As one of the screenwriters behind both Captain Marvel and Black Widow, Jac Schaeffer was already enmeshed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when she was named head writer of WandaVision. Yet after writing high-stakes blockbusters, Schaeffer found that penning an understated, sitcom-inspired pilot was one of her bigger challenges yet.
Schaeffer and her team had already plotted out the entire season for the Disney+ series, which stars Avengers actors Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda) and Paul Bettany (Vision). When she sat down alone to write the first episode, she was struck by the fear that she couldn’t crack the The Dick Van Dyke Show-inspired pilot.
“It was a dark, bleak moment,” Schaeffer said on this week’s episode of the TV’s Top 5 podcast, hosted by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Lesley Goldberg (West Coast TV editor) and Daniel Fienberg (chief TV critic).
Schaeffer realized she didn’t know how to pull off the section that ultimately saw Vision’s boss Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed) and his wife Mrs. Hart (Debra Jo Rupp) come over for dinner. It’s a key moment, with Mr. Hart choking, shattering the safe sitcom sheen, and hinting at a darker world.
“The first day I sort of floundered and realized I didn’t have the goods to do it. Then I called in three of the writers and was like, ‘Clearly I’m missing basically the whole Hart’s dinner and the confusion,’ ” said Schaeffer.
They knew they wanted the early episode scene of Wanda and Vision in the kitchen, and the scene of Vision going to work. But the rest was unclear, so her team pitched idea after idea to bolster the pilot.
Said Schaeffer: “They saved me.”
WandaVision, now three episodes in, is the first piece of the MCU’s Phase 4. Marvel boss Kevin Feige has laid out his vision through the next few years, and as of yet has not announced any season two plans for the 11 Disney+ shows he has on his roster.
“I cannot talk about second season. That really fits in with the Marvel philosophy,” said Schaeffer. “Kevin is so great at coming out and being like, ‘Here’s what’s happening!’ to a point. ‘Here’s the field, and this is where the field drops off.’ A second season is not something that can be discussed that’s on the field quite yet.”
What she will say: season one feels like a complete story.
“It was always the design with these shows that they feel like a run of a comic,” says Schaeffer. “In that way, it feels very complete. It’s an emotional completion I stand by and feel great about and always was very much baked in.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic upended the world, both the theatrical release Black Widow and Disney+’s Falcon & the Winter Soldier were set to be out ahead of WandaVision. Given the connectivity and teases that weave in and out of the shows and movies, it would stand to reason WandaVision may have been tweaked to accommodate the shifting schedule.
Schaeffer declined to comment when asked, but she did note she and her team were writing WandaVision down the hall from the writers of Loki (due out in March) and Falcon and the Winter Soldier (out late this year). She said there was always a sense of which show would go first, but that Feige leaves wiggle room should there need to be course correction. Schaeffer also was able to use additional downtime to refine the writing even more.
Said Schaeffer: “I think there’s been challenges for Marvel on this, but it’s working out beautifully from where I’m sitting.”