'Locke & Key': Inside the Beloved Comic's Decade-Long Path to Netflix

The IDW comic has, at various times, been a feature film, Fox and Hulu pilot and will finally debut Feb. 7 on the streaming giant.
Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

Locke & Key, the beloved horror comic from Joe Hill, has finally unlocked the mystery of television.

First published in 2008, the award-winning title from Hill — the son of Stephen King — and Gabriel Rodriguez makes its debut Feb. 7 on Netflix with a series that has taken more than a decade to make it to a screen.

The drama revolves around the Locke family and their ancestral home of Key House, a mysterious manor filled with locked doors and magical keys. The comic was nearly a feature film and a Fox and Hulu pilot before Netflix wound up actually taking Locke & Key over the finish line. Star Trek's Alex Kurtzman took two stabs at the title: a feature film for Universal and the Fox pilot. Hulu, too, took a shot with it via Lost co-creator Carlton Cuse, before the streamer bailed and Netflix swooped in.

Below, The Hollywood Reporter charts Locke & Key's wild, decade-long path to the screen, complete with the various networks, actors, writers and directors who have tried their hand at cracking it.

September 2010: After Dimension loses rights to the property, Fox announces that Locke & Key is in the works. The network hands out a series commitment for the drama. It's a sizable order that was virtually unheard of at the time — today straight-to-series orders are common. Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek) and his then-producing partner Roberto Orci are on board to exec produce via 20th Century Fox TV. Josh Friedman (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) is attached to write. DreamWorks TV, with Steven Spielberg, board as producers. The drama would officially be picked up to pilot a month later.

November 2010: Casting for the pilot begins. Miranda Otto lands the leading role as Nina Locke, a mother who, with her three children, attempts to rebuild their lives in the mysterious Key House. By February 2011, Jesse McCartney, Sarah Bolger and Skylar Gaertner are cast as the kids, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, respectively, with Fox's original plan to launch in summer 2011 now moved to the fall. (Check out the trailer for the Fox pilot, below. The full pilot, which leaked on YouTube years ago, is no longer available.)

May 2011: Fox gives its first drama series orders of the season — to Alcatraz (and Bones spinoff The Finder). Locke & Key is passed over, but network brass begin considering running it as a limited series (before the genre was revitalized). Sources say Locke & Key was vying for the same slot on Fox's schedule as the J.J. Abrams-produced Alcatraz. Producers of both shows made one final pitch to Fox. Sources say then-Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly — who embraced the horror tone of Locke — was worried about the show's heavy, emotional plot about a family moving on after the loss of its father. Alcatraz exec producer Abrams reportedly blew away network execs with his final pitch for the series. The Locke & Key team, meanwhile, used their final pitch to address network notes and how they'd handle any potential reshoots. Ultimately, sources say, Alcatraz got the nod because the network thought it was a more marketable show both domestically and to international buyers. Alcatraz would be canceled a year later after one season.

July 2011: With options on the cast having expired June 30, in a last-ditch bid to find a new home for Locke & Key producers 20th Century Fox TV and their cable-focused studio Fox 21 make the rare decision to screen the finished pilot at San Diego Comic-Con, where a warm reception from a fanboy audience can make or break a show. At this point, the show is pretty much on life support. Conversations to screen the busted pilot elsewhere are shut down by the studio, which had already invested more than $10 million into the property. (By 2010 standards, that's an eye-popping sum — especially considering one episode in the final season of Game of Thrones cost $15 million to produce.)

September 2011: NBCUniversal-owned cable network Syfy kicks the tires on Locke & Key. Producers meet with then-head of originals Mark Stern. Everyone involved quickly realizes that the former Fox pilot doesn't match the cabler's aesthetic and the project would have required significant changes. Syfy would be the only network to take a meeting on Locke after 20th TV sent the pilot and script around town. There were no other serious bites.

June-July 2014: Still reeling from Fox's pass, Kurtzman and Orci reteam and set up Locke & Key as a feature film with Universal. Albert Torres (Akira, Henry Poole Is Here) is hired to pen the script. The plan is to adapt Hill's sprawling comics as a series of three low-budget horror films following the Locke family over the years and exploring the history of the mysterious keys in the source material. Sources say Universal didn't quite understand what to do with the property and, by August of that year, the key exec at the studio — co-president of production Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, who had been a vocal advocate for the property — had departed to reunite with former producing partner Joe Roth.

October 2015: Comic author Hill confirms the Universal film trilogy is no longer moving forward but expresses optimism that publishers IDW — which was slowly entering the production landscape — could try to adapt the beloved title for TV again. 

May 2016: Seven months later, IDW and Hill announce that Locke & Key is being developed for TV (again). This time, Hill will adapt his comic and pen the script before the potential series is shopped to both broadcast (yes, really) and cable networks. IDW hopes to land a straight-to-series order as part of the process. "I love this story," Hill said at the time. "The seven years I spent working on Locke & Key was the happiest creative experience of my life, and there still isn't a day when I don't think about those characters and miss visiting with them. The six books of the series are very like six seasons of a cable TV series, and so it feels only natural to bring that world to the little screen and to see if we can't scare the pants off viewers everywhere."

April 2017: Nearly a year later, IDW shops Hill's script — which now has Lost co-creator Carlton Cuse on board as showrunner — to Netflix, HBO and FX, among others. It lands at Hulu, which orders a pilot. Scott Derrickson (Marvel's Doctor Strange) is attached to direct.

July 2017: Derrickson has a scheduling conflict with TNT's Snowpiercer adaptation and is replaced as pilot director by It's Andy Muschietti. (Derrickson would ultimately refuse to return to Snowpiercer after TNT brought in a new showrunner who wound up reshooting the entire pilot, but that's a different saga.)

August 2017: With a new director locked in, casting gets underway. British actress Frances O'Connor is tapped to star as Nina Locke (taking over the role Miranda Otto had in the Fox take). It youngster Jackson Robert Scott is cast as the key role of Bode Locke, the youngest of the kids (and the part played by Skylar Gaertner). Newcomer Jack Mulhern is set as Tyler Locke, the eldest of the kids (taking over for Jesse McCartney). In another It reunion, Megan Charpentier is cast as the middle child, Kinsey (originally Sarah Bolger). Aron Eli Coleite, who did a rewrite alongside Hill on the original script — also joins as an exec producer and co-showrunner alongside Cuse. A writers room is opened under Cuse and Coleite and produces seven additional complete scripts.

March 2018: Hulu delivers yet another blow to the property and shockingly passes on its Locke & Key pilot. Sources say the pilot was universally praised by Hulu's executive regime, which at the time was overseen by relatively new chief content officer Joel Stillerman (who, it's worth noting, launched The Walking Dead on AMC) and senior vp originals Craig Erwich — who greenlighted the pilot. However, new CEO Randy Freer — who joined Hulu in October from Sony TV — had the final say and made the decision to pass on a series. Seven scripts were already completed after Hulu, in a signal of its faith in the project, paid to keep the writers room open long after the pilot wrapped production. In a move that illustrated its belief in the property, WME — which repped Cuse and director Muschietti — teams with IDW to host screenings of the potential series in an effort to find a new home for it. Co-star Samantha Mathis reveals the pilot is being taken to "Amazon, Netflix and everyone right now."

May 2018: News leaks that Netflix is coming to the rescue for the seemingly cursed property but, in yet another blow, wants to redevelop the Hulu take. Meanwhile, director Muschietti is busy with It: Chapter 2 and has to depart the property.

July 2018: Two months later, Netflix makes it official and hands out a straight-to-series, 10-episode order for Locke & Key. As part of its retooling, the streaming giant plans to recast the series. A new writer — Meredith Averill (The Good Wife, Haunting of Hill House) — is brought in to serve as co-showrunner alongside Cuse. 

December 2018: With the series order official, casting begins. Connor Jessup (American Crime) and Emilia Jones (Utopia) are tapped to play Tyler and Kinsey Locke, respectively. It's Jackson Robert Scott — as Bode Locke — becomes the lone actor from the Hulu take to remain with the Netflix series in their original role. (Thomas Mitchell Barnet, who played Rufus in Hulu's take, is recast in a different role on the Netflix version.) Scandal grad Darby Stanchfield is cast as the show's female lead and the third actress to play the drama's beleaguered mother, Nina Locke. Michael Morris (Bloodline, House of Cards) is hired in February 2019 to direct the first two episodes.

January 2019: In a "Creative Space" interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kurtzman — who tried twice to bring Locke & Key to the screen — calls the property the "one that got away." "It is one of the single greatest ideas out there," he says. "It is so emotional and it is such a brilliant spin on a family story. It is so obvious that it's a television show. It was frankly ahead of its time at Fox and that was before the streaming world. It was the wrong show, at the wrong time with the wrong regime. It was ahead of its time — and I don't say that about a lot of things."

December 2019: With the finish line in sight, Netflix announces that Locke & Key will premiere its entire first season on Feb. 7.

January 2020: It's actually real! Netflix debuts the first footage of Locke & Key, more than a decade after Fox first put the property in development. Multiple sources credit Netflix's success with Stranger Things — a sci-fi drama primarily focused on a group of kids — to help pave the road for the streamer to pick up Locke & Key. 

February 2020: Cuse and Averill, in an upcoming interview with The Hollywood Reporter's podcast, TV's Top 5, say they have a multiple-season plan in mind for Locke & Key, and, while a formal renewal has yet to come in for the series, are already working on scripts for a potential second season. (Hear more from Cuse and Averill in the Feb. 14 episode of TV's Top 5Listen and subscribe here.)