Ghosts has become a rarity in broadcast television – a new comedy hit.
The series, which is based on a BBC series, stars Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar as Samantha and Jay, a young couple who move into a very old house inhabited by lively spirits.
The quirky comedy, which is a departure from the traditional multi-camera sitcoms at CBS, scored the biggest comedy debut this season and averaging 8.31M viewers it has become the number two comedy this year, behind CBS’ own Young Sheldon. It has grown its audience over the course of its 18-episode season and is also Paramount+’s number one comedy.
The series also scored an early renewal in January, another rarity for a freshman series, allowing showrunners and exec producers Joe Wiseman and Joe Port the opportunity to think ahead for season two ahead of the traditional May crunch.
CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl is a big supporter, telling Deadline last year that it’s an “imaginative and funny, unicorn show” and he has a lot of confidence that “it has a lot of runway in front of it”.
Ahead of tonight’s season one finale – Farnsby & B, where Samantha and Jay open their B&B, despite one of the ghosts, Thorfinn putting a Nordic curse on them when they first moved in, Deadline spoke to Wiseman and Port about the series and their plans for season two.
The duo had previously written a pilot for CBS – Eternally Yours – about a family of normal but emotionally closed off vampires, which encouraged the network to offer them the chance to adapt the British series, which comes from the cast of Horrible Histories and is going into its fourth season in the UK.
“I watched it and five minutes in, I loved it. You could just tell immediately that it was a super original show and a great concept. As far as adapting it, I felt it was a very portably concept. They should be doing Ghosts all over the world, because you can pick prototypes from that country and just start populating the house,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman and Port then went about populating their mansion, swapping a disgraced British MP and a pompous Edwardian ghost for the likes of Alberta Haynes, a flamboyant Prohibition-era jazz singer played by Danielle Pinnock, a hard partying Wall Street trader played by Asher Grodman, Viking Thorfinn played by Davan Chandler Long and Captain Isaac Higgintoot, a closeted gay American Revolutionary officer played by Brandon Scott Jones.
“That was a fun challenge,” said Port. “I was a history major in college and I love historical stuff so we had fun coming up with a bunch of archetypes. We came up with [around] 20 and tried to narrow it down to these eight.”
The first season, which wrapped in January, after a few Covid delays, builds towards the principal stars opening the B&B, while facing various challenges with the ghosts, some supernatural, some mundane.
There have been some guest ghosts such as Hudson Thames’ Crash, a 1950s-era James Dean style decapitated ghost and Matt Walsh’s Elias Woodstone, the husband of one Hetty the ghost, who was trapped in a ghost proof vault.
Walsh’s ghost may return but the pair also don’t want the show to become a ghost of the week story or turn it into Newhart. “We want to be measured in how many ghosts we introduce. But it’s a large property and opening the B&B will definitely allow us to more easily have people coming in the door with stories,” said Port.
The “rules” of the show were largely set in place with the British series, such as the fact that the ghosts sleep, they can walk through walls but they don’t fall through ceilings and they can sit on furniture. “What was smart about the original show was the ghosts look and interact with most things like normal people. Obviously, they can’t pick things up or touch things, but that was a key thing that the [creators] established to help us relate to them. They’re not transparent or floating,” said Wiseman.
Ambudkar’s Jay also can’t see the ghosts – particularly challenging when trying to watch sports with them or play Dungeons and Dragons. The showrunners don’t think this will necessarily change.
“We want to be really careful about that,” said Port. “It’d feel a little TV-ish [if] Jay gets the powers. “We [might] if there’s a creative way down the line. We’ve been discussing stuff like that, but we’re not in any rush.”
One anomaly is that kids can see the ghosts. The pair laugh off the idea of Young Ghosts in the mold of Young Sheldon, but suggest that we might see more children down the line. “It’s something that we’ve talked about doing and it could come into play,” said Wiseman. “Adding a kid into the mix can sometimes be a tricky thing in a sitcom. If we did that, we would want to make sure it’d be down the line and want to make sure that we’re doing it at the right time,” added Port.
The pair have just opened the writers’ room for season two and they have moved up production in Montreal this summer in order to avoid cold weather issues.
“We’ve gotten an early jump and we’re thrilled and excited [for] that,” said Wiseman. “We are actually going to start production a little earlier than normal. We shoot the show in Montreal, which is just a wonderful city but they have harsh winters, and most of our cast can’t put on any additional clothes, so we can’t, after a certain time, shoot outside.”
Port also praised their writing team. “We can’t come up with these ideas for every episode on our own for sure. Our writers are from really diverse backgrounds and points of view, which is so important on this show, because that’s the story we’re telling, about all these disparate people from different eras and how they get along together. That’s sort of the vibe we want in the room, to have a lot of different points of view.”
The comedy is lightly serialized, but viewers can also jump into an episode at any point. It’s been a hit with families, but Port jokes that this somewhat amuses them given that one of their ghosts, Heddy, is essentially a cocaine addict, and one of the running jokes is that the ghosts get “sucked off” or “go down”. “The one word that everybody says online is wholesome, which is a compliment intended, and I don’t mind it, I like it. I like that people are watching with their families. That’s what network TV is all about. But it is funny because we don’t think we’re writing that wholesome,” he added.
Network comedy is having a moment with the success of Ghosts, as well as ABC’s Abbott Elementary. “I love Abbott Elementary. It’s such a smart character driven show,” said Wiseman. “[With Ghosts], I give CBS credit for this doesn’t feel like a typical CBS show that you would find, and they stuck their necks out and took it took a chance to put on something that felt different and I think it’s paid off for them.”
Port added that the differences between a network comedy and a streaming comedy are melting away. “There’s a convergence that’s naturally happening. At some point, it’s just all going be one thing. We’re the number one comedy on Paramount+ and yeah, we’re a network show, but we’re also a streaming show and I think that’s going to more and more be the case going forward.”
Have Port and Wiseman figured out a longer term plan for Ghosts? “We have some big ideas [for ideas] that could be a cool thing that could happen in season three or four but we don’t spend a tremendous amount of time talking about that, since we have a ton of work staring us in the face. But yes, there are, there are things that come up that we think might be good future twists,” said Wiseman.
“We have some plans down the line,” added Port. “But we also don’t want to be super locked in. We’re talking things out and building on previous episodes. When we expand the mythology, then that leads to new stories that we hadn’t necessarily thought of.”
Ghosts is produced by CBS Studios in association with Lionsgate Television and BBC Studios’ Los Angeles production arm. Wiseman and Port exec produce alongside Mathew Baynton, Jim Howick, Simon Farnaby, Laurence Rickard, Ben Willbond, Martha Howe-Douglas, Alison Carpenter, Debra Hayward, and Alison Owen, and Angie Stephenson.