'Pushing Daisies' Writers Reunite to Talk TV's Darker Turn, Increasingly Lax Standards

Coral Von Zumwalt
"I love TV, but you can get worn down," says Lisa Joy, photographed with Bryan Fuller on Sept. 22 at City Market South in downtown Los Angeles. "With Bryan, that's never happened."

Lisa Joy ('Westworld') and Bryan Fuller ('American Gods') talk about picking battles with network execs and what their new series have in common: "Both our shows have a lot of cock."

She joined the staff of his whimsical ABC drama Pushing Daisies in 2007, but Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy first met American Gods showrunner Bryan Fuller before that — they just can't agree on exactly how. He says: It was on the dance floor at the roving weekly party Bootie L.A. She says: It was on the set of NBC's Heroes, where Fuller was a writer, when Joy, then a law student with TV-writing aspirations, visited a friend there. Either way, the prestige pair — both on THR's top 50 rundown of the most powerful showrunners in TV — have landed in vastly different gigs now. Discuss.

Even if you can't agree on how you met, can you tell me how Lisa got her first job on Pushing Daisies?

FULLER You gave me a spec script.

JOY I was writing a Veronica Mars spec script while I was studying for the Bar. My friend passed it on to you. This is one of those stories that makes people hate how lucky you are, because I got so incredibly lucky.

FULLER The thing that I remember most about our meeting was that you wrote a Veronica Mars script that was every bit as good as the show itself and felt like one of the produced episodes. I thought you were delivered by a stork as a preformed writer.

JOY When I was in law school, we would watch Wonderfalls every week. And I thought, "Who is the wonderful maniac who made this show?" After I graduated, I thought I was going to have to do a legal procedural. That seemed like it was my likeliest shot. It was a show about a pie-maker who could only kiss the love of his life through Saran Wrap.

TV, your own series included, is much darker these days. Do you see room for lighter dramas like Pushing Daisies?

JOY When I look at Stranger Things, even though it's horror, there's a lightness to those kids and it being the 1980s. There's room for more of that playfulness, levity and fun. But my show right now is kind of a dark exploration. (Laughs.)

FULLER I'm telling you, you have to write and direct Amazing Stories. [Fuller is developing a reboot of the anthology.] That's the goal with Amazing Stories — to get people like Lisa to give you the experience of a summer movie in the '80s.

What do you fought the hardest for at work?

JOY Time. That's the one thing. No matter how benevolent the network, they can't break the space-time continuum and give you more time to write and shoot every episode.

FULLER I had two experiences in the last year — one where the studio and network understood the value of time, and one where they didn't. Even on the one where they did understand and gave us more, it still wasn't enough. Wondering why we can't have two more days to find that shot is when it's most maddening, even if you've already burned through three additional weeks.

When you're catching up with other writers, what do you talk about lately?

FULLER The complete shift of American politics toward something farcical. The metaphor of that has potential to be expressed through both of our shows. That and my rage quotient, which has risen dramatically.

What's changed the most about your jobs in the past 10 years?

JOY There's a big difference between first and second seasons. In cable, they want you to go bold — but you're trying to define something new and carve out a space. It's not until everyone is on the same page about what show you're making that everyone really pushes for it together.

FULLER With American Gods, there was a time when the network had no idea what we were doing. They disengaged from the show. "We're not being helpful, because we don't understand." They reengaged when they got it. That's not an isolated incident.

FULLER The networks have taken on the mantle, at least in some respects, of the artist's vision. On Pushing Daisies, we couldn't show a toilet! Now both our shows have a lot of cock. Times are changing.

JOY We've got a lot. But ours are mostly flaccid, because they're dead and in cold storage.

FULLER But they're nice though. They're show-ers.

Are you allowed to show erect penises?

FULLER Yes, but you can't show it heading toward a portal of any kind.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.