The Writers' Room (2013) s02e02 Episode Script

The Walking Dead, Smallville and Other Comic Book Adaptations

Did you think it would become such a phenomenon? Oh, no, no, no.
I mean, everything I had done up to that point had been a massive failure.
One of the executives said, "this is awesome.
I really love this.
Does it have to have zombies in it?" You don't know what it's like to be a zombie.
You don't know what you're actually experiencing while you're walkin' around eatin' people.
It could be awesome.
AMC's The Walking Dead is the most successful dramatic series in the history of cable.
A ratings juggernaut, The Walking Dead has attracted up to 16 million viewers a week, making it one of the most watched shows in all of television.
On this episode of The Writers' Room, we will discuss the phenomenal success of The Walking Dead and discuss its relevance, and we'll also take a look at the explosion of comic books now being adapted to TV.
From the very first episode of Walking Dead, it just-- It was-- That was the realest I ever seen in my life.
The show really isn't just for comic book fans.
It really has everything that anyone can relate to.
You've got your horror.
You've got your drama.
You've got a little bit of comedy thrown in there.
The biggest threat in The Walking Dead isn't the zombies.
It has to be the people because everyone's just trying to make their way in this post-apocalyptic world.
What would they do in this type of situation? How are they gonna survive? There's no rules, no law, and no order.
Anyone can die, and that's what makes it exciting.
When I watch The Walking Dead, I basically get in full Walking Dead gear.
I go on total media blackout.
No phone, no iPad, no computer, nothing.
It's like the best zombie movie, but, like, on a weekly basis.
Death, murder, babies, sex, everything.
It's The Walking Dead, Smallville, and other comic book adaptations right now on The Writers' Room.
Outrageous success, horrible mistakes, last-minute changes.
The creators of today's most ground-breaking TV shows tell all in the place where it all starts Joining me in the writers' room are The Walking Dead graphic novel creator and series executive producer, Robert Kirkman, comic book writer and pop culture observer, Blair Butler, and the Los Angeles bureau chief for TV Guide Magazine, Michael Schneider.
Thank you, all of you, for being here today.
I'm gonna just jump right in.
Wait-- Okay, now.
Thank you, Robert.
- And-- The zombies.
- Yes.
We're fascinated with them.
They're huge.
They've seeped into pop culture.
Why now? Well, I think at its core, zombies are kind of a physical, you know, representation of everyone's natural fear of death.
So I think that any time people are worried about the stability of our civilization, they kind of gravitate toward apocalyptic storytelling, which, you know, is good for The Walking Dead.
Not so good for society as a whole, but I just wanted to do a cool zombie story.
It's not like I calculated this whole thing.
Robert's like, "why are we making such a big deal about it? It's zombies!" But it is that sort of metaphor.
I mean, zombies have always been a really potent metaphor, you know, in the '80s and in the '90s with Dawn of the Dead and the remake.
It was a metaphor for rampant consumerism, and in Shaun of the Dead it was kind of this sort of workplace drudgery.
And now it's like death is this immediate thing, and you have the power to sort of, like, push it back, but it inevitably keeps coming.
It's unstoppable.
The classic tale, though, that Robert is telling is ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations, and it's all about these relationships.
It's all about how do you relate with the loved ones around you - when the world is crumbling.
- Yeah.
I mean, I've always said it's supposed to be a very engaging, very fun, very, you know, dramatic, you know, human story with a little zombies, you know, peppered in for seasoning.
Just for fun, yeah.
Just to make it a little bit more interesting.
It came from my love of, you know, zombie stories in general.
It always occurred to me that, you know, an apocalyptic setting is such an interesting, you know, place to just explore humanity and tell long form stories about survival.
And, you know, I always wanted to see, you know, where people went at the end of those movies - and what they did next.
- Yeah.
And comics are really a place where that can actually be done, you know? Like, there's 7,000 issues of Spiderman now, and it's very common for a comic book series to run for decades and decades, and so, you know, that all-- all those desires kind of, you know, worked their way in to becoming The Walking Dead.
Well, I think also it's something that people hadn't seen before.
And honestly no one ever thought that you could actually do a show about zombies because-- - I didn't think you could.
- They're not characters.
I mean, they're the undead, so how do you actually make a zombie entertaining? Well, you know, Robert found a way, and, you know, it sort of created this whole new genre now.
You know, a lot of apocalyptic story telling or, you know, science fiction shows deal with what I call very capable people who are able to do things.
And The Walking Dead is not about, like, an ex-Navy seal or some kind of government operative.
You know, it's about a small town cop that is struggling to kind of, you know, deal with these kind of things, and a lot of very normal people from middle America who are not prepared in any way for this situation, that are, you know, trying to find ways to survive.
I think people like the idea that that could be me.
Like, it's possible for someone who, you know, doesn't have super powers to suddenly, you know, survive in this crazy zombie apocalypse.
Right, because in the real world there's never gonna be someone who's just a complete hero.
We're all human, and I think it's just a richer character, and it's more heartbreaking when you see Carl, for example, turn to his father and say, "you blew it.
" Yeah, absolutely.
I want to go back to-- For you, Robert, the very beginning.
Did you think it would become such a phenomenon, as it has? Oh, no, no, no.
I mean, everything I had done up to that point had been a massive failure.
I was not doing well, and I used to sit and think, like, I'm starting a comic book that's being touted as the zombie movie that never ends at a time when everything I've ever done has been cancelled.
What is wrong with me? This is not gonna work.
And it worked, so go figure.
How has The Walking Dead seeped into our culture? Well, I was at the L.
Auto Show a couple weeks ago, and Hyundai has a new Walking Dead limited edition S.
It comes with a zombie preparedness kit as well.
The C.
actually used the zombie apocalypse to get people ready for emergencies.
They have an emergency preparedness kit that they sort of Trojan-horsed by saying, "it's a zombie preparedness kit.
" And it actually got people to get ready for real-life natural disasters by sort of cloaking it in zombies, so it's really amazing.
Even my four-year-old is obsessed with zombies.
I don't know if it's because of The Walking Dead or-- Please don't let your four-year-old watch The Walking Dead.
- Dad of the year.
- Okay.
Did it have a life before AMC? It actually did almost get made at NBC, but-- That show would have been really different at NBC.
- Of course.
- Vastly different.
Well, it also-- It didn't get made 'cause when the pilot was turned in-- The famous story is one of the executives said, "this is awesome.
I really love this.
Does it have to have zombies in it?" And so it's really a-- - They did not say that.
- That's totally-- Yeah.
- That was totally said.
- That's fantastic.
You couldn't have done that kind of show at that network.
We were very concerned early on what kind of gore we were gonna be able to film and what kind of, you know, boundaries we were gonna be able to push with the show.
And AMC has this thing called FearFest.
And so to ease our minds they just edited together this four-minute clip of the most horrendous, like, bits of gore that you could see on the network.
And it was just four solid minutes of Like, people gettin' ripped apart and, you know, guts goin' everywhere, and we were like, "well, if they can show this, then, well, all right, we're good, we're good.
" - "This is a nice place to be.
" - Yes.
But it was the success of that FearFest, 'cause it does huge for AMC, that actually convinced them to give-- Yeah, I mean, that's why they went after The Walking Dead.
Because that actually got bigger ratings than Mad Men and Breaking Bad at the time, and they were like, "wow, people want horror on TV.
" In the adaptation process, I mean, how has it been for you going from graphic novel to TV? I'm actually in the writers' room, so I'm having to write on the show.
And if we were adapting things extremely closely, I would be bored, and so I don't want to be bored.
And so I'm oftentimes the guy in the room that's going, "screw the comic! "Let's do this.
It'll be more fun.
"People will be like, 'what, Rick died? - That's crazy!'" - Wait, what? I like the idea they were all talking, and you're just sort of sitting there going, "I'm bored.
" All the time.
- "Robert's bored.
" - All the time.
Okay, well, we have some Walking Dead fans who have some very big questions about some of the changes you've made going from graphic novel to the TV series.
- Great.
- Okay? Maybe I'll remember enough to answer those questions.
You better, Robert, or the rest of us are gonna sit here in silence.
Check out this first fan question about an adaptation.
In the graphic novel, the Governor cuts off Rick's hand.
Why didn't you decide to do that in the show? I like the fact that he lost his hand in the comic.
Being completely honest, the practical difficulties of having a guy who doesn't have a hand is extremely complicated in the comic and would be impossible in the show, because the comic book doesn't move.
For instance, in one of the recent issues-- I think it's 122, 123-- Rick is standing on top of a truck.
It would take him quite a while to climb on top of a truck with one hand, but we just show him standing on a truck.
And you're readin' that comic and you're like, "there he is on that truck.
" But, spoiler alert, he loses his hand in season five, so, you know There we go, you-- Here's a-- We just went for it.
Here's another fan question.
Daryl, played by Norman Reedus, was not in the original graphic novel.
So what I'd like to know is: What does his inclusion do for the storyline? Daryl Dixon is my favorite element of the television show.
- Norman tested for Merle.
- Uh-huh.
But we were very intent on hiring Michael Rooker.
And when we saw Norman Reedus, you know, all the producers kind of got together and we were like, "we love this guy.
We've got to get him in the show somehow.
" And so suddenly Merle had a brother named Daryl.
- Yeah.
- Yeah, he's also the one actor who doesn't know whether or not his character dies, so that's an interesting perspective.
That's true, and he's always very nervous about that every time he sees me.
"So, uh, how am I doing in season five, man? Am I doing okay? Am I doing okay?" Okay, so coming up we'll discuss adapting comic book characters to the small screen, and we'll be joined by Al Gough and Miles Millar, who are the creators of the super successful superhero drama, Smallville.
That's all next on The Writers' Room.
We're back in The Writers' Room, discussing The Walking Dead and the world of comic book adaptations.
I'm here with Walking Dead comic book creator, Robert Kirkman.
Joining our panel is Al Gough and Miles Millar, who are the creators and executive producers of Smallville, one of the most successful comic book-to-television adaptations of all time.
- So thank you for joining us.
- Thank you.
So take me to the pitch for Smallville.
It was the fall of 2000, and, you know, comic books were not something that were really in vogue, so for us really the pitch was a boy growing up who had powers, and it was about sort of teenage alienation.
It was sort of using all of those things and sort of running away a bit from the comic book stuff.
The idea of a comic book adaption was very scary for networks, for the studio-- Wh-- And why was that? It hadn't been done for a long time.
I think the last iteration was Lois & Clark, which was-- - And Batman & Robin.
- Ohh.
So for us, as well, you know, you sort of look at Superman, and he's always been sort of this unapproachable character, even though he's been, like, in a million songs and people talk about him all the time.
But it was how do you make this un-relatable guy relatable? Yeah.
And what's sort of different for us too as well is we were telling the part of the story that had never been told.
There are no comic books for it, so there was no-- Issue number 16, there's actually-- There's very little about Smallville, if you go back to the history of Superman, so for us it was sort of an open book.
DC Comics was actually incredibly supportive.
Jenette Kahn ran it at the time, and she was great.
And her thing was you have to keep the essence of Clark Kent.
And she said something to us, which actually really helped us lock in on the show.
Clark is who he is because of who raised him.
So suddenly it was not only a show about sort of teenage alienation, but it was about extreme parenting.
We had the freedom at that point because I don't think people were so obsessed with-- In terms of the studio-- With comics and what it-- The potential they were gonna become with Marvel and with the Nolan movies.
So they allowed us to do things to the mythology of Superman, which I know they would not let us do today.
There's, like, a committee of DC people who decide what you can do in terms of their movies.
And so, I think for us, we were very fortunate to have that chance to actually have the creative freedom to make the show that we wanted to do.
Was there anything that you sort of learned about the folklore of Superman and sort of the early days of it? Well, what was interesting was Kryptonite, which has obviously played a big part in Smallville.
The origins of it were very interesting.
It came out of the radio show, which is-- It was a hugely popular radio show, and the actor who played it-- And they did it every week.
There was no sort of breaks.
He had a two-week vacation in his contract that he was going to take.
So they created Kryptonite, which weakened Superman, so they could get an actor who literally had a voice-- so Superman sounded, you know, sick and weakened for two weeks while that guy was on vacation.
Swear to God.
- That's fantastic.
- Yeah.
I love the idea of that guy-- That voiceover guy wrote on his resume, "weak Superman.
" Exactly.
- That's incredible.
- Yeah.
Robert, I know your graphic novels are ahead of the show, you know, as far as down the road with graphic novels and stuff.
Is there ever a moment where some place the TV series starts to go or entertain has influenced you the opposite side? I'm very careful to make sure that that doesn't happen.
Just because I feel like the comic book ran for so long, you know? And was its own thing that fans had latched onto, that fans had, you know, enjoyed for such a long time.
I wouldn't want the existence of the show or any of the different things that go into the show to, like, influence what I have planned for the comic, you know? Like, that's something that I always am very mindful of not doing.
But as far as, you know, working in the writers' room with people, there have been a few incidents where, you know, we're talking about-- I'm going to spoil issue 100 right now for anyone who hasn't read the comics.
So mute your television if you care about that kind of thing.
Maybe you do, maybe you don't.
But Glen dies in that issue, and we were in the writers' room discussing things.
And I was like, "oh, well, you know, "Glen's dying in this upcoming issue because, well, yadda, yadda, yadda," and everyone in the room was like, "what are you-- Why did you-- What? Come on!" And they were really pissed off that I spoiled it.
But they were talking about something that was pertinent, and I felt like they should know that that's where things were going in the comic, and I-- and they are paid professionals, so, you know-- But I stopped myself from saying it at first, and I was like, "you're an idiot, Robert.
"These people are professional writers "on The Walking Dead show.
They don't give a crap about that comic.
" But they were all very upset.
So now in the writers' room they'll ask me things sometimes, like, "oh, well, I mean, where is this going?" Like, "what are you planning on doing with this?" And I'll be like, "well, do you want to know?" So you're balancing them being fans - and not wanting to know - That-- Yeah, a little bit.
And-- But they need to know in order to write the show.
It's very frustrating.
Yeah, feels like this weird-- I like the idea that in your writers' room, everyone's just sort of speaking around the problems.
I'm curious in y'all's adapting minds, I want to update some everyman characters that we might know from comics for a modern audience.
How would we tackle Popeye? Military is very big.
They've done a lot of military technology, so I think you have, like, synthetic foodstuffs.
Yes, in pill form.
Or some sort of military testing to help the soldiers, and then, you know-- And Olive Oyl is dangerously thin and emaciated.
It's a running commentary on eating disorders.
That's nice, and Popeye is played by The Rock.
Up next, no other fans are as die-hard and fanatical as Walking Dead fans.
And for a TV adaptation to succeed, you got to keep those fans happy, or do you? When The Writers' Room continues.
Welcome back to The Writers' Room.
Fans of The Walking Dead graphic novels are now following that television show with the same fervor that a zombie follows the smell of living flesh.
With so many other comic book adaptations coming our way, I mean, how do you make that transition to TV and keep your fans happy? Pre-9/11.
The show premiered in October of 2001, and pre-9/11 was incredibly negative, sort of the reaction.
The critics were also very hesitant about the show.
And after that event it all changed.
It was like people were ready for a hero, for an American hero, for Superman to come back.
The timing was crucial for that, and it really-- We really felt that change.
The auteur theory of television is not really what we do, 'cause I think it's much more about the community of the writers' room, of the actors, and then the fans.
I think those three things-- And, you know, the network and studio as well.
I think it's the-- Those voices need to be heard.
And I think you can certainly adapt the show and without compromising yourself.
It was a very-- You know, we always go, like, "it was a simpler time.
" But there was no-- You know, the In-- Even the Internet, sort of chat rooms were sort of nascent-- You know, "Ain't It Cool" was really the only one, and they would burn us in effigy every week.
And, you know, but even these, like, "Television Without Pity," all of these places were just starting to really come up.
- This is pre-Twitter.
- Pre-Twitter.
- Any of these-- - There is no pre-Twitter.
I know.
There is such an expectation of people who read the comic books, read-- Know these worlds.
How do we balance that, where we're telling a story and then we can't satisfy every single fan out there? - We try.
- We really-- We really do try.
Actually, that's a lie.
I think we only try to satisfy ourselves.
I mean, that's really the big truth behind all this.
- That's true.
- We're really just trying to have fun and do what we like, and we hope that other people enjoy it.
And, you know, we're always wary of that, but I think Smallville really started a trend of people coming in and saying, "you know what? "There as aspects of this that need to be changed, "but there are aspects of this that, you know, need to be upheld.
" I think that there has been an effort not to appease fans with these adaptations but actually kind of honor them and honor these stories, and, you know, do cool things with them.
And I think now we've kind of seen what comes from that, with all these successes from comic book adaptations.
Yeah, and now there's no better place where you're put in front of your fans than Comic-Con.
San Diego, New York.
What was Comic-Con like around Smallville time? Well, we had a writer in the writers' room, Jeph Loeb, who is a very famous comic book writer.
He goes, "guys, trust me.
Go down there.
It'll be the best thing that's ever happened to you.
" Well, the first year we went down, which was 2002, it was still only half the convention center.
It wasn't even the full convention center.
It was a bunch of the guys from Lord of the Rings.
- Yes.
- Like, you know, the Hobbits.
It was like us and the Hobbits.
- It was like-- - Yes.
- It was a bizarre-- - It was.
I was at that Comic-Con, and it was fantastic.
- I do remember that.
- Oh, yeah.
And now you go and people are dressed as characters from Smallville or they're cosplaying as zombies from The Walking Dead, or characters from The Walking Dead.
I mean, it's really surreal to see how packed it is and how much they've sort of embraced these shows.
I think Comic-Con has kind of grown into this really awesome thing that we should all embrace as comic book fans.
And I think the real thing to mention is that, you know, it's 200,000 people in a room.
I think it's really amazing that that community is able to come together, get stuffed into one conventional hall together, and there's not more murders.
Coming up, we'll get to ask Robert Kirkman some pressing questions about zombies when The Writers' Room continues.
- Yes! - Yes! Welcome back to The Writers' Room.
I'm here with Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead.
Is there ever a moment of, like, have we gone too far? No, I guess is the short answer.
The scene between Lori and Carl and Maggie when she's giving birth and actually dies in childbirth, that was a tough one.
There's always those discussions of, you know, "is it okay for Carl to be present here? Like, is that too, you know, heartbreaking of a scene?" Yeah.
"Are we gonna lose people here?" But, you know, we ended up goin' for it.
We always, you know, want to just be true to this world and kind of portray just how harsh things are.
But I don't know, I mean, it is interesting to think about-- Like, I started the comic book series hoping, "man, if this lasts 20 issues, that would be really nice.
" I had some very rough times in my past as a writer.
This is a very tough business to break into, and you really have to be crazy to some extent to try and do it.
And I went massively into debt, and I would just, you know, I would lay in the floor and shake thinking about, like, how I was gonna live the rest of my life.
But, you know, I had to go through those times to be able to do this now, and it's worth it.
The person you became was because of those things.
You fail many, many, many, many times before something hits that you may or may not have thought was gonna be the one.
You have other projects you're trying to work on at the same time? The Walking Dead is getting a spin-off.
- Yeah? - It'll be a new cast of characters in a new corner of the universe also fighting zombies and trying to survive, but in very different circumstances.
Have you ever thought about how the TV series of The Walking Dead might come to a conclusion? My desire is that the comic book series would run for, you know, 300, 400 issues, and television shows historically - don't last that long.
- Yeah.
So I have often considered the fact that the television show is going to come to an end before the comic book series ends.
Like, I actually do want the comic book series to outlast the show, and because of that I can never tell anyone involved in the show what my plans for ending the series are.
Because there's the very real possibility that it could end up in the show before I get to do it in the comic, which is not how I want to do things.
How about anything we could talk about as far as the next season? Some teases as far as place we might go? Yeah, I mean, every season we always come in with, you know, new characters, building up a largely new cast and new situations, going into a new environment.
And I think that we don't do that thing that you think that successful shows would do, where they go, "okay, this formula works.
" - Hmm.
- "Never change this!" And so by the time we get to season five I think that the world will have matured to a point that we're going to be going into some really interesting places that I think are gonna shock a lot of people, so it's gonna be pretty cool.
Yeah, well, I know we all look forward to it.
So, Robert, thank you so much for joining me and talking about The Walking Dead, and we will see you next time on The Writers' Room.
In the meantime, tell me the secret to being a good zombie.
Well, it actually starts with a lot of this.
A lot of this.
Nailed it.
- I just got a part.
- Right.