'Riverdale' Exec Producers on Reinvigorating Archie, Embracing Backlash and Long Road to TV

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Katie Yu/The CW

Louis CK as Archie?

It may seem like a stretch, but before Archie Comics inspired The CW's forthcoming TV drama Riverdale, that was the pitch presented to Archie Comics chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa about a potential Archie movie. Other potential movie plots included Archie traveling through time and Archie traveling through portals to other dimensions.

"It's like an episode out of Entourage," Aguirre-Sacasa told reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour when discussing one of the first meetings for an Archie movie.

Inspired by the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Aguirre-Sacasa teamed with friend and Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore with the hopes of doing a "slice-of-life, coming-of-age" film inspired by the iconic comic characters.

"A lot of the studios really loved the pitch, really loved the characters, but they didn’t know exactly how to make and market a coming-of-age movie," he recalled. The duo spent about a month trying to craft a "high-concept" Archie movie before all involved parted ways.

However, Warner Bros. executive Sarah Schechter's interest in revisiting Archie remained and talks about an Archie TV show started when she landed at Greg Berlanti's production company. "It was a match made in heaven," said Aguirre-Sacasa, pointing to Berlanti's experience working on comic book shows (Arrow, The Flash), coming-of-age dramas (Dawson's Creek) and small-town series (Everwood). "it made so much sense."

However, Berlanti also had his own ideas about how to make Archie into must-see TV in the Peak TV era. "Greg said, 'Yeah, you're going to need a dead body, though,'" said Aguirre-Sacasa.

Initially hesitant about that twist, Aguirre-Sacasa eventually changed his mind several months later, and Riverdale was born. Set in the present day, Riverdale is described as a subversive drama that takes a closer look at the surrealism of small-town life — the darkness and weirdness bubbling beneath Riverdale's wholesome facade. That façade slowly begins to crumble when one of Riverdale High's own is found dead — a mystery that runs through the entire series.

"That’s when the show really crystallized, when it went from just being a coming-of-age show to a loss-of-innocence show. it really framed every story we would tell," said Aguirre-Sacasa, who is an executive producer on the show. "Something a little bit darker, a little moodier, a little noir. That became how the show evolved."

Despite the darker tone for the new series, Archie Comics publisher and CEO Jon Goldwater (who is also an exec producer on the series) is confident the fans of the comics will embrace this new take. "They may be in different situations. They may be in modern times," he said on the panel, but "the integrity of the characters has maintained — that hasn’t changed."

Instead, going forward the show is "putting them in perhaps more adult, more edgy situations and having those situations test the integrity of the character," said Aguirre-Sacasa.

Riverdale is the latest transformation for the Archie universe in recent years as the company has attempted to reinvigorate the brand. "The big leap for us publishing was Afterlife With Archie which was Archie in the zombie apocalypse," the CCO said of the 2013 release. "There was a lot of skepticism. There were a lot of people saying why would they do this … and then the books started coming out and there was a sea change. People really, really started to love the books.

"Even though Archie was now in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, he was still the character we knew," he continued. "That's been our kind of guiding star."

Goldwater said he's hoping for a similar "backlash" when Riverdale premieres. "The backlash was all good. People were thrilled that we changed it. You can only go down that road for so long and then you need to change that dynamic," he said. "We can kind of go anywhere with it right now."

Goldwater and Aguirre-Sacasa hope to apply the lessons learned from reinvigorating Archie to other characters from the Archie world going forward. Specifically, the duo are hoping to take a page from the Marvel universe and expand the Archie world out to all sorts of other projects. In addition to an Archie Broadway musical in the works from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, there have been discussions about a new take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which ran as a sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart on ABC and The CW and more recently as an animated series on The Hub.

While the musical "is going to be much more of a lighter comedy," according to Aguirre-Sacasa, "we've talked about Sabrina being something that's a bit darker, a bit Rosemary's Baby. It's not going to be the half-hour sitcom with Melissa Joan Hart, but it depends on the property."

Riverdale is set to premiere Thursday, Jan. 26, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.