Don’t judge a comic book by its cover, says the former "Walking Dead" showrunner
Glen Mazzara, who recently stepped down as the showrunner of AMC’s "The Walking Dead," led the zombie saga to become the highest-rated drama on television this season. It’s beloved by viewers and critics, and legions of fans follow its post-apocalyptic world in novels, videogames and the comic books that inspired the series.
So far, the hit series doesn’t have above-the-line Emmy accolades to go along with its viewer approval. Other genre shows — including "Game of Thrones" (which had a major plot twist on Sunday night that had fans buzzing) and "American Horror Story" — have won in supporting actor categories but not the biggest ones. But genre shows finally look to be gaining on their mainstream rivals.
Here, Mazzara discusses how the shows have broken through, and what it will take for them to get the Emmy recognition they deserve:
I was always a fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature, and my family and friends didn’t always appreciate it. It was always considered sort of nerdy. But that’s OK.
I still appreciated comic books and fantasy and sci-fi. I was always a huge "Twilight Zone" fan, and growing up in New York on weekdays they would have the 4:30 Movie on ABC. My friends and I would always run home after school for "Planet of the Apes" Week and Monster Week, which was usually "Godzilla." That was a blast. I read lots of sci-fi and fantasy: "The Lord of the Rings," H.G. Wells, "Tarzan," the Elric stories by Michael Moorcock, "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman. Terrific.
Being a fan of these types of shows and movies used to be considered oddball. Fans wanting to participate in these fictional worlds were dismissed as Trekkies or something like that. I don’t think that’s still the case.
What changed? For one thing, the way we tell these stories. Originally a lot of sci-fi literature was published in short form in magazines. There was a pulp quality to it. But then you had great writers like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin and Arthur C. Clarke — writers who started elevating it to serious literature in a longer form. It started to become something that people respected.
Similarly, in the past, a lot of genre TV shows and movies were campy. And although that might be enjoyable to certain people, it’s dismissive to what genre fans really love: fully realized, believable, worlds. Even 10 or 15 years ago the special effects weren’t as masterful as they are now. So sometimes sci-fi or fantasy felt a little cheap or cheesy.
What’s possible now, on a weekly basis, is pretty astonishing. If you look at the special effects of "The Walking Dead" or "Game of Thrones," there are just more resources available to a new generation of writers, directors and TV executives. People who grew up with these kinds of stories can finally bring them to life the way they always imagined.
Genre fans really want an immersive experience. They’re a great audience: They’ll try anything. They take a lot of risks. They’re loyal. They give feedback. They want to be able to not only watch the show while it’s on every week but also play the videogame and read the books and experience it online, as well as connect with other fans and bloggers.
"The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" lend themselves to that immersive experience. And because shows are now being produced at a very high quality level, genre fans aren’t dismissed anymore, and in fact, you’re able to expand your audience far beyond the fanboys.
TV has the time to build a universe in a way not every medium does. With TV, you’re inviting these worlds into your house. There’s something about TV that feels more personal than a film franchise. You watch with your friends, you debate it immediately online or with your friends or coworkers or family. People are not only watching the show but also entering a feedback loop in a way that people don’t really do with films anymore.
I think the Emmys have started to give more respect to genre shows. They recognized "Game of Thrones" and "American Horror Story," and I was glad to see that. But a lot of times, genre shows are only recognized by the technical Emmys.
I believe that’s changing. A lot of people may dismiss these shows as being simplistic, but many of them are tackling major themes and complicated character arcs and treating that material as seriously as any other drama on air. I would say don’t judge a book by its cover.
Would it ruin the fun for me if genre shows starting winning lots of awards? No, it’s irrelevant. As a viewer, I don’t watch a show simply because it’s an Emmy winner, though I’ll check it out because I’m in the business. I watch shows that I like, and I don’t think a show needs awards validation to be great.
"The Wire" and "Battlestar Galactica" are two of my favorite shows, and they never won Emmys for best drama. Go figure.