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Frank Darabont is happy to be working in television again.
Following his well-documented ouster from AMC’s The Walking Dead, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter behind The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption brings noir to TNT with Mob City, a period drama following the LAPD’s attempts to bring down Mickey Cohen and the mob during the 1940s.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the showrunner to discuss TNT’s unique broadcast pattern, the appeal of doing the first season as a “limited” event series and why he thinks so many filmmakers and actors are flocking to the small screen.
Are you happy with airing as a limited series?
I’m absolutely delighted. I think it’s inspired to air two a night over three weeks because otherwise we’d be doing the difficult thing of an hour a night and football season gets in the way. Then the audience has to hunt for it. I think it’s a really smart way to go.
What do you think of the “limited series” phenomenon?
We were never really geared to be a limited miniseries. Think of this as a half a season. Just like when we started The Walking Dead, that was six episodes — a half a season. It’s just the way they’re airing it has created this impression that it’s a different kind of thing. It’s not. We shot these as individual hours just like any hour of television show.
Does season one set the stage for a potential second season?
Oh hell yes! I don’t say goodbye to people without leaving them wanting more. There’s a big cliffhanger!
Would you want a second season to run as another run of six episodes or grow it like The Walking Dead did with 12 episodes in season two?
The whole idea was if there is a second season, if we earn an audience, they will give us a more typical order. Just like Walking Dead. The idea of doing six to start is brilliant. I don’t know if we invented that with Walking Dead, but we might have. It gives the filmmaker a chance to prove his case with the audience more than just a pilot. You can’t really tell anything from a pilot. With six, you can really make your case and the network can give you the opportunity to do that without committing their resources for a full season. It’s a great way to launch something.
Filmmakers and feature actors are all heading to TV of late — Halle Berry signed on for CBS’ Extant, Susan Sarandon and Meg Ryan are both eyeing TV series. What do you think the appeal is for both creatives and actors?
For one thing, there’s a certain volume expected — you’re not sitting around for two or three years waiting for someone to say yes. So you go to work. There’s a machine that kicks in with television and you have to keep it fed. That means we get to do what we do on a regular basis; we’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. The other thing is, a lot of the best writing has fled to television because they don’t want it in movies anymore. Hopefully the pendulum is swinging back, but I think movies by and large have sucked for some years now because it’s all the special effects extravaganzas, and I don’t give a damn about any of the characters because there’s no writing there. You see that with the actors, too, who are coming to television for that very reason. They’re getting stuff to play in television that they don’t get to do in features.
Plus TV is getting much darker with stuff like Mob City and The Walking Dead.
And certainly with Breaking Bad and going back to The Sopranos, it’s more adult content now. It’s not Mr. Ed anymore or The Beverly Hillbillies. You’ve got some serious storytelling going on with very adult content, and that is such a pleasure. Plus it’s not all just gloom and doom on the feature side, but the other part of it is that television can give certain niche stories a chance. Like Breaking Bad never would have existed as a feature, I don’t think, but it’s brilliant television. You wouldn’t necessarily get to do a noir movie — like Mob City — but you can do it for television. The genre stuff, the niche stuff, has more of a chance to breathe on television. So we run to television to do our jobs.
What happened with The Walking Dead? Was it a budgetary concern that led to your dismissal?
The problem is a very complex one; the crux of the argument was a budgetary argument. I’d rather not get into it again.
Mob City premieres Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. on TNT. Check out THR’s roundtable with Darabont and the cast, below.
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