The nation may be politically divided. But producers can, and should, try to bring people together by addressing universal questions about the human condition, a panel connected by ties to AMC’s The Walking Dead said today at the industry’s NATPE confab.
AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan kicked off the discussion noting that a recent New York Times story disclosed that Walking Dead is popular among Republicans and Democrats alike — due to the series “universality to stories and universality to characters. They’re a little bit transcendant, and touch all humans where it matters the most.”
Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd says that the people creating the show “don’t have an agenda we’re pushing….It’s a show about moral and ethical choices. And that’s something everyone can embrace.”
She acknowledged, though, that due to “feedback on level of violence” following the gruesome first episode of the season premiere last year “we did tone it down for episodes we were still filming.”
“Your show’s not a success if no one cares when you kill off main characters,” she says. “They let us know they were heartbroken” although the TV show was being “semi-consistent with the comic book” on which it is based.
She says that there’s a disconnect between what people thought they saw, and what was actually on the screen. “When I saw Psycho I was convinced I had seen a lot of things that I hadn’t seen. At the same time, this is not a show that’s torture porn….Let’s make sure we don’t cross that line.”
On the theme of universality, Colman Domingo who plays Victor Strand in Fear the Walking Dead, said that when reading for the part the actor “thought he popped out of Richard III.”
Sapan also made a Shakespeare comparison when asked whether he felt a need, after last year’s election, to change his company’s approach to programming.
“The Merchant of Venice has been kicking around several hundred years,” he says. “It’s wild to say it – this is going to be the stupidest thing I ever said – but Shakespeare holds up.…The greatest stories are about the human condition at its most serious and significant and nuanced and contradictory. …There’s a universal and enduring experience to that.”
Indeed, Hurd says that character driven TV shows are starting to influence movie makers, as evidenced by the success of Human Figures.
“The fact that people are now connecting with nuanced stories, nuanced characters, stories about something, reflects the fact that they have a lot more patience,” she says. “That’s part of how television has moved the dial.”
But how creative can TV be when so many shows are spun off from, or replicate, hits?
“Television, at its best, does both,” Sapan says. “If you do it well and respect the material, then you’re doing a wonderful complement to a competitor.” He cited the Breaking Bad sequel Better Call Saul as “pretty complex and pretty wonderful…If you love the characters and want to develop them and bring something new to the interpretation that’s different, or just reinarnate it well, then it’s not only respectable, it’s spectacular.”