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Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller has had a love affair with The Munsters since he was a kid, when he’d cry to get his siblings to bypass Leave It to Beaver and watch the CBS comedy instead.
Now, the prolific showrunner who also has a series take on Hannibal set up at NBC, is having his turn with Lily, Herman, Grandpa and company with a high-profile pilot set up at the network. The highly stylized take — now in its third incarnation — stars Portia de Rossi, Jerry O’Connell and Eddie Izzard as the famed family and was the talk of Comic-Con, where a four-minute sizzle reel screened to dedicated fans of the Dead Like Me scribe.
With NBC ordering additional scripts for the project — a series order could come as soon as August — The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Fuller at Comic-Con to discuss how Mockingbird Lane could do for NBC and Universal’s library of monsters what Once Upon a Time has done with its bank of Disney characters, how CGI will be involved and how the tone will change as the Munster family’s stories are told in an hour format vs. the 1960s CBS series’ half-hour comedy format.
The Hollywood Reporter: You mentioned this is the third incarnation of the Munsters reboot. How has the project evolved?
Bryan Fuller: The first two are relatively the same. It was essentially more on the scale of the heroes. The first version was where each of the monsters had individual stories that were woven together. Then it was from Marilyn’s point of view. Then Bob Greenblatt came in [as NBC Entertainment chief] and said, “I really want this from Herman’s point of view.” I said, “Well, this is what I was going to do for Episode 4,” and he said to make that the new pilot.
It’s an ensemble, but the emotional point of view is from Herman because it really is about a father who is realizing his child is taking after the other side of the family. He has so few things in his life that are his, and his son Eddie was one of them — and now Eddie’s more like Grandpa than he is Herman. Everything is a metaphor for something that you can identify with in a relationship; the fact that Herman is in a constant state of decay, and he’s married to someone who doesn’t age. We get to play with all those insecurities. The fact that he was made by his father-in-law and then has to live up to those standards; he’s always trying to find his own identity.
There were a few fun homages to the original series, including hints of the famed theme. Will you be using that as the show’s theme song?
That was for Comic-Con only. We’re going to talk to the rights holder because it was actually composed by producer Frank Marshall‘s father, Jack Marshall. We have to negotiate the rights to be able to use that theme with him but he’s very enthusiastic about it. We’re going to try to work it out so we can use the theme in the show. But we don’t know yet if we can. I like what our composer Jim Dooley did; the point is to have a taste of it but we didn’t want to do the comedy. We didn’t want the score to be Pushing Daisies. As we’ve been working on the music, we’ve been talking about how to differentiate Mockingbird Lane from Pushing Daisies. They’re both vibrant, but Mockingbird Lane is obviously much darker and more fiendish. We have the same composer doing the music, and we needed to create our new sound for Mockingbird Lane using the old sound from The Munsters.
Are you worried about remaking a show from the 1960s?
Like I said during the panel, I’m not afraid of remakes; I’m afraid of bad remakes. It was interesting to see the reactions to the cast as we were casting because you have this ingrained in your head: Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, Butch Patrick and Yvonne DeCarlo. Audiences now don’t remember The Munsters, unfortunately, because it should be celebrated. For a lot of people, this will be their first exposure to it and those of us who are familiar with it on television will be, “OK, this is another version of a great concept.”
Originally, Mockingbird was developed for fall but pushed back to summer. What happened?
It was really tricky to cast the show; the tone of it is very specific. I tend to write in a very specific tone and there were a lot of people who were afraid.
Eddie Izzard was the first one cast for the project. What did casting him say about the Munsters story you’re going for?
Bryan Singer worked with him before on Valkyrie and we were setting up the casting meeting with the network and Eddie Izzard came up. He wasn’t available when we were starting the first time so because we were having such difficulty casting we decided to do it off-pilot season. The network made the decision to push it to protect the show and get the best cast to do it off-season.
What notes from the network have you gotten so far on the pilot?
Primarily they were budgetary, doing things in other episodes because we’re already spending so much money on this pilot.
Was there something specific that you wanted to do that you weren’t able to?
There’s a couple of things that I’m hoping we get to put back in the pilot. There was the funeral home that’s Goodbury and Graves that was in the pilot, and we moved that to the second episode. Lily hanging out underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, we have a minimized version of that now but it was this big thing before.
Your plans are to bring in some of the classic Universal monsters — Wolfman, Creature From the Black Lagoon, etc. Will they be live-action or CGI?
The Creature from the Black Lagoon will be like [1988’s] Splash, Too: When he’s wet he’s the Gillman. That’s one of the best makeup effects — prosthetics — that anybody has done, that monster costume. And when he’s dry, he’s a handsome guy.
Similar to Lily’s spider dress?
Yeah. That’s the fun thing with that opening: You see all of these rats, how they stream out of the case. And then they pile on top of each other, and Grandpa forms out of that. The spider effects for the weaving of Lily’s dress is amazing. There’s some stuff where Grandpa turns into a monster later.
The original was a half-hour, with your dramatic take stretching to an hour. How does that impact the tone?
The Munsters actually do what monsters do: they eat people and they have to live with the ramifications of being monstrous. It’s like grounding it in a reality because the half-hour was a sitcom, we saw the monsters: they were monsters on the outside and weren’t monsters on the inside. For us, they’re monsters outside and inside, and we get to double our story. So any story you can tell on Parenthood and True Blood, we can tell. To have Eddie Munster be the starting point for the family — because in the past, when Eddie was born human, they stopped living like monsters because they didn’t want to damage Eddie. You get to this interesting thing with Lily, who’s been hiding who she is for the last 11 years and now has to accept who she is after she’s denied it for so long. It’s those types of emotional stories — yet they’re going out and eating people at the same time.
How soon could the ferocious family pet Spot appear?
You see him at the end of the pilot in CGI. He’ll look like a Harry Potter dragon. It’s like Eddie’s invisible friend.
NBC has ordered additional scripts for it, have they given you an indication of when you should know if it gets a series order?
We’ll probably hear in August. Right now we’re doing stories with Phantom of the Opera and Creature From the Black Lagoon. I’m excited about what happens when Marilyn’s brother comes into the picture.
ABC tapped its Disney character library with Once Upon a Time, is there a similar inspiration to use Universal’s bank of monster characters here?
Once Upon a Time has fairy tales. We have universal monsters, which for me are the fairy tales of my youth. That’s where I grew up, loving The Munsters, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula, the Metaluna monster from Silent Earth and the Mole People. I would love to rope in all of those characters from those stories, as well as get the Cat People and get those types of things. But we can’t just do Monster of the Week; they have to have a reason for being in the story — an emotional capacity — for us to interact with their characters.
Would you watch Mockingbird Lane? Hit the comments with your thoughts.
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