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You said you started out trying to write features. When you finished X-Files did you keep writing sci-fi because you loved it so much or because that's what you knew?
Well, it's very easy in this business to get pigeonholed, and people look at what you did last and say, "Well that's what you do, that's what you're known for." So they'll hire you to do more things like it. I'm lucky in that I do love the genre, and genre writing, so that doesn't bother me. I have friends though who got their lucky break on a sitcom and really don't want to write sitcoms but they're stuck because that's what you're known for, and for somebody to hire you, they're looking for what you've done, and it can be difficult to break that mold. But I'm lucky in that, and it's what's great about Supernatural. The features that I was writing in the very beginning were in multiple genres - I wrote a horror script, I wrote a romantic comedy, I wrote a film noir thriller, because I was trying to show my stuff, and what's great about Supernatural is that I can bring a lot of those skills whether it's the thriller aspects, the humor, and certainly the horror to the table. So you get to play with that stuff and it's valuable to write other jobs and valuable to that side of your writing but you don't always get hired to do it.
What's your take on the state of sci-fi on TV these days? Is there an audience for more?
I definitely think there's an audience for more. I mean, certainly the explosion of sci-fi on cable proves it, and then Heroes on mainstream is a very genre show. I definitely think the audience is out there and the timing is right. I think when the world starts to get screwy, people look to fantasy and science fiction and horror for some relief, for some release, for an opportunity to deal with emotions that they don't necessarily want to face by watching CNN. And I think historically, I think that's always happened - people turn to fantasy. The old Universal horror movies were the most popular things right after World War I and after the Great Depression, for example, when people didn't want to face reality. I don't want to make it sound like they're escaping this, but it provides people with an opportunity to deal with emotions. The greatest stuff, X-Files in its own way, fit its times - the paranoia and the fear of government and now the stuff that's coming out also fits our times. That's why I think Heroes is such a success and I think people will be clamoring for more. The trick is, and you know how the business is, there's one success in a type of a show, whether it's a comedy or a drama, and all of a sudden there's ten of them. And if there aren't any hits in that group...Last year, when Supernatural started, there were a half dozen genre shows on TV, and none of them made it. We were blessed with a certain amount of success considering our network and the draw. Our numbers aren't Desperate Housewives numbers by any means, but who we are and where we live, we did well enough to come back, which is great.
How did Supernatural come about? How did you get involved?
Supernatural sprang from the mind of Eric Kripke, and God bless him for it because I'm having a ball. It's a really fun show to work on . Eric had done Tarzan for the WB and when that went away, they asked him to do another pilot, and he had always wanted to do a horror Movie of the Week-type show, investigating American myths and legends and urban legends and whatnot. And, as I understand it, he went through a couple permutations before and actually wrote a whole script about a reporter and a partner and a little bit of Night Stalker, X-Files kind of thing. And the executives at Warner said you know, that's not quite what we think is right, and in about two weeks he came up with the brothers and the mythology and the search and on the road, pounded out this script and they loved it. And after they shot the pilot and brought David Nutter on board, who I know from X-Files, that was when they approached me. They were looking for a Senior Writer to come on to work at the writers room with the writers and help break stories. And I loved the pilot and they loved my work, and it was kind of a marriage made in heaven. After the first meeting we were like, let's do this.
Supernatural has some similarities to X-Files. Does that make it harder or easier for you, personally, to write episodes?
That's a good question. It does have similarities, but the tone is so different. We look at them as sort of what is the scary movie of the week that we're doing. So, for example, the next original that airs on December 7th is called Croatoan, and we kept saying last year that I'd love to do a "28 Days Later" kind of episode. So we're always pulling from much more of a popcorn, movie to movie, Saturday matinee fun place than the X-Files, which pulled from a lot of darker, government conspiracy, evil among us sort of source. So in a way, they're both equally difficult, but they come from a different place.
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This interview is the fifth in a series of BuddyTV interviews with the creators, writers, and producers behind many of TV's hit shows. Thus far, we've featured an interview with Mark Schwahn (creator of One Tree Hill) an interview with Hank Steinberg (creator of The Nine), an interview with David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik (the creators of The Class), and an interview with David S. Rosenthal (new Head Writer/Executive Producer of Gilmore Girls).