EXCLUSIVE: “Change for the sake of change is not helpful,” cautions The Walking Dead and Lore executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. “I think how a show handles that change and can reinvent itself while still remaining true to what it was that fans embraced from the very beginning is the litmus test of a show’s continued longevity,” she adds, with both the returning AMC blockbuster and the Amazon Prime Video true horror series having had more than their fair share of shifts for the new seasons.
Along with a new showrunner in Angela Kang, TWD will see big changes with the departure of original cast member Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan in its October 7 premiering ninth season.
Lore, returning October 19 for a second season on Jeff Bezos’ streaming service, is the anthology series based on Aaron Mahnke’s popular and often horrifying 2015-launched podcast, re-focused with a new showrunner in The Exorcist alum Sean Crouch and mining different approaches and sources for stories – as you can see in this BTS clip below:
A long-time attendee of the confab on both coasts, Hurd will be onstage today and tomorrow for New York Comic Con panels for both Lore and the zombie apocalypse series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics.
Before today’s Lore panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom with Crouch, Mahnke, fellow EP Howard T. Owens and cast, Hurd spoke with me about the changes on both shows as well as the impact that Lincoln brought to TWD in his role as Rick Grimes. The EP also talked about the impact that she believes Comic Con itself can have and why Lore is timelier that ever.
DEADLINE: You’ve broken through a number of boundaries over your career, what does it mean to you for The Walking Dead to have its first female showrunner in Angela Kang?
HURD: Let’s go back to when Angela first joined the show. My team at Valhalla and I had read a fantastic script that she’d written, a spec about militias in the United States. I read it, and I thought she is a unique, powerful voice. I also thought she deserves to be a showrunner when she’s had the necessary experience. Now, it is an absolute thrill and a blessing that that show that she’s going to run is The Walking Dead.
DEADLINE: Why specifically?
HURD: Because you can tell from the very first thing that you read of someone’s whether or not they have unique, compelling visions and that they understand the human condition. Angela understands Walking Dead canon, but she also is very insightful into the human condition, and I think our very best seasons of The Walking Dead combine both.
DEADLINE: From what I’ve seen so far, as I said in my review, this season has a very strong start in no small part because of the change in tone. How is that going to play out over the rest of Season 9?
HURD: I think that the show has been often incredibly bleak, as you’d expect in a post-apocalyptic world. In this season, you’ll see people continuing to have issues, continuing to struggle, but I think there’s a great deal more hope. You know, it’s not the same all-out war that we’ve been experiencing the past few years on the show, so I think it will be great to see these communities thrive in some instances and struggle in others, but in every case, seeing different examples of leadership.
DEADLINE: Speaking of leadership, once again you have more than one series, more than one panel at a Comic Con. After all these years, what’s the impact of this year’s New York Comic Con for you?
HURD: Well, as challenging as I find waking up every morning to some new bombshell about the political environment, I’m reminded at Comic-Cons just how wonderful people are. I’m reminded how we can all get along because we share more in common than the things that divide us. So, they continue to give me hope, and I look forward to them more than just about anything else.
DEADLINE: You mentioned leadership earlier and this is of course the season of The Walking Dead that is about to lose its leader with Andrew Lincoln exiting his role as Rick Grimes. The specifics of how that will happen are one thing but I wanted to know how losing an original cast member, the number one on the call sheet feels to you?
HURD: His presence will continue to resonate throughout the show, even in his absence. I think that, as you know, on call sheets, no one else will ever become a number one. He will always be our number one. My Twitter photo, you know, for @GunnerGale, is Andy and me on our first day of shooting. That will remain my Twitter photo because, to me, one of the most essential reasons behind the success of The Walking Dead is who we cast to play Rick Grimes. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it better.
It’s the same way with other significant characters that we’ve lost, although they’ve never been at the same level as Rick Grimes. When we lost Hershel, when we lost Carl, when we’ve lost Glenn, we’ll never forget them. The fandom will never forget them, and Rick Grimes continues to live on in Judith and in Michonne and in the impact that he had on everyone who remains on the show.
DEADLINE: Angela taking over, Andrew leaving, Lauren Cohan having a reduced presence and moving on to the ABC show Whiskey Cavalier, and significant shifts in tone, that’s a lot of change for such an established show. Do you guys run the risk of too much too soon?
HURD: Change for the sake of change is not helpful. I think how a show handles that change and can reinvent itself while still remaining true to what it was that fans embraced from the very beginning is the Litmus test of a show’s continued longevity. In this case, I do think that we have the right leadership behind the camera and in front of the camera to do just that.
DEADLINE: Well, to that, there has been some significant change in that other show of yours, Lore, about to have its second season debut on Amazon on October 19. How did bringing Sean Crouch on board as show runner change things for Lore?
HURD: We met with quite a few people to come on board to Lore this year because Glen Morgan was not available, and Sean really impressed us. He impressed us because he identified something that we were struggling to figure out, which is that the show works best when it follows the true-life characters who experienced one of the stories that we’re following. The vintage material, the documentary material, all the archival material, all needs to be in support of that principal story, because as consumers of storytelling, visual storytelling, we connect with characters.
In the first season, we were very true to the podcast. The podcast remains one of my favorite podcasts, and I love how much great storytelling Aaron Mahnke is able to pack into each podcast, but when you were seeing the visual representation of that, you want to identify with the actors who are bringing those true-life characters to life. That’s the vision that Sean had for the adaptation of the podcast for Season 2, and I think it’s a winning combination.
DEADLINE: How does that combination actually work and will you stick with it for a Season 3?
HURD: (laughs) Let’s hope that a lot of people stream the show and we get a third season, but yes, I think it worked well. The feedback that we’ve gotten from friends and family, as well as everyone at Amazon, was that this deeper dive into one story was the way to go not only this season, but should there be future seasons. This time, some of the stories that we’re telling include something from my neck of the woods, which is the story of Jack Parsons, one of the founders of rocket science and rocketry, who also happened to be a disciple of the man referred to as the wickedest man in the world, Aleister Crowley, and his black magic. What’s more fun than launching rockets while also conjuring demons? Right up my alley, and the fascinating thing about that is that the story takes place in my hometown of Pasadena, California.
DEADLINE: The Parsons story, with TWD and Exorcist alum Alicia Witt in it, is one of the Lore tales this year not from Aaron Mahnke’s podcast. How was Amazon with that shift after having picked up the show based on its stories from the Lore podcast?
HURD: I’ll tell you, from the beginning, Amazon was very supportive of the idea that we have something that could not be found anywhere else. In other words, stories and characters that aren’t true-life characters, that aren’t in that podcast, and they encouraged us to pitch ideas to them. The first round was, of course, with Aaron Mahnke coming up with stories that he felt comfortable that would fit within the world of his podcast, and that’s how we made those choices.
DEADLINE: Earlier, you referred to the current political and cultural climate in America right now, especially as the Senate seems to be moving closer to a confirmation vote on Brett Kavanaugh. From what I’ve seen of Season 2 of Lore, there is a lot of today seeping through those tales of yesteryear, is that intentional or a matter of perspective?
HURD: One of the stories that we tell this season is the story of Mary Webster, and Mary Webster was a witch who was prosecuted 10 or 11 years before the Salem Witch Trials in another part of Massachusetts. I think we need to look at how women who spoke up for themselves, who did not abide by society’s norms of the time, how they were treated and how, in some cases, they were tried as witches. Because I think we’re getting to that time where people are being called out as witches again. In other words, unless you conform or if you dare to speak up, you’re pilloried. It seems that no one wants to get at the truth anymore. They have an agenda. That was very much true in the times of the witch trials, and I think it’s sadly true now, too.