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Why Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Iconic Backstreet Boys Cold Open Almost Didn't Happen - Here's How They Pulled It Off

Perhaps the most famous moment in Brooklyn Nine-Nine history could have fallen apart.

By Matthew Jackson

Every Brooklyn Nine-Nine fan has their personal list of favorite moments from the show, but there's one moment that transcends fandom. Even if you've never seen the show, or barely heard of the show, there's a chance you've seen one particular cold open from the series' fifth season, a moment so funny and self-contained that it's become its own standalone piece of comedy gold. 

How to Watch

Watch every episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Peacock.

Yes, we're talking about the Backstreet Boys cold open, and though it's hard to imagine the show without it now, it almost didn't happen.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Backstreet Boys Cold Open Explained

For those uninitiated, or who might barely remember the now-classic moment, it's built around a very simple setup, which is part of its enduring appeal. Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and a witness (Devin Sidell) are behind one-way glass, looking at a lineup of suspects. The witness mentions that she never actually saw the suspect in question, but she did hear him singing the Backstreet Boys song "I Want It That Way," so she could potentially identify his singing voice. 

RELATED: All the Major Characters From Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Immediately energized by this information, Jake cues the witnesses one-by-one to sing lines from the song, until he joins in for the chorus. Then the whole thing culminates in a punch line that's better if you just watch it, so here's the clip, by far the most-viewed episode snippet in Brooklyn Nine-Nine history.

In the years since the moment was released online, the official clip has generated nearly 40 million views on YouTube, with countless other people finding it through social media. It's arguably been watched more times than the show itself across its entire run. So, how did that moment come to be, and what obstacles did it have to overcome on the way to comedy glory?

The Making of the Hilarious "I Want It That Way" Cold Open

Sadly, the exact mind responsible for pitching "I Want It That Way" for use in the scene is apparently lost to time. In an oral history of the cold open done at GQ back in 2023, executive producer Luke Del Tredici recalled that the moment emerged as the show's writers realized the episode was coming together, but the cold open wasn't done yet. So, he went to meet with the writers to brainstorm ideas. Somewhere along the way, the Backstreet Boys came up.

"Early in the show we’d done a lot of bits with a police lineup," Del Tredici recalled. "And then we hadn’t done it for, like, three years. I had an idea of Jake trying to make a bunch of the perps sing a song for him. I think I originally pitched it as a Disney song, which would never have cleared. I believe my first pitch was 'The Daughters of Triton,' the song from the animated Little Mermaid. Somebody—I really wish I knew who—someone else I know pitched the Backstreet Boys song."

Right away, something funny was building, and the writers knew it. They also knew that making the moment happen as they conceived it was going to be an uphill battle, because any song used in that way has to be licensed, and Backstreet Boys tunes don't come cheap.

"We knew that it was so fun as we were writing it. My attitude was, 'There is no way in hell that we will get to do this,'" co-producer Justin Noble said. "The idea of getting a network in the US to pay for a song on a network comedy is unheard of ... There were many times when we would try to write in a song and the go-to joke was them coming back and saying,'“Could you use the 1970s song ‘At the Car Wash’ instead?' Because [the network] owns the rights to it."

So, knowing that they were facing a world in which their cold open could be outright rejected or marred by a lesser song, what did the writers do? They brought the idea to the table read, and they waited for star Andy Samberg to react.

"The one person you really want to sell is Andy, because if Andy likes something, it’s gonna stay," Noble said. "I remember him starting to chuckle during it, and that was the moment of 'This is gonna happen' because it now has buy-in from too many people to stop it. It’s a runaway train."

And sure enough, it did happen. The show got the rights, and the moment became the most famous joke in Brooklyn Nine-Nine's long and hilarious run. 

Relive this moment, and all the rest, with the full run of Brooklyn Nine-Nine streaming on Peacock.