Bryan Fuller isn't giving up on Mockingbird Lane. Now that NBC plans to air the pilot as a special later this month, it appeared that the network had thrown in the towel on its Munsters redux. But Fuller—who's in Canada overseeing NBC's upcoming take on Hannibal—tells TV Guide Magazine that he remains bullish on Mockingbird, and thinks Halloween is a perfect time to get viewers on board.
"Such a different show merits a different way of getting it out to the audience," he says. "There's been tremendous support to get it out there and get people to see it, and have them make up their own minds," he says.
Fuller's modern take on The Munsters—starring Jerry O'Connell and Portia de Rossi as Herman and Lily Munster, and Eddie Izzard as Grandpa—wasn't ordered to series but instead will air as a one-hour special on Oct. 26 at 8/7c. That could be the end of the long-percolating project, which had been in the works for years.
But not so fast: Deals with the actors don't expire until July, and if enough viewers tune in to Mockingbird, the possibility of it turning into a fall 2013 series still exists. At Comic-Con this summer, Fuller revealed big plans for the show, including a new take on the Munsters' pet Spot, a revved up Drag-u-la racer and even a cameo by Butch Patrick, the original Eddie Munster.
The Mockingbird pilot reportedly cost $10 million, which may explain why NBC hasn't completely let go of it yet. (Fuller's Pushing Daisies alums Michael Wylie oversaw the show's production design and Bob Blackman designed the costumes.) Fuller has already written outlines for three more episodes, and also crafted a six-episode arc should Mockingbird Lane rise again. "I'm very proud of the show," he says.
Here's an edited chat with Fuller on how he still has big hopes—and big dreams—for Mockingbird Lane.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you hope will come out of NBC's Mockingbird Lane screening?
Bryan Fuller: Airing a pilot as a standalone seems unheard of, but when you actually see the Mockingbird Lane pilot it has a beginning, middle and an end. It's an emotional story of a family told in such an unconventional way, and with so many different tools that we have at our disposal because it's The Munsters and not a regular family unit. It's such a different show that it merits a different way of getting it out to the audience.
If we get a huge number, all the cast are in line to be picked up and to go to series. And that was one of the things that NBC wanted to make sure, that they had all of the cast deals in line — so that if we did get a big number and audiences proved their appetite for this type of show, that they could move very quickly.
There was talk initially of putting it on in the spring and doing 5 or 6 episodes. But I think because it's Halloween and because Grimm is doing very well for them, their impetus was, "Let's get it out there to the audience now and have audiences really react to it." I stand by the show, so I'm like, great, let's get it out there, let's get people to watch it. At its core it's a story about a family trying to carve a path in the world for a son who has challenges. It's intimately relatable, but we get to tell that story with monsters.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you worry that it's so last minute that word might not get out?
Fuller: My fantasy of the show getting out there is people say, "Wow, this is one of the best NBC pilots of the fall, and it's great that it's airing and everyone should take a peek at it."
It's gorgeous, every frame is sumptuous. You get to have these really interesting actors coming in and taking their spins on these classic characters. I love the original Munsters and didn't want to step on it in any way of putting people in Frankenstein makeup and Dracula makeup. So we went our own direction.
TV Guide Magazine: We were expecting to hear of a pickup way back in August. What's the holdup at NBC?
Fuller: Because the show is a different type of show, it's hard to categorize. We are a family show, yet we're a monster show. We are a heightened world but we have accessible emotions. There's not another show out there like this, except for Pushing Daisies. And honestly, that may be a concern for some folks because Pushing Daisies was such a very specific vision. I think everyone is wondering, is it too niche for a network show? That may be part of the concern. But the fact that they're putting it on the air is a huge vote of confidence. If they didn't believe in this show it would not air.
TV Guide Magazine: It sounded like there was a debate over what to do with Mockingbird. What were the options?
Fuller: Every conversation I had with [NBC Entertainment president] Jennifer Salke was, "I believe in this show." It's about really trying to understand who the audience is. What is best way to present something that you haven't presented before? There is caution on that front, but there was also tremendous support to get it out there and to get people to see it and have them make it up their own minds. There were options like going on in the spring. And I'm happy about coming on in Halloween. When we were filming (the pilot) in July, I said, "We should sneak this at Halloween. We should make this a Halloween event and get it out there." It is a Halloween show. It belongs in the autumn.
TV Guide Magazine: Every once in a while a network will air one episode of a show or a backdoor pilot and hope that it leads to more. Seinfeld started that way. Do you think that might happen with Mockingbird?
Fuller: It's not entirely unheard of. But the thing that gives me a lot of hope is that first, I think show is wonderful, I think the cast is great. But also that NBC is putting it on the air. They don't have to do that.
TV Guide Magazine: It's been reported that you and (pilot director) Bryan Singer had a difference of opinion over the look and tone of the show. Can you address that?
Fuller: I have a very specific vision as an artist. Bryan has a very specific vision as an artist. The reason I wanted to work with him on this project was that hopefully, as you will see, those two great tastes taste great together. It's really not about us having differences, but we were two different artists who came together to tell a story, and it's our child. It's about the product of two very distinct artistic visions coming together to create something unique. As opposed to us having direct differences. I read that and thought, "Oh, that's interesting," because we actually got along very well on the set.
TV Guide Magazine: You've got a busy schedule and are focused right now on Hannibal. When would you be able to turn your attention to Mockingbird?
Fuller: The idea would be, in success, to start at the beginning of July to go to series. I would complete my work on Hannibal in mid-February and then segue immediately to Mockingbird Lane to get things ready to start shooting by July, should we be so fortunate to go to series.
TV Guide Magazine: There's no way you could go into production earlier?
Fuller: Once we got Hannibal up and running, it became so clear because of the demands of showrunning, that I could only run one at a time. NBC wants me directly involved in Hannibal and directly involved in Mockingbird Lane, really the only way to do it would be to stagger them, so that they're not simultaneously shooting. That was a great relief to me and a conversation I had with the network very early on, once it became clear that it would be impossible for me to step away from Hannibal. I told Jen [Salke] my fantasy of how this would work out is that I would complete my work on Hannibal and then segue to Mockingbird, as opposed to trying to do them both simultaneously. It would hurt both shows. I love both of these shows so much and I want to be able to give both of them my 100%.
TV Guide Magazine: July seems like a long time away for the cast.
Fuller: Don't forget, we didn't shoot our pilot until July. We would be starting less than a year after we stopped. So it's not that huge of a time difference.
TV Guide Magazine: You were given additional script orders this summer. Have those been written?
Fuller: We have outlines for three episodes, which are ready to go should we go to series. We charted out a six-episode arc and have outlines for three of them. We just need the trigger pulled to get going.
TV Guide Magazine: What do those episodes focus on?
Fuller: Every episode focuses on a different member of the family in a great way. Lily is going through this huge arc of, "I was living my life a certain way because I thought my child was a certain way. Now that my child has changed, do I change?" So she's having an identity crisis. It's all about your identity and family. So each of those individual episodes are all family stories about characters trying to find their place within the larger group. In different ways because they're monsters.
TV Guide Magazine: And I assume, adjusting to their new home and neighborhood on Mockingbird Lane.
Fuller: Yes, so there's a great neighborhood watch episode. There's what happens when the Creature from the Black Lagoon shows up and puts challenges on Herman's and Lily's relationship. That's a tremendous amount of fun. I was bolstered by the success of Once Upon a Time because it took the fantastic elements of fairy tales and brought them to this parallel world of storytelling. We're able to bring in all the fantastic elements of the Universal monster family and tell those stories in new and relatable ways. I really see a connection between those two shows. The audience has demonstrated an appetite for Once Upon a Time, and would certainly find Mockingbird Lane a very tasty dish.