Comic-Con 2012: Bryan Fuller on 'Mockingbird Lane' and 'Hannibal'

'Pushing Daisies' creator gets to reimagine Herman Munster and Hannibal Lecter

<p>Hugh Dancy will play FBI&nbsp;profiler Will Graham in NBC's &quot;Hannibal.&quot;</p>

Hugh Dancy will play FBI profiler Will Graham in NBC's "Hannibal."

Credit: NBC

Through his work on "Wonderfalls," "Dead Like Me," "Pushing Daisies" and even "Heroes" (where he wrote the one episode, "Company Man," that people still look back fondly on), Bryan Fuller has established a reputation as one of the more distinctive, creative voices in the TV business. Yet this season, his two NBC projects aren't original visions, but one reboot and one reinvention of a pair of very familiar concepts.

With "Mockingbird Lane" (a pilot has been shot, and NBC seems likely to order it to series), he's taking the characters from goofy '60s sitcom "The Munsters" and putting them into a dark, quirky drama series. With "Hannibal" (already picked up for mid-season), he's going back to the early days of serial killer Hannibal Lecter, and to Will Graham, the FBI agent who finally caught him.

But at a Fuller-centric Comic-Con panel to discuss both shows, he argued that reworking a famous property requires plenty of original thought.

"I'm not afraid of reboots or reimaginations," Fuller said. "I'm afraid of bad ones. It's a tricky game, for sure. But I think if you go in and you're trying to do something different and not just recreate what was already there, you'll be okay."

Fans were shown a "Mockingbird Lane" sizzle reel — introduced by the original Eddie Munster himself, Butch Patrick — that included a very violent (in that cartoonish Barry Sonnenfeld/Tim Burton style that's been featured prominently in Fuller's other work) incident at a scout troop camp-out, then provided glimpses of Jerry O'Connell as a much more normal-looking Herman Munster, Portia de Rossi as Lily, and Eddie Izzard in vampire half-drag as Grandpa.

Fuller said that executives at NBC and Universal were initially reluctant about any significant changes to the original show and its characters, until he started putting it into more modern, emotional terms.

"With the pilot, you'll see that it's about monsters, but it's also about parents trying to craft a way in the world with a child who is a little different." Later, he described the Munster marriage as "Herman, who is essentially a zombie, living in a constant state of decay, living with a woman who doesn't age. Once I started talking about the emotional realities of these characters, they got it."

Bryan Singer directed the "Mockingbird Lane" pilot, and Fuller praised his work on making the characters "accessible and relatable, and we could use that as our coupon to do some really scary, crazy stuff."

Of the look and tone of the series, he said, "We wanted this to look like if Hitchcock were directing a Harry Potter film," and many alums of the "Pushing Daisies" crew were brought in to work on this series.

Midway through, the panel shifted gears to discuss "Hannibal," which will star Hugh Dancy as Will Graham (played in the movies by William Petersen, and then by Edward Norton) and "Casino Royale" villain Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter. It spins out of a brief passage from Thomas Harris' first Hannibal novel, "Red Dragon," in which we learn that Lecter served as an FBI consultant who helped Graham catch other serial killers, before Graham finally figured out who his partner was.

"We talk about season 1 being the bromance, and season 2 being the horrible break-up," said Fuller. In success, the plan would be to follow a path where "season 4 is 'Red Dragon.' That's probably the easiest way to think of it."

Fuller thinks there's value to putting these two famous characters into a TV format, because "you have the real estate to tell a much more complicated emotional story," in which we see how profiling killers began to wear on Graham, and Lecter grow bolder in his homicidal activities.

By far the funniest part of the panel was Fuller discussing the involvement of José Andrés, the James Beard Award-winning chef who's serving as the show's "cannibal consultant."

"The first time we met with him," Fuller recalled, "he was a little too excited" to explain that you could easily cook almost any part of the human body, and to suggest recipes for smoked lungs, "emulsified eyeballs, stuffed body part things... we're coming up with a lot of ways to cook people. They sound delicious!"

A fan noted that he was talking about arcs for many seasons down the line after he's had a lot of bad luck with his previous network series.

"It's just the way my mind works," Fuller said. "I had those (later) seasons worked out on 'Dead Like Me' and 'Wonderfalls' and 'Pushing Daisies,' too. I just plan and hope we get to the bridge, and if we don't get to the bridge, they'll probably be spread out over other projects. If I have an idea, I like to use all the pieces of the buffalo."

Alan-sepinwall-sm
Alan Sepinwall
Sr. Editor, What's Alan Watching
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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