On August 21, "The Soup" will celebrate its milestone 500th episode by going live for both its East and West Coast airings (10 p.m. ET/PT on E!) -- a feat that will be made all the more impressive (and potentially disastrous) because McHale apparently has "full on dyslexia ... I think it really brings a sense of danger," he quipped to a group of reporters gathered after the comedy show's 499th taping.
According to McHale and executive producer K.P. Anderson, the 500th episode will be structured much like any other "Soup" installment, with the added high-wire act of going live -- and two sets of guests -- but without a retrospective element. "I think live is pretty much the trick," Anderson said. "We’ll have a couple of little surprises along the way with our special guests. I think we, as a show, do better when the material is fresh and we have new jokes."
"Yeah, it should just be the show and [making] sure the jokes are dynamite," McHale agreed. "We'll learn real quick if they're not ... It's so funny, because we're like, ‘we're doing it live, isn't that so exciting?’ Yeah, like how they did television for years before tape was invented!"
McHale is the first to admit that no one envisioned the series lasting 500 episodes. "We have a 50-year plan. This is phase one. It's complete. Phase two is the next ten years," he joked. "I never thought it would go this far. No one ever thought that."
Anderson added, "When we first met and started talking about stuff, we were like 'okay, we're going to know each other for 13 weeks, because that's how long they told us we have.' We just decided collectively to make the show as dumb as we possibly could and keep going as long as they let us. It turned out that we were just so incredibly cheap that they wouldn't drop us."
"We are very inexpensive," McHale concurred. "There was always, especially in the first couple of years, the sense that no one was watching, kind of like public access where you just do anything ... That sense that people still aren't watching has never left. Maybe it's because they aren't watching ... "
Contrary to that theory, the show averages around a million viewers per episode, and despite his increasingly busy schedule -- starring on NBC's resilient "Community," headlining a Klondike ad campaign and appearing in a slew of upcoming movies -- McHale's commitment to "The Soup" has never wavered. After "Community" wrapped its fourth season, it wasn't long before the actor was jetting off to Atlanta to film a movie, during which time McHale and a skeleton crew were filming "The Soup" out of Turner Studios.
"Then he got back from Atlanta just in time to tell us he booked another movie in New York. So we did seven weeks flying back and forth from New York and shooting the show in Rachael Ray's studio," Anderson admitted. Thankfully, since the look of the show requires little more than McHale and a green screen, the transition between locations remained seamless for viewers at home.
While McHale's comedic timing, impish grin and razor wit are undoubtedly a large part of "The Soup's" success, the show's bread and butter remains the insane, bizarre and downright disturbing clips that are unearthed from the bowels of the broadcast and cable networks.
"There were shows that put us on the map, like with the way we'd make fun of Tila Tequila's "A Shot at Love" or "Showdog Moms & Dads," "Pants-Off Dance-Off ... And God rest her soul, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown was earth-shatteringly good for us. That show ["Being Bobby Brown"] was really nutso," McHale recalled. "It's just like anything -- we've moved on. 'Whodunnit's' clips aren't necessarily the most provocative, but the show has been driving the staff out of its mind all summer ... It's such a great, frustrating show. There are zero stakes. There's no tension and we love it."
While McHale joked that Lady Gaga was a pending guest for the live shows, he admitted that some cameos are easier to secure than others. "Without exception, every single reality star I have ever met has said 'please put me on your show,' or 'thank you for putting me on your show, and may I come back on?' No one has gone 'how dare you?'" he said. "Years ago, Tyra Banks did not want clips of her show on our show. We said tough. I have met her and she was very, very nice to me."
As for some of his dream guest stars, McHale said, "We're open for anybody. You want to come on? I'd like to get Paul McCartney on. It'd be great to have Beyonce and Jay Z on every week. We love Bieber; he apparently has a fan base. I would love for Prince to come on -- Prince, there's an open invitation."
After 500 shows, McHale and Anderson would be forgiven for forgetting most -- if not all -- of the wacky clips featured on the series, but a few stand the test of time. During our visit, Anderson fondly remembered the infamous Whitney Houston "Kiss my ass" as a personal "Soup" favorite, while McHale preferred a certain feline cameo.
"The Soup" 500th episode airs August 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on E!, and will stream live on Eonline and TheSoupTV.com.