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Will Ferrell takes on TV news

Will Ferrell is hoping for a summer blockbuster with his new movie, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy." He plays a 1970's local TV news anchor who never met a mirror, a camera, or a bottle of scotch he didn't like. He speaks with NBC’s Katie Couric.

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you some breaking news -- on second thought, this newscast is already broken. It's one man's time-warped tale of local television. He's the legendary Ron Burgundy, who's anything but a humble reporter. "Anchorman" brings it all back, the 'staches, the shoes and the songs.

So what Hollywood leading man in his right mind would want to suffer the indignities of the 1970s sense of style? Will Ferrell, of course.

Ferrell: "Well, Ron Burgundy is very handsome, very charismatic. Has a beautiful mustache."

Couric: "Very vain."

Ferrell: "Very vain… And a terrible, terrible journalist. San Diego just loves him, because they feel, they put their trust in him to deliver the news. But—"

Couric: "Ah, the days, when people actually liked the media, right?"

Ferrell: "Yeah, yeah."

Couric: "And trusted the people who delivered the news.

Ferrell: "Didn't hate the media… I'm not going to say anything."

Hollywood's beginning to trust Will Ferrell. After spending seven seasons on the NBC staple "Saturday Night Live," the 36-year-old Ferrell has found himself on a hot streak, thanks to the college-cult comedy "Old School," and the holiday hit "Elf." And Entertainment Weekly has Will Ferrell on their list of America's favorite funnymen, number three, behind Chris Rock and Jon Stewart.  

Vince Vaughn:  "What your Google search didn't find is that Will owes me money. A lot of people don't know that he is addicted to Asian games, pai gow, baccarat, and he's lost the ‘Old School’ money. And he's halfway through the ‘Elf’ money."

Naturally, Will's got some showbiz buddies now. But we wanted to bring him back to his humble beginnings at NBC, to see if he would still talk to the people who knew him way back when. 

Ferrell: "I'm way too big for a lot of people. I only talk to two people: my therapist—"

Couric: "And me."

Ferrell: "And my Astrologer. And occasionally, Katie Couric. When I see you on my yacht. So, that's it. That's all I got time for."

But if his shrink goes looking for clues to Ferrell's often demented, always boisterous humor, he won't necessarily find them back home, in the suburban enclave of Irvine, Calif.

Couric:"The New York Times called your style of humor quote; 'A clean-cut Orange County pollution-free, suburban kind of funny.'"

Ferrell: "A ha."

Couric: "Some say humor comes from pain. So I thought we'd spend a few moments talking about your—"

Ferrell: "My dark years?"

Couric:   "Difficult upbringing and your dysfunctional family."

Ferrell: "Yes. The mean streets of Irvine, California?"

Couric: "Yes."

Compared to his fellow Irvinites, Ferrell's childhood was unconventional. His mom was a community college teacher, and dad was a musician with the Righteous Brothers. In a mostly affluent community, Will lived modestly in the town's only apartment complex.

Couric: "When did you first realize that, hey, I'm funny and I like when people laugh at me?"

Ferrell: "In the 5th Grade. And I learned how to kind of do a pratfall or bump into a door and it got a laugh."

Couric: "How creative."

Ferrell: "Yes. You start simple. It's called baby steps. It's in my autobiography. I know you just talked to the president, but wait for mine. It's coming out. It's baby steps."

The laughs kept coming in high school, but Will wasn't known as the class cut-up. He was a jock, playing football and baseball. Standing 6-foot-3-inches tall, he was a natural on the hardwood.

Coach Steve Scoggin:"He was like my sixth man off the bench. And I would always put him on the other team's best offensive player. And he was my team captain."

His passion for sports, coupled with a gift for gab, sent Ferrell to the University of Southern California in 1986, where he majored in sports journalism.

Ferrell: "And then I realized I didn't really care about reporting or—"

Couric: "You just wanted to be on television?"

Ferrell: "Yeah. I just wanted to be on television. Yep. And now I am. Hello America? Where should I look?  Should I look over to this camera?"

Couric: "I think that one's the one."

Ferrell: "Oh, okay."

Couric: "The one with the red light?"

Ferrell: "Yes!"

Clearly, he wasn't ready for primetime. Nevertheless, a fateful moment came his senior year, at a performance given by the L.A. improv comedy troupe, The Groundlings.

Ferrell: "And the great irony is, I got pulled up on stage to be part of an improv. And was terrible at it. Couldn't do anything, but loved the idea of at least taking-- they had a school where you could take class.  And so I worked my way through the program there. And The Groundlings actually was where I was seen by producers at ‘Saturday Night Live.’"

From 1996 through 2002, Ferrell became the latest in SNL's long line of great character players, dominating the show with memorable impersonations of former Attorney General Janet Reno and President Bush.

But perhaps his most popular character was the super-charged spartan cheerleader, which he performed with fellow Groundling, Cheri Oteri.

Ferrell: "We stumbled across the fact that she'd been a cheerleader in high school, and I used to love watching the ESPN cheerleading championships."

Couric: "You must love 'Bring It On' then."

Ferrell: "I've never seen it."

Couric: "Oh my god."

Ferrell: "Yeah, I need to see it."

Couric: "I'll have to get that for you."

Ferrell: "Yeah. That would be a nice gift for me."

Couric: "Okay."

Ferrell: "Thank you."

Couric: "Okay."

Ferrell: "Well, I used to watch those college cheerleading championships. And—"

Couric: "They're impressive. Don't you think?"

Ferrell: "They're very impressive.

Couric: "But you weren't."

Ferrell: "No, I-- look, I tried my-- I tried hard. So I don't want to hear it from you."

Couric: "Do you miss 'Saturday Night Live' at all, Will?"

Ferrell: "You know, yes and no. When I left, it was a great time for me. And I don't really look back a lot of times. And I'm on to the next thing."

The next thing for Will Ferrell is a publicity tour for "Anchorman," and in September, he begins shooting the feature film version of "Bewitched," opposite Nicole Kidman. 

Couric: "Have you stared to work on your 'Sam!"

Ferrell: "No. I haven't."

Couric: "Well, you know, if you need some help, call me."

Ferrell: "I can give you a call?"

Couric: "Yeah. Yeah. At least you don't have to do the [twinkle nose]"

Ferrell: "Well, I'm going to see you-- I'm going to see you on my private island in a couple of months anyway."Couric: "Oh, that's true. I forgot."

Ferrell: "So we'll workshop it."

Couric: "Okay."

Ferrell: "Perfect."