A spin-off of the hit CW series Riverdale, the new drama Katy Keene follows Katy (Lucy Hale), a 20-something aspiring fashion designer who makes clothes for anyone she can, including her friend and new roommate, singer/songwriter Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray). Along with fellow roommate Jorge Lopez, aka Ginger (Jonny Beauchamp), who’s performing at a local drag bar while waiting for his shot on Broadway, and “It Girl” Pepper Smith (Julia Chan), the foursome is attempting to take New York City by storm, as they reach for their dreams in a city where everyone is striving for success and dreaming of greatness.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, executive producer Michael Grassi talked about developing Katy Keene with Riverdale creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, making a world that’s bright and aspirational, why they wanted to move Josie over to this series, what makes Katy Keene a great character to center a show around, why Lucy Hale was their lead, how they’re approaching story on a weekly basis, why they decided to end the pilot on a cliffhanger, and how far ahead they’re thinking about all of the characters.
Collider: This show is just so fun, bright and colorful. Was that intentional?
MICHAEL GRASSI: Absolutely! I’ve been working with Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] for four years now on Riverdale, and that’s a noir in a small town, so when we started developing Katy Keene, we really wanted it to be a bright, hopeful, aspirational world, and we wanted that to be reflected in the storytelling, but also in our wardrobe, in our sets, and everywhere. So, we do want to lean into this colorful world that is very different from Riverdale, but also just as beautiful and just as rich and just as complex.
What were the conversations like, in deciding how would you connect Katy Keene to Riverdale, and which character you wanted to have be the bridge between the two shows?
GRASSI: Good question. Really early on, Roberto had a meeting with Peter Roth and Susan Rovner, and Katy Keene was the next character in the Archie-verse that people really saw a show about. And then, with Riverdale, we love Ashleigh [Murray] and we love the character of Josie so much, but it was always challenging to break a story about music, or Josie writing a song, or a story about the Pussycats, when there was a serial killer around. So, the idea to bring Ashleigh to New York City to chase her dream, and pairing her with this iconic comic book character Katy Keene, and fusing these worlds of music and fashion, and then also Broadway and drag, and then also Pepper’s character, the show really became about what it’s like to be an artist in your 20s, and chasing a dream, and all of the ups and downs that come with that.
What’s the fun of taking a character like Josie, who we already knew, and getting to see her at a different time in her life?
GRASSI: It’s actually been a wonderful experience to write Josie, a little bit more mature. In Riverdale, she had a lot of walls up. Moving her to New York, I think she’s ready for opportunity, she’s ready to meet new people, and she’s ready to be an artist. It’s been really fun and exciting to write to that, and Ashleigh is so inspiring. Her work in the pilot is so wonderful. It feels like she’s stepped into the spotlight that she’s always been meant to be in, which is cool.
You also talk a bit about Veronica being the one to bring Josie and Katy together. Can we hope to see that character show up, at some point?
GRASSI: Great question. As we know from the Riverdale pilot, Veronica moved from New York to Riverdale, so we know that she’s the New York connection. She introduces Josie and Katy, and fingers crossed that we’ll see familiar faces from Riverdale crossover into Katy Keene, at some point. I think that would be a lot of fun. I think there’ll be opportunities to maybe tease where they’re at. There are definitely opportunities, and we’re talking about them in the room.
What do you, personally, love about Katy, as the center of this show?
GRASSI: I love that Katy feels like a bright light. She’s so hopeful and she’s always there for her friends. She’s always supporting her friends’ dreams, and lifting them up and making clothes for them. I love that we have a character on screen that’s tactile and making stuff with her hands. I think that’s really special. Katy’s an orphan. She lost her mom really young, and she had a single parent. She doesn’t have a safety net, so she’s basically trying to make it on her own. That’s hard, especially in New York. I hope audiences will really get behind her and root for her. I know that I am. And Lucy [Hale] is so wonderful. She really brings all of that to life, but also deepens it and grounds it. I’m excited for where the character of Katy is headed and to see what Lucy does with it, as well.
How quickly was it Lucy Hale became the character?
GRASSI: Really good question. Very early on, when we were developing the show, Lucy was the first person that we had talked about. We did a vision board, and Lucy was the Katy Keene in our imagination. And then, we met with her and she stepped into the room, and she’s so wonderful and such a pro. Watching her work on the pilot was such a delight. I remember, when we sat down for the first table read and she read the words for the first time, Roberto and I looked at each other and were like, “This is Katy Keene.” She is Katy Keene. Sometimes that happens when you’re making a show, and sometimes it doesn’t, but in this case, it just clicked into place, in that magical way. Lucy just nails the likeability fully, 100%. After she watched the pilot, Susan Rovner, one of our executives at Warner Bros., said that she had a smile, from beginning to end, and we totally agree and want to lean into that. We’re happy and excited to be a hopeful, optimistic show.
Is there anything that gets Katy down?
GRASSI: Yeah, I think so. Living in New York is hard, and while the show is hopeful and optimistic and is a fairy tale, there’s often a dark side to that and she’ll be grappling with complicated stuff, like how far are you willing to go, to make your dreams come true? What happens when your high school sweetheart proposes to you? She’ll be faced with real dilemmas, and some of them are darker and complex because that’s what it is to be in your 20s. We often think of the show as a second coming of age. Riverdale is a coming of age show. This is more about being in your 20s. What happens when your mentor and the person that you thought was lifting you up in your career, suddenly turns on you? That’s a real story that people in their 20s grapple with, and that’s something that Katy grapples with, in the pilot. We’ll continue to push that. While Katy will be brought down and she’ll have some real emotional gut-punches throughout the season, luckily, she has her friends to lift her up and help her keep going.
How did you figure out who to surround Katy with, when you were putting together her group of friends?
GRASSI: Really good question. The Archie comics universe is so vast. There’s a character in the comics, Ginger Lopez, that’s a fun character, and we thought, “We’ve seen the female quartet of four girls on a show before, so wouldn’t it be amazing to have a young gay man be part of that group?” And then, the really fun part is that he has this drag alter ego, which is Ginger Lopez. That really clicked into place and was an exciting story that we hadn’t seen on The CW before, or any other show. We’re really excited to get into the nuances of, what does it mean to be a drag queen in your 20s? What’s it like to date as a drag queen? What is it like when you’ve come up to your family as a gay, but you haven’t introduced them to Ginger yet? There’s lots that we want to do with Ginger, and get into that specific storytelling. With Pepper Smith, Pepper is a really fascinating character in the comic books. She was the fourth member of Josie and the Pussycats, and got kicked out of the band. She’s an agent of chaos in the comics, and we’ve re-imagined her to be a New York It-girl who knows everybody. She’s always going to be introducing our characters to people to help them. You’ll learn more and more about Pepper, throughout the season, as the season goes on.
How are you approaching story on this show? Is it mainly about characters and relationships, or are there going to be mysteries happening?
GRASSI: Very good question. We will be telling larger over-arching stories that involve the city and some of our soapier elements, and the Cabots will also be involved. Our characters will always be chasing their individual dreams, and they’ll always come back together in the apartment or at Molly’s Crisis, to have their scenes together and lift each other up, or support each other, after a really hard day. Romance is also a huge part of the show, and we’ll be doing a lot of relationship stuff, like Josie meeting Alex Cabot in the pilot. That story will continue. And what is Katy gonna say to KO, after the pilot? That’s another thing that we’ll be diving into? We’ll be telling romantic stories about Jorge, as well as Pepper. The same way that Riverdale is very much a character on that show, the talent is so prominent and New York will be very prominent, as well. The city will inspire our characters, and also knock them down sometimes ‘cause it’s a hard city, and there are stories to find within the city.
When you have all of these different characters in the show, cast chemistry is really important. Did you have a moment when you realized that it was all really working?
GRASSI: Yes, absolutely! I was terrified, but I knew that we had cast really talented actors. The first table read, I remember looking at Roberto and we both were like, “This is gonna be great.” We both felt it, when it clicked into place, especially in those scenes when the core four were all together in the apartment. That’s when we were like, “Okay, this works.” And then, being on set with them and our (pilot) director Maggie Kiley, who’s amazing, we really saw the chemistry and the rhythm of that foursome. They do feel lived in. Even though Josie is the new friend in the group, she feels like she finds her place in there, fairly quickly. Their chemistry is so important because the heart of the show is that friendship with the four people. (Executive Producer) Greg Berlanti said, very early on, when we were developing it, that it’s a family show, much like Rent. It’s about a bunch of friends going after their dreams, and then coming back together.
Along with the city of New York and Katy’s apartment, you also have a department store that plays a very big role in the series. What’s that like to use and explore?
GRASSI: The reality of Katy’s life is that she needs a day job, and she happens to love her day job. She loves working at Lacy’s, and she’s so proud of . It’s a world that we’ll continue to go to, throughout the season, and it will also be a place where our characters can cross. We think of it as the most glamorous department store, and very much the last of its kind. There aren’t any more department stores like that, and it’s hanging on by a thread. Lacy’s is gonna be Katy’s workplace, but we’ll also get to know the store more. We’re gonna have a lot of fun at Lacy’s and tell a lot of work stories. What’s nice about a department store, especially in New York, is that you really get all types of characters coming in. We might have different clients on different weeks. In the pilot, you meet Prince Eroll, and that’s a storyline that might continue into series.
How did you come to make the decision to have such a big cliffhanger in the pilot?
GRASSI: Well, it’s just very much Katy’s story and it felt like a natural place for this question. At a time when she’s choosing to pursue her dreams, she’s faced with this life-altering question and whatever she decides to say can alter the course of her entire life. When she looks inward, we’ll learn a lot about Katy. It’s such a fun world, and it’s just fun to have relationships on screen, both with friendships and romantic relationships. It’s gonna be great.
Have you had bigger picture conversations about how to set things up for a second season?
GRASSI: Absolutely! We’re talking about all of that, every day, in the room. I don’t know how much I can say. I don’t know I can say that much, but we definitely have exciting plans, for all of our characters. It’s gonna be fun and shocking and emotional and very romantic.
Katy Keene airs on Thursday nights on The CW.