Carlton Cuse on 'Jack Ryan's' 4-Year Journey to Amazon and a Possible 'Lost' Reboot
As he launches Amazon's most ambitious project to date — with John Krasinski in the role once inhabited by Harrison Ford — the former showrunner talks his $20 million Disney deal, streamers vs. networks and how to juggle it all.
When Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan premieres Aug. 31 on Amazon, it will mark the end of producer Carlton Cuse's nearly four-year journey to bring the best-selling novels to the small screen. The first season of the show, which cost between $8 million and $10 million an episode and stars John Krasinski as the title CIA analyst (played in movies by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine), was shot in six countries across three continents. It marks the showrunner's biggest foray into TV since Lost wrapped its blockbuster six-season run on ABC nearly a decade ago.
The Boston-bred, married father of three's passion for Jack Ryan stems from his interest in the military, which dates to childhood stories his mother would share about a friend who threw himself on a grenade to save five Marines. "I had a deep appreciation for the people who serve our country," says Cuse in the Sherman Oaks home he shares with his wife, whom he met during their freshman year at Harvard. "I remember mail-ordering the Naval Institute Press to get a copy of Clancy's The Hunt for Red October."
With season two of Jack Ryan ordered and his adaptation of the cult graphic novel Locke & Key moving forward at Netflix (after Hulu passed), Cuse, 59, also finds himself on the Disney lot quite often these days — after he spends mornings writing in his home office. A new $20 million deal brought him back to ABC Studios, where the onetime script reader is developing an ambitious slate.
Jack Ryan was originally ordered by since-ousted Amazon exec Roy Price. What's been the biggest change since Jen Salke took over?
Roy Price was really not involved. I was in maybe two meetings with him the entire time he was in charge. Jen deeply and profoundly understands how the TV business works. I think tech companies have struggled with this idea that their culture is the best culture. Integrating their methodology with the way Hollywood works has had some sticky points.
Amy Powell lost her job at Paramount TV following inappropriate comments she has denied making. How does losing a studio chief who championed your project impact you?
It's always hard when you're caught in a regime change. I just painfully went through that with Hulu on Locke & Key. A new guy [CEO Randy Freer] came in, didn't like Locke & Key and passed on it. Fortunately, we're making it at Netflix, but it was certainly painful. There'd been a lot of excitement among [Hulu] creative executives there for the show.
What pressures come with a series with the scope of Jack Ryan?
A lot of times in TV you start at a place of unlimited ambition and adjust it to fit the parameters of schedule and budget. Amazon gave us the time and resources to tell our story on a movie scale and make the show the way [co-writer] Graham Roland and I wanted to make it. On the downside, it was logistically challenging to work on all eight episodes that we're shooting on three continents with four different directors and often two — and sometimes three — crews shooting at once. When we were making Lost, it was the biggest, most complicated scripted show in the world. Jack Ryan is a logical extension of that.
Your son, Nick, has been working with your Lost co-writer Damon Lindelof on HBO's The Leftovers and now Watchmen. Who is easier to work with, you or your son?
(Laughing.) I am sure Damon would probably say Nick! If there was one thing that stands above all else, it's just the joy that I take in the fact that I mentored Damon, and now Damon is mentoring Nick. The most excited I've ever been about any award in Hollywood was when Nick and Damon were nominated for a Writers Guild award for "International Assassin," the first Leftovers episode they wrote together.
Do you think Lost would work on broadcast today given how fragmented the audience is?
The challenge is that you have so many more advantages working for a streaming company or on HBO than working for a broadcast network. You have time and money, and those are hugely important in terms of eliminating factors that make shows fail.
Will you reboot Lost now that you're back at ABC Studios?
Damon and I have always been adamant that we told the story that we wanted to tell. I would be fine if ABC hired somebody who had a good idea [to reboot it] involving other characters that go to the island at some other point in time. I would be less excited if they wanted to use the characters that we had in our show.
Would you want to be involved?
I don't think so, no.
You signed a $20 million contract with ABC Studios in the era of the nine-figure Netflix deals. What's the attraction of a traditional studio?
I think of it as being Walt Disney, which is the biggest and arguably the best media company in the world. They wanted me to make shows for streaming services, both their own and others. There is a distinct advantage in being there versus a Netflix. I can sell shows to different places and put them where they belong. There are a couple of projects we're working on that are connected to Disney IP as well.
There are showrunners who focus on one show, like Vince Gilligan, and those who juggle many, like Greg Berlanti. Where do you fall?
I don't see a world where I would ever have more than two to four shows. But I love collaborating with other writers. I take pride in how many I've worked with who've become showrunners. Early on in my career, I felt like I needed to be the final arbiter of every decision and to do all the rewriting. That's not the way to make the best show. The way to make the best show is to have people feel as if their voices can be strong and heard in the process.
If you could convene a meeting of showrunners tomorrow, what issues would you want to address?
The disparity between movies and TV and the vastly different ways in which writers are treated. TV writers have primacy and are so important and so valued, and in movies it's quite the opposite.
Complete this sentence: "Every showrunner wants a show at …"
HBO because it has done such a great job of creating a brand. But now, there isn't just one answer to that question.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.