A version of this story about the series “Wednesday” first appeared in the Guilds & Critics Awards / Documentaries issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Since the beginning of their Hollywood careers as writing partners, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have tackled beloved properties with an impressive fearlessness. They worked on a “Lethal Weapon” sequel, a riff on the “Superman” mythology (“Smallville”), a “Mummy” movie and a “Charlie’s Angels” revamp. But the duo’s latest project, the creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky “Wednesday,” feels daunting even with their previous credits.
It’s an adaptation of the Charles Addams cartoons and 1960s TV series “The Addams Family,” this time focusing on perpetually haunted daughter Wednesday (now played by Jenna Ortega). It’s the first high-profile live-action take on the material since Barry Sonnenfeld’s iconic movies in the 1990s. And to make things even more intimidating, “Wednesday” marks the first television project in three decades from Tim Burton, who executive produced and directed the first half of the season.
Their initial pitch, Gough said, was six words long: teenage Wednesday Addams in boarding school. Still, Millar said they “wrestled” with what type of school Wednesday would attend. They ultimately decided on Nevermore Academy, a school for weirdos that includes merpeople, psychics, werewolves and a guy who, like Medusa, has snakes for hair and can turn people into stone. “We wanted to capture the Addams Family vibe without the Addams family,” Millar said. “Putting her in a Gothic space and (thinking), if the Addams family are like this, there must be a broader world.”
Helping expand “Wednesday’s” world was, of course, Burton. In 2020, before shopping the project around, they wanted to attach a big director. “He was always our first choice, for obvious reasons,” Gough said. But Burton hadn’t been involved with a television show since 1993’s “Family Dog.” They persisted. Gough remembered being on a FaceTime call in which the director sat in his garden, which was adorned with a huge topiary dinosaur straight out of “Edward Scissorhands.” Gough and Millar said Burton told them, “I read the script, it spoke to me. I would have dated Wednesday Addams in high school.”
“He loved the idea of long-form storytelling,” Gough said. “And initially he wanted to direct all the episodes but there wasn’t a logistical way to make that happen.” Still, Burton remained an essential part of the production, designing the show’s monster and giving final approvals for visual effects shots all the way through the first season finale. “He’s been very involved and has really embraced it, and I think he’s had a really good time doing it,” Gough said.
Not that the show’s first season was a cakewalk. The series was shot in Bucharest during the pandemic — “and then,” Millar said, “in the middle of it we had the war in Ukraine, which was next to Romania. Then there was a threat that Chernobyl would be hit, and everyone freaked out. The show looks so breezy and fun, but it was very hard.”
Read more from the Guild & Critics Awards / Documentaries issue here.