'Midnight, Texas' Boss on Bringing the Charlaine Harris Trilogy to Life

"There's a spirit of the batshit weird that we embrace about this thing," showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen tells THR.
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

A psychic, a hitwoman and a vampire walk into a diner — after hanging out with an angel, a talking cat and a weretiger (like a werewolf, but a tiger) — and that's just in the first two episodes of NBC's new soapy supernatural drama Midnight, Texas.

Writer and executive producer Monica Owusu-Breen, who adapted the series from True Blood author Charlaine Harris' trilogy, is fully aware that her new show is pretty nuts.

"It's very rare that you get a property given to you that you're like, 'OK, this is everything I love in a blender,'" she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But, do you guys want all of this in a blender? Cause it's awesome, and I completely see how to tell stories, but, wow!"

THR spoke to the veteran writer (Charmed, Alias, Lost, Fringe) about her new series, which debuts Monday on NBC, and she acknowledged just how crazy it all sounds.

"This is so many things," she admits, "but it makes sense together. But yes, there's a spirit of the batshit weird that we embrace about this thing."

This show could definitely be classified as a guilty pleasure. Is that something you'd embrace, or you'd bristle at?

I'm an enormous genre fan. There are shows that obsessed me and I never felt guilty about it. So for me, as a concept, that's a little... I guess I had my Melrose Place years. I mean, I guess, because I do think it's a little wacky. But a pleasure is what I'm gonna hold on to, if that makes sense.

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. What's wrong with taking pleasure in things?

Exactly. That's how I feel, and I take enjoyment in watching TV super seriously. I'm hoping the show works on two levels, which is the fun, and the romance, and following the adventures of this enormously, amazingly talented group of actors we've been lucky enough to assemble. But also there's an optimistic and hopeful quality to Charlaine's world that doesn't get mired in the sad or the bleak. There's something so nice about a group of people who are very disparate and very different who are invested in their world and will fight for each other. That too feels really nice in today's world, where it can be so sectored and angry. To have a community of people who are really different coming together because this is their home and they're gonna protect their home, and that there's differences that may have driven them apart at some other point in history, or time or place. That they're now friends and have created this community and a family with each other. It's a nice message to send out there.

How do you bring something with so many supernatural elements together when you're working on a network TV budget and not, say, HBO's True Blood budget?

Yeah, I pinch myself from time to time cause I do wonder how we did it. We shot in New Mexico, so the natural beauty was there but we needed a town that looked like the west. We found this lovely little town up north called Las Vegas, New Mexico. So we shot it there but then when we got the pilot picked up and we couldn't drive two hours and it snows up there anyway. We built a town behind the stages, and behind the stages is just this enormous desert with these mountains in the distance and these beautiful sunrises. We got to build a town, and that's pretty wonderful. And every actor who would be hired to come in was like, "Holy smokes, you have a town?" I mean, not every door has an inside, that's for sure, but if we get some more seasons we'll build more interiors.

In adapting a series from an author like Charlaine Harris, who has a lot of very devoted fans, how do you pick and choose what you bring in from the source material?

I was very fortunate [that] Charlaine's been through this and she understands that the medium of television and the medium of a book are two very different experiences. Midnight was a lovely series of books and it was so much fun to be in that space, but a lot of it was life in a small town — those lovely little bits of people conversing and home cooking about whose dog yelled at whose cat. It was sort of fun to be in that space.

That said, our first season is a combination of the first book and the third book's story, so fans of the books will recognize certain moods and certain moments in those stories as well. I've had the experience of a book I love being brought to the screen very faithfully and not liking it, because I do think they're two very different mediums. So what is important for me is to take the heart and the fun and the humor of Charlaine's world and then tell stories that feel more appropriate to the television medium.

Did you add any characters or elements?

I didn't. You know what's sad, I took away characters. If we're lucky enough to get a second and third season I will be adding more characters. The town was so rich with people who have lived there for a long time, so there were characters removed but then there were plots added. In the books there are bigger mysteries. I don't think everyone's powers are revealed in the first book, but when we started breaking the stories what I realized is that sometimes we get really pressured about the reveals, but just because you know Joe's an angel doesn't even begin to tell you anything about Joe.

What would you like to include if you get more seasons?

I want Madonna to have a larger role. Kellee Stewart plays her. She's wonderful, and if we're lucky enough to get a second season, I will start laying pipe as to what that story is going to be. With 10 episodes, we told a lot of story, [but] I also want to be realistic. Had we had 22 episodes it would've been a different story, but it forced our storytelling to be very precise. I like a season that comes to a conclusion that feels like we've started these characters in one place and ended them in a significantly different place. So for me, having a beginning, middle, and end — with 10 episodes you're so lucky to be able to craft that.

You've been involved with plenty of iconic shows. Which did you channel for Midnight, Texas?

I thought some of the storytelling craft of Fringe was brilliant, and that was one of my favorite jobs I've ever had. When I was asked, 'Can you tell standalone stories?', I always thought back to Fringe. [Executive producer] Jeff Pinkner coined the term the "myth-alone" — that every episode is a standalone story that's part of a larger myth — and so I very much took that to heart. I learned how to write a good action set piece on Alias and certainly there are episodes where I use that talent. This series was so fun because I do feel like I pulled from all my favorites, what I've learned throughout the last 17 years. I feel like I got to cull from every show I've ever worked on, whether it was digging emotionally deep from Brothers and Sisters, to a good action set piece car chase from Alias. I feel like it was a wonderful project because it culled from all of it.

Midnight, Texas premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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