Creator Bryan Fuller on Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and Being Cancelled

Okay, so your show getting cancelled isn’t the end of the world. But we’ve never heard of one solitary writer-producer who doesn’t feel like he and his team and their creation just took a bullet to the brain. For example:

So this is what Bryan Fuller looks like...
So this is what Bryan Fuller looks like…

by Jennifer M. Wood

With Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal, Bryan Fuller has made a career out of finding both the humor and humanity in what would largely be considered the darkest of subject matters: death. And it’s a good thing. Because up until this year, a third season of any one series has eluded Fuller.

Sure, Fuller’s work has been widely acclaimed and recognized. Pushing Daisies alone was nominated for three Golden Globes and won seven of its 17 Emmy nominations during its too-short life. But for just about every series that he has actually gotten on the air (add Wonderfalls, which was canceled after four episodes), Fuller has had another one of his small-screen creations stopped in its tracks (a planned reboot of The Munsters called Mockingbird Lane, which only aired a special; an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’s first novel; No Kill, a pet project of Fuller’s and his first bona fide sitcom). While Fuller admits that he always takes rejection personally, he’s not about to write off any one project or character. He’s famously written characters from his past series into his current ones, and he already knows what he would do if given a second chance to breathe new life into any one of his dearly departed earlier shows. (Are you listening, Netflix?)…

Dead Like Me was your first series as showrunner, but was it the first series that you actually created?

Yes. Many hymens were broken on Dead Like Me.

It premiered in the summer of 2003, but when did you begin writing it?

I had written it my last year at Star Trek: Voyager. While we were winding down that year, I was writing the pilot for Dead Like Me on spec, and writing it almost as a writing sample because I had only been writing for Star Trek and my manager told me, “Nobody’s going to read that so you need to write a spec that serves as your calling card.” He said I could write a script for another show or write something original and asked if I had any original ideas. I pitched him three and he said, “Write Dead Like Me. I can sell that one.”

Between Dead Like Me and Six Feet Under, death was pretty in vogue. But what’s interesting about Dead Like Me is the way it deals with the idea of life after death so literally. How did the concept come about?

I had gone to a lot of funerals as a child, so I was more than just a little death-obsessed. And I had always loved horror films, so I wanted to do something in the horror genre but wanted it to be sweet and charming at the same time. Because there’s a difference between watching horror, where you can leave it behind, and writing horror, where you have to live in it for months and months at a time. It becomes very oppressive. At the time I was also very in touch with the post-college malaise of the twentysomething who didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was temping before I got the job at Star Trek, and I really wanted to relate my experiences as a temp through a character that also had something to say about life. So here was this young woman who was avoiding being alive and engaging in life and the universe kind of threw it in her face and said, “Okay, you avoided being alive but now you are dead and you still have to deal with all of the problems of being alive for eternity.” There is no escape from that and that seemed like the fun thing to explore with a young woman.

Was the show close to what you originally envisioned?

Well, the world became much smaller than what I had imagined. I imagined a great death set piece in every episode, with a startling visual representation of what every individual imagined as their death, and what death meant to them translated through a happy thought or a happy image. There was a greater mythological sense in the show that slowly got weeded out because we simply couldn’t produce it where we would understand what these Gravelings were that set things into motion. They were the kind of the Rube Goldbergs of death who would set a variety of traps that ultimately led to someone’s death. So understanding what they did and the difference between the Grim Reapers, who pop the souls, and the creatures who actually set the death in motion and the relationship between those two entities was something that was going to be explored much more. There was also an interesting aspect of Georgia Lass, the main character, in the pilot: She starts to suspect that her father is homosexual and then realizes what a miracle her life was because if her father is gay and had followed his true path he wouldn’t have set out to marry a woman and create a child. But because of various influences he did, so she started to realize what a fluke her life actually was… So it was another aspect of you-are-who-you-are and the design is random and accepted and that is what life is. It was another philosophy of the show that kind of got whittled away in the process as it kept going.

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