10 behind the scenes Anchorman facts as classic comedy turns 20

News team, assemble. Here's everything you didn't already know about Will Ferrell's anarchic newsroom comedy.

Will Ferrell first played Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 20 years ago. (DreamWorks/Alamy)
Will Ferrell first played Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 20 years ago. (DreamWorks/Alamy)

For people who grew up in the 2000s, there might not be a funnier movie than Anchorman. Directed by Adam McKay and co-written by the director and star Will Ferrell, the film followed the sexist buffoons of a San Diego TV station in the 1970s. This week, the movie turns 20 years old.

So now's a good time to revisit the film and take a closer look to uncover some secrets from behind the scenes. With Ferrell at the summit of the cast and an ensemble packed with comedy talent both established and new, the film was an explosion of wit, improvisation, and pure chaos.

But how well do you really know the KVWN staff and their unique world? News team, assemble!

Will Ferrell considers Anchorman to be his best movie. (DreamWorks/Alamy)
Will Ferrell considers Anchorman to be his best movie. (DreamWorks/Alamy)

Will Ferrell probably loves Anchorman as much as you do. In fact, he considers it the brightest spot in his enviable comedy filmography. In a 2017 interview with The Ringer, he said: "The [movie] that stands out as the favourite, and it’s a hard choice, is Anchorman. Because of the journey that it took. And it’s kind of the Cinderella story of the movie no one wanted to make."

Read more: Anchorman director tried to adapt The Boys into a movie trilogy 16 years ago (Total Film)

Anchorman first came about when Ferrell was working on Saturday Night Live and then moved through many different iterations before it finally made its way to the big screen. It required a lot of people to take a chance on Ferrell and first-time director McKay.

The first script was based on a horrifying true story

In the finished form of Anchorman, it has very little in common with Alive — the 1993 disaster movie about the tragic fate of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 and the passengers who crashed in the Andes. However, an early version of the script was heavily inspired by that story, according to Ferrell.

He told The Ringer: "Ron convinces the pilot that he knows how to fly the charter jet, and he immediately crash-lands it in the mountains. And it’s just the story of them surviving and trying to get off the mountainside."

The story also involved orangutans with Chinese throwing stars. In Ferrell's own admission, it was "a little too kooky", and the subsequent version was definitely better. We can't help but agree.

Ben Stiller could have had a bigger Anchorman role than his cameo as Arturo Mendez. (DreamWorks)
Ben Stiller could have had a bigger Anchorman role than his cameo as Arturo Mendez. (DreamWorks)

There are dozens of comedy greats in the cast of Anchorman but, as is always the case, there were plenty of near-misses. Ben Stiller eventually showed up during the fight scene in a brief cameo, but he was originally in the frame to play Paul Rudd's role as Brian Fantana. The project coincided with Stiller's rise to comedy leading man fame, so he was slightly too big to play a supporting role at this stage.

Read more: Ben Stiller says his daughter called him out for 'not being there' during her childhood (Insider)

John C Reilly was another star unlucky to miss out. He was in line to play Champ Kind and ultimately made such an impression on Ferrell that the star wrote him a role in 2006's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Other big names on the huge list of stars who nearly joined the cast include Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, Dan Aykroyd, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Quite the roster.

The iconic fight scene between the various news teams is arguably Anchorman's most famous moment. But according to Saul Austerlitz’s book Kind of a Big Deal: How Anchorman Stayed Classy and Became the Most Iconic Comedy of the Twenty-First Century (via Vanity Fair), it nearly got cut before cameras even rolled. The scene was — perhaps understandably — deemed too unwieldy. But we're glad it made it to the screen in the end.

The news fight has become one of Anchorman's most famous sequences. (DreamWorks/Alamy)
The news fight has become one of Anchorman's most famous sequences. (DreamWorks/Alamy)

According to the Austerlitz extract, the ensemble of stars who appeared in the fight scene got the chance to stamp their own impact on it by choosing their weapons. Prop master Scott Maginnis laid out an array of weaponry, both sensible and absurd, for the cast to select. First AD Matt Rebenkoff said: "The actors came, and they said ‘I’ll take that one’, like they were really going to go into battle."

Read more: The director of 'Anchorman' says he vowed to never work with animals again after a close call with a bear (Insider)

There's no doubt that including the actors in this process made the scene even more chaotic and unpredictable than it would already have been. And in a movie built so heavily on improvisation, that's exactly what you want.

Anchorman arrived in cinemas a few years before Mad Men first aired on TV. But the most famous star of that TV show did make a very brief cameo. In the credits for Ron Burgundy's news broadcast, Jon Hamm and Adam Scott are listed as writers. In this case, both actors were friends of producer Shauna Robertson, who managed to get their names in the movie before their rise to fame.

There's a hidden meaning behind this sign at a Mexican restaurant in Anchorman. (DreamWorks)
There's a hidden meaning behind this sign at a Mexican restaurant in Anchorman. (DreamWorks)

During one scene, Veronica visits a Mexican restaurant while planning to sabotage Ron Burgundy's autocue. The restaurant is called "Escupimos en su Alimento". For viewers who know their Spanish, they'll be able to note that this means "we spit in his/her food". Probably best to stay away from those quesadillas.

It's no secret that all of the stars in Anchorman were given free reign to improvise and take scenes in whatever direction would be funniest. Ferrell is one of the more gifted improvisers in Hollywood and was very comfortable riffing and trying outlandish ideas.

Read more: Former Frat Boy Will Ferrell Wants to Ban Fraternities Altogether (ET)

But on a particular hot day, he was handed a carton of milk by the props department. He lifted the carton and poured it through his beard, exclaiming: "It’s so damn hot. Milk was a bad choice." Rather than trying to come up with a funny line, Ferrell was trying to work his way out of the situation. Being a consummate pro, though, he did it in his Ron Burgundy voice. So it went in the movie and became one of the most quoted moments.

Will Ferrell could actually have been a real journalist. (NBC/Getty)
Will Ferrell could actually have been a real journalist. (NBC/Getty)

Though he had already flexed his comedy muscles at high school, the young Will Ferrell went to the University of Southern California, where he studied sports broadcasting. So in another life, Ferrell could've been the real version of David Koechner's character: Champ Kind. He took an internship at a local TV station, but didn't enjoy it. He had a different career path in mind, though it still eventually took him to the newsroom.

In 2013, a Washington-based journalism museum called the Newseum opened up 'Anchorman: The Exhibit'. The exhibition was home to various props from the movies, including Ron's jazz flute, his personalised vehicle numberplate, and a moustache brush.

Read more: Five Of The Best Movies About Journalism (Yahoo Entertainment)

Unfortunately, there's no sign of a new version of the Anchorman exhibition and the Newseum closed its doors in 2019. Presumably all of these valuable journalistic artefacts are locked away in a vault somewhere, and that's a crime.

Anchorman is available to stream on Prime Video and Paramount+ in the UK.