Creating a US version of an established British TV series is a risky proposition at best. For every successful revamp of The Office, the broadcasting landscape is littered with the corpses of well-intentioned Americanized shows that failed to catch on.
With any luck, the new version of Being Human won’t suffer the same fate. Based on the offbeat BBC dramedy about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a flat together, the American series stars Sam Witwer, Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath in those roles with the action moving from Bristol to New England. Executive producers Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke recently sat down to talk about the challenges of creating a new version of a popular series…
What are you happiest with as far as the first season of Being Human?
Jeremy Carver: I think we’re both happiest with the way that the entire cast has come into their own. There’s always going to be a comparison but I think they stand on their own two feet quite well. When you’re creating a show like this, you’re always sort of doing comparisons, but we don’t do comparisons in our own minds anymore because our cast is so wonderful and vibrant in their own right.
So it’s basically become your show.
Jeremy: And frankly it’s become their show as well, which is in some ways even more important, because even though we don’t talk about it that much, each of the cast has probably not seen that much of the original.
Maybe some have seen more than others, but it’s always a little birdie in the back of an actor’s head, that they could potentially be seen as walking in someone’s footsteps. But to their great credit, they’ve shoved all of that way down. And like I said, each of them has really excelled in their own right.
Is it difficult as writers to create a series that avoids those comparisons?
Anna Fricke: When we started this project, we watched the first season of the British show and absorbed it- and then tried to forget about it. Our first episode opens and ends in a very similar way but early in the season we really tried to break free and not worry about what happened in the British series and just try to think about what makes sense to us in this version.
That was very freeing, because even though it’s obviously a great template, we tried to free ourselves from it as much as we could.
Was it difficult at first to strike that delicate balance between drama and humor?
Jeremy: For Anna and myself as writers and frankly as fans, that’s the kind of television we like the best and aspire to write. As a writer, it’s the most challenging to make those wild swings between humor and drama and horror and to make it work. But I think we’re both very happy with the way it’s come out in the episodes that we’ve cut together so far.
Did you spend a lot of time fleshing out the ‘rules’ of the series?
Anna: We had to come up with that stuff both internally, but the network also wanted to know what those rules were. We’re still trying to figure some of them out, because there will be a line of dialogue and But and one of the actors will call and say, ‘But I thought I couldn’t do this,’ and we’ll say, ‘Oh God, I guess you can’t!’
So we have to keep on reminding ourselves and remembering and trying to think about what these rules mean and if there are there any exceptions. But in answer to your question there was a lot of time spent in the beginning saying, ‘Okay, what are the rules? Which vampire rules are we going with or not going with?’
Jeremy: We came up with a fairly massive monster rules list at the beginning, but then of course we had to put it to the stress test of actual scripting. And like Anna was saying, a lot of things became a little more flexible.
I think genre lovers in particular really appreciate rules that mean something. That said, one of the great charms of the British version is they sort of throw the rules out the window, especially in season one.
They turn things on their ear, like the idea that vampires can’t be out in the sun, or you’ve got a ghost who’s visible and making cups of tea. As a fan of the genre, I found that refreshing, so we’ve tried to keep elements of that.
How difficult was it to find your three leads?
Anna: We did the American casting down here [in LA], because it’s a Canadian content show so there were rules about who had to be Canadian and who could be American, so we basically cast Aidan and Josh down here.
It was very difficult during those first couple of casting sessions, because we kept picturing the British cast in our heads, so we had to say, ‘No, no, we have to find our own people, so what are we looking for?’ That took a long time.
We saw a lot of guys and as we were saying earlier, it’s hard to find people who can strike that balance between humor and darkness. There are a lot of vampire shows out there, so we had a lot of actors who would come in and play it very dark and intense, while we were thinking, ‘Where are all the laughs?’ so it was very hard to find that balance.
You want somebody who can be funny, but you also need somebody who’s heartbreaking so it was very hard to find that balance, but I will say that with these three, and we actually locked on to Meaghan Rath who plays Sally right away.
We always liked her, but the second we saw all three of them together in the chemistry read when we started to do pairings, I thought, ‘I want to watch that show!’ I had actually thought the three of them had met each other before. They were really effortless together and immediately clicked from the beginning.
[Next: Carver & Fricke talk about the metaphors and mythology of Being Human USA…]