CW’s highly anticipated drama, Beauty and The Beast, promises to be one of the exciting new shows to premiere this fall. This weekend at Comic-Con, we had a chance to sit down with series executive producers/co-showrunners Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders to talk about their role in bringing the series to television. Peterson and Souders have been writing and producing partners for over a decade after they first met at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Both served as showrunning executive producers on the Emmy award-winning Smallville.
At a roundtable interview, they told us what attracted them to the story, how it evolved from the 80’s cult-classic CBS show that inspired it, how the look of the show is sleek but still retains a gothic undertone, how 9/11 was chosen to be part of the Beast’s backstory to appeal to a modern audience, and why it was exciting to explore the relationship between two very strong-willed and physically capable characters. They also compared Kristin Kruek’s character, Lana, in Smallville to her new character, Catherine, in Beauty and The Beast. Finally, they discussed the challenges of adapting the BATB story for the modern information age of Google, Facebook and Twitter and finding fun ways for two people to connect while retaining the mystery of their characters. Check out our recap of the Beauty and the Beast panel and hit the jump for the interview.
Question: What drew you to this story?
Kelly Souders: We got to sit down and see the pilot at one of the CBS screening rooms and we were constantly surprised in a great way. The character of Kristin (Kreuk) as this complete kick-ass woman was obviously a huge draw and also the way that Jen (executive producer Jennifer Levin) and Sherri (executive producer Sherri Cooper) made Vincent so accessible and you feel for him. You can see the pain in his eyes and how hard this is. Knowing immediately as we walked out that the ideas just started flooding in, that’s usually when we know we’ve hooked into something, because we can’t stop thinking about it and we have all these thoughts about it.
Brian Peterson: On just a personal level, since I was little, I’ve loved fairytales, especially this one, because it is about what goes into making a beast a beast. Do you start as a beast? Do you turn into a beast because of the way that people treat you? I think it’s something that is really universal and hit a chord with me when I was little, and so, hopefully we can explore some of that.
What are the major changes or differences in this show from the 80’s show?
Peterson: I think the look of the show. We’ve tried to use some visual motifs. As far as the cinematography and the lensing and all that, we are presenting a different view into that world. It’s a little sleeker, but we’re keeping the gothic feel underneath it.
Souders: With Vincent’s whole character, from his ties to 9/11, to the military, to how he’s ended up this way, it’s something that hopefully is much more visceral for people and easier for them to click into just because it will feel like “Oh God, this could’ve happened to somebody I know.” I know people who have dealt with the big tragedies of 9/11 or have come back from the war or what happened during the war. His character is a big difference, a big change as well.
Peterson: I think our Beauty will be saving the Beast as much as he’s saving her which is a little different.
What was your initial reaction when you first saw the pilot? Was there anything that surprised you?
Peterson: We actually didn’t come in until after the pilot was shot because Jen and Sherri wrote the pilot and shot it and then brought us on. What was interesting to me was how they actually went to 9/11 and they chose that as part of his back story that we can unravel because it’s something that people have shied away from for very obvious reasons. The opportunity to deal with some of that aftermath and the sensitivity, we can use that, and it will be a really neat thing.
How would you characterize the relationship between Catherine and Vincent? Is it a tragic love story or…?
Souders: Tragic love story is good, although you never know. It might have a happy ending hopefully around season 12. What’s been fun about their relationship is she’s so strong. She’s such a strong character, and she herself has come out of tragedy and rebuilt her life and dedicated it to helping other people. She has a very strong opinion and he’s the same way. He was a doctor, then went into the military and came back, and for ten years, has been in hiding. So these are not people who are using her like doormats. That’s been the most fun part of it is that we have two characters who are really strong — strong-willed and physically capable — so it creates a dynamic that’s been a blast to write.
Peterson: They’ve convinced themselves, like a lot of people, that they don’t need anybody and so I think watching that all break down will be really fun.
It’s unusual to have four showrunners, why were you brought on?
Souders: We’ve done that before. We had a year where we had four of us on Smallville. Actually it makes things a lot easier because we usually take turns taking each episode so you’re on every fourth episode, and it allows you to delve into the details and focus on it in a way that [you can’t] if you’re on every episode, like a lot of showrunners are. Everybody weighs in. It’s not like that one episode is just that showrunner spearheading it, and it gives you a little breathing room to really pay attention to every little detail because there are so many of them.
Peterson: What we learned for a lot of shows, especially on the CW, is that they are very production heavy because you have car chases and trains and leaping and monsters and things that a lot of shows don’t deal with. There’s so much of your time that’s dedicated to that. It’s so helpful to have somebody else from the writers’ room while you’re dealing with your episode. It worked seamlessly for us on Smallville so I think it’s going great.
Are you having any trouble keeping Kristin different from her Smallville character?
Souders: No. I mean, Kristin was two characters in a lot of ways on Smallville. There was the girl that was in high school who was running a coffee shop, but she evolved over time to be this very strong willed and very physically present woman. So, I think it’s a separate character in a lot of ways. This is somebody who has been through tragedy in the same way but has dealt with it very differently and has a very different sense of humor, has a different way of dealing with relationships. Lana had a tendency to be very open, and Cat has spent most of her life diving into her work and not getting that close to anybody. As you will find out in the pilot, she’s had a string of ex-boyfriends because she has a little intimacy issue going on. It’s different.
Peterson: She grew up with a loving family before tragedy hit, whereas Lana, the character, was damaged very early on and that informed her character. That’s why you see a lot more confidence, a lot more sarcasm, a lot more fun from Catherine.
A good deal of the Beauty and the Beast story that we’ve seen adapted, whether on film or TV, took place in the age before the internet. How are you adapting that aspect for a story set in the modern information age of Google, Facebook and Twitter?
Peterson: It’s main storytelling hell because it’s really hard to keep a secret. It’s really hard to not communicate. But I think that’s what’s great about this world is it’s a world where he is off the grid, and for me, it’s a way to step back. She lives in a world where all that is happening, whereas he lives in a world that’s a little bit more removed where he can’t just log in and tap in and text. You don’t really want a Beast tweeting.
Souders: (laughs) I didn’t think that was going to happen.
Peterson: It’s a thing we deal with all the time.
Souders: It’s something in the writers’ room we’ve actually been talking about – the fun ways of how two people who can’t connect actually connect and we were actually talking to some people who were talking about CIA agents and how they get notes back and forth and how they communicate when they can never be see together and can never pick up any kind of device to help them reach out and touch the other person. It’s actually been really fun.
Beauty and The Beast premieres on the CW on October 11th.
Catch up on all of our continuing Comic-Con coverage here.