Zach Woods lets out his inner NPR with Peacock’s ‘In the Know’

'The Office' and 'Silicon Valley' star teams up with Mike Judge to satirize public radio in new animated sitcom

Picture of actor Zach Woods' animated character, Lauren Caspian
“In the Know,” Episode 105. Pictured is Zach Woods as voice of Lauren Caspian. Photo courtesy of PEACOCK

When actor and comedian Zach Woods was starring on HBO’s “Silicon Valley” as the milquetoast, yet earnest, tech business advisor Jared Dunn, creator Mike Judge encouraged him to improvise during takes.

When Woods did, Judge noticed something about him.

“Often when I would improvise, just because of my kind of personal reservoir of references, Mike Judge realized that I was sort of a walking NPR station,” Woods said.

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Woods also displayed a natural and hungry curiosity. He told WPR’s “BETA” that Judge also caught on to that.

It’s easier when you’re asking questions because you don’t have to be so vulnerable.

Zach Woods

“I would end up asking a lot of questions,” Woods said. “Because I’m just naturally a curious person and also maybe a little bit evasive. It’s easier when you’re asking questions because you don’t have to be so vulnerable. And so (Judge) was like, ‘What if you did a show where you play an NPR host?’”

So they did. Joined by Woods’ writing partner, Brandon Gardner, the three created the acclaimed animated Peacock series “In the Know” about the antics and personalities of a fictitious NPR affiliate station.

Working with former NPR host and reporter Elise Hu, Judge and Woods crafted a spot-on representation of a public radio station dynamic. Of course, it’s heavily heightened and satirized, but still grounded in strong research.

“For us, it was less about doing an accurate satire of NPR than using NPR as a kind of framing device for self-satire, basically,” Woods said.

Woods portrays talk show host Lauren Caspian, who he describes as a “chasm of insecurity and need.” Lauren’s animated look somewhat favors noted public radio host Ira Glass.

Woods said that while it’s not specifically Glass, they did intentionally create a visual mash-up of public radio and intellectual personalities.

“We sort of started looking at all these different pictures of Ira Glass, Terry Gross, Ezra Klein, Michael Barbaro — not all of whom are, strictly speaking, NPR — Malcolm Gladwell, but these kind of public intellectuals, these kind of coastal elite folks. And it was startling how many features they shared,” he said.

“There was a lot of overlap in the Venn diagrams of all those people. And so, we sort of created a Frankenstein monster of public radio luminaries,” Woods added.

In a similar vein, Judge, who portrays Sandy, the Boomer movie critic host at the station, has a similar timbre in his voice to that of longtime luminary and “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor.

While Woods admits the similarity, he said that too is unintentional, and rather based on one of Judge’s earliest created characters.

“Just like for his own enjoyment, he’d made this character who was a 2D animation,” Woods explained. “And he’s talking about film, and he likes filmic films that are shot on film, and he just keeps saying the word ‘film’ again and again. And it was sort of this very brief short clip satirizing these kinds of masturbatory cinephiles. And so, we basically just lifted that character and placed him in the world of NPR.”

Judge — who in addition to creating “Silicon Valley” was responsible for the animated classics “King of the Hill” and the MTV hit, “Beavis and Butthead” — proved valuable to the animated process.

“Mike has always been someone I found personally inspiring as a comedian, largely because, well, first because he’s hilarious, but also because it never feels like he’s condescending to the characters. The characters are so dumb sometimes. But it never feels like he thinks he’s smarter than them. And the irony of that is, Mike is maybe the smartest person I’ve ever met,” Woods said.

“So, he was a real helpful guide in terms of how to do animation in a way that isn’t annoying,” Woods continued.

While the main cast — which features hilarious turns from J. Smith-Cameron, Caitlin Reilly, Carl Tart and Charlie Bushnell — is all animated, the guests on Lauren’s titular talk show are actual real guest videos from improvised interviews.

“Brandon Gardner, the other showrunner, would get on a Zoom with them and say, ‘You’re about to do this interview. You can treat it like a regular NPR interview. If something makes you laugh, you can laugh. If something, if a question interests you and you want to really get in there, go for it. The only thing is we ask that you not acknowledge that he’s a puppet,’” Woods said.

The result is a series of cameos — including Norah Jones, Ken Burns, Mike Tyson, Roxane Gay, Kaia Gerber and Tegan and Sara Quin — that feel very much like the star-studded conceit of the ‘90s sitcom, “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” starring Jonathan Katz.

“We never referenced ‘Dr. Katz’ specifically,” Woods said. “We did talk a little bit about ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast,’ but we didn’t reference Dr. Katz, but I think probably that’s a sort of subconscious influence on the show.”

“I’m willing to be narcissistic in all kinds of ways, but interviewing myself is a bridge too far.”

Zach Woods
Zach Woods
Zach Woods of Apple TV+’s The AfterParty poses for a portrait during the 2023 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 18, 2023 in Pasadena, California. Photo by Maarten De Boer/Contour by Getty Images

Woods said that out of all of these fake interviews for the show, he was most fascinated with his conversation with boxer Mike Tyson.

“I’ve always been interested in Mike Tyson. I feel like Mike Tyson is one of those people who has been everything,” Woods said. “He’s been wealthy, he’s been in poverty. He’s been famous, he’s been infamous. He’s been a victim. He’s been a predator. He’s been on the top of the world, on the bottom of the world and everything in between. And he’s an incredibly reflective, complicated, thoughtful guy. And getting to talk to him was really fascinating to me.”

While Woods — who had a star-making turn as Gabe on NBC’s “The Office” prior to “Silicon Valley” — is having fun thinking of all of the various directions “In the Know” can go, he chuckles at the concept of interviewing his other characters, Gabe and Jared.

“Oh my God, I mean, him and Gabe from ‘“’The Office’? I feel like if those two were to talk, just the sheer volume of insecurity and smarmy crunchiness would be intolerable. It would register on the Richter scale,” Woods quipped. “And Jared from ‘Silicon Valley’ I think would probably just end up interviewing Lauren because he’s much more empathic and self-effacing. I’m willing to be narcissistic in all kinds of ways, but interviewing myself is a bridge too far.”

In the Know” is available to stream on Peacock.