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'Anchorman' creator talks Ron Burgundy

America's love affair with Ron Burgundy did not escalate quickly.

AMERICA'S love affair with Ron Burgundy did not escalate quickly.

"Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" had a decent opening in July 2004, followed by a fairly standard drop in subsequent weeks and was pretty much gone a month later.

It wasn't until the movie arrived on DVD, cable and YouTube, where its individually digestible comic sequences were ripe for optimum consumption, that the country's great love for its worst newsreader took flower.

Co-creator Adam McKay remembers when it sunk in.

"The first time we knew that 'Anchorman' was sticking was about a year after it came out. Someone sent us a picture of a troop carrier or a Hummer over in Iraq. Someone had stenciled Burgundy on it, and it said 'Stay classy, Baghdad,' " said McKay. "And then we got like five other pictures like that of other guys doing it, and hearing that military guys loved it, and were quoting it."

Along with everybody else in America. Burgundy-isms are now part of the nation's common language. Pull a quote from "Anchorman," and you'll know that 60 percent of the time, it will work every time.

McKay, who grew up in Malvern, returned to Philadelphia recently to promote the sequel. Philly had a significant influence on the "Anchorman" films: Both McKay and his longtime writing partner and the film's star, Will Ferrell, have said the character was inspired by Mort Crim, a real-life anchorman, now retired, who worked at Channel 3 in the 1970s. (For Crim's take on Burgundy, see Molly Eichel, Page 8.)

I asked McKay if he could account for the culture's Ron-umental regard for Burgundy.

He's given the matter some thought.

"Someone brought up the point that if you look at it, 'Mad Men' and 'Anchorman' are city and country cousins. There's this line of demarcation between the old world and new world, and Burgundy and Don Draper are clearly from the old world - premental health, prealcoholism," he said.

Before men who belonged to privileged classes were forced to take a hard look at ingrained sexism (the subject of "Anchorman") and racism (a theme in the sequel).

"Part of it is that, even though we know these are horrible guys, in some ways, there is an appeal to the simplicity of it. Back then, you could trounce around the world as a white male like Burgundy, and the consequences were just different," McKay said. "So in a way I think it was simpler, and there is a naivety to it that people respond to. And, on the basic level, it's just funny. I think 'Mad Men' has to try not to be funny."

Ron Burgundy, on the other hand, has to be funny without trying to be. In the new film, he has a job on a cable news network, and an African-American love interest (Meagan Good), which he handles with his usual clumsiness.

"In this one, we're dealing with him not understanding race, and it's clear that he's just ignorant," McKay said.

The movie observes, rather acidly, that as an ignoramus, Ron is ideally suited to help cable news down the road to foolishness - there's an anger to the movie's critique of click-bait, impulse-driven news programs (Ron becomes the first guy to cut to a live car chase, trumping an interview with Yasser Arafat).

It's what McKay calls "nipple slip" news, which cable covers at the expense of worthwhile coverage of, say, war or the economy.

"I think we accidentally discovered that anger in ourselves, when we found ourselves in a position of taking a hard look at what was going on in that field. We're thinking - oh, wait a minute, that's up. Can we make this funny?"

That's the $50 million question, McKay said, referring to the movie's budget (twice what he had to work with in the original).

But studio money wasn't what made the original a cultural phenomenon. It was the spur-of-the moment, goofball bits of inspiration that McKay, Ferrell and company shaped into a gigantic comedy spitball.

"I compare it to a garage band. We only knew three chords, but we played really hard and we had a blast."

McKay has made several movies since and admits to "now kind of a little bit what I'm doing."

Given that, he had to ask himself: "Would knowing what we're doing kind of wreck the spirit of the first one?"

There was that danger, and the danger appealed to McKay and Ferrell.

"Ferrell and I looked at each other and said, 'Could we do it? It's going to be hard.' And that's when it was intriguing enough that we got excited."

Ferrell and McKay knew that the sequel had to be as free-associative and as out-there as the first one, a movie whose comic effervescence probably defies rational analysis.

Why is Ron Burgundy funny?

"Honestly," McKay said, "there's a part of me that almost doesn't want to know."