seasons 1-13, my family and the few friends who are not embarrassed to be seen with me. Why yes, I am very interested in how much you like 'Alaskan Bush People.' #LynxForLife