Jazz Tangcay talks to producer Sera Gamble about You and The Magicians
Sera Gamble work has included Supernatural and The Magicians. When producer Greg Berlanti mentioned for You, he said it was as addictive as a TV show and when she read the book, she felt the same. The show was developed into a series and follows a bookstore owner who becomes obsessed with a writer, but he’s got some dark secrets of his own.
I caught up with Gamble to talk about producing the show and what drew her to Joe’s dark world. We also talk about the show’s new home at Netflix and how both Greg Berlanti and John McNamara have inspired her career.
Read our chat below:
How do you straddle the genres of going from The Magicians to You? Fantasy and dark are such different worlds.
It’s never really been a problem to go between them. I never get confused moving from one to the other. Fundamentally, the building blocks of a great episode of television are not dependent on the genre of TV that you’re making. There are some principals involved in making an episode of TV producible and fun and interesting and twisty. It carries through no matter what. In a certain sense, my job is the same no matter what writer’s room you’re in.
You mention twisty, what was it about You that struck you about delving into that world of Joe that made you want to do it and say yes.
Greg Berlanti sent me the book originally. He told me for him the experience of reading the book was like binging an addictive TV show. He said, Call me back if you feel the same.’ I thought his assessment of it was totally right.
The sense when you’re reading Caroline’s book is that you are deep inside someone’s most honest thoughts – which are familiar, seductive and really relatable. I don’t know if this is universal, but I think of some pretty judgemental and unflattering things deep in the private recesses of my mind. At the same time, I’d turn the page and be really surprised by the next thing that was happening. The combination of the intimacy and surprise turns of the plot felt really promising and felt like they could be brought to life on TV.
I love that we get to dive deep into his mindset. In season one with that ending and we’re moving to LA for the next season, but we’re also moving from Lifetime to Netflix. Talk about how Netflix turned out to be the perfect home this season?
When we were creating the first season, even though we were thinking about a model where it would air once a week. Netflix as a destination was pretty ubiquitous or just the understanding that when you’re first making a TV show that it will eventually land on a streaming platform where people can binge and catch up – we knew that the show would be on Netflix eventually.
Greg and I both had had this experience on other shows where they’d have a respectable first season and the viewership would bump up because people would discover it for the first time on Netflix. We were talking about it early on in the process when we were making the show for Lifetime that we wanted it to function as the classic TV show where there’s a cliffhanger at the end of the episode and you have the stuff to talk about, but we also were imagining ourselves binging the season. We tried to construct a season that would work well from that, and I think the show benefited when it landed on Netflix.
The numbers for the show are so wild. What is that like for you to see that in black and white?
I agree that the number was crazy to behold. I try not to think too much about the size of an audience for many reasons because I can’t control it. You can hope for a lot of people to find a show and watch a show and for the show to pierce through the noise of a thousand other shows that are premiering that week. The only thing the writers can do is do the best job they can do writing it. Those are certainly the biggest numbers that I’ve seen so far in my career on the shows that I’ve been a part of.
I’ve always been really grateful for the audience that we have for each project. I come from the theater, and you are performing your heart out for 99 people and all 99 seats were filled. I think we had 600,000 people watching the first run and that number might not have been as exciting as some executives hoped for, but I have a hard time being disappointed with 600,000 people. That is so many fucking people and when you get to 40 million people, then I can’t even wrap my head around it. It’s very cool. I’m not great at being a snob or discerning about the size of an audience, I’m just grateful when an audience shows up.
The show has created such a social conversation, and everyone has their opinion of Joe. What is that like for you as a producer to see the audience then be very vocal about him?
From the perspective of being a fan, and someone who wants to connect with people online, with other people who enjoys the same TV that you do -I think it’s a very cool time for TV. I think my propensity is to let people find each other online and not get too involved and not seek too much of it. We’re grateful that people want to tweet about it, write about it and have opinions about it. Some of it doesn’t feel like my business either. Once something that we’ve been a part of is out there, we have made this to the best of our ability, and we are putting it out there for you to decide if you enjoy or you don’t enjoy and to talk about it. I’m not immune to people’s opinion, but that’s the privilege of the audience and the writer should go back to her office and write more things. [laughs].
We move from New York to LA. What is that like for you to move cities as a producer, but also for Joe?
Joe doesn’t come to LA because he loves LA, he comes here because he knows it’s a place where people would be unlikely to look for him because they know he doesn’t like LA. He’s a classic New Yorker who looks down on LA a little bit.
I was born in New York but have spent most of my life here in California. We were all excited to get to move here. There are different subcultures for Joe to skewer. He had a lot to say about a wealthy elite person in New York. The flavor is very different in LA, but the writer’s room is here in LA and we also have a few New York transplants. We were delighted that there was a lot for Joe to observe and complain about.
When we were writing about Benji and Peach in New York, there’s a lot of humor in the way they live their lives and we can be very cheeky about them, it wasn’t like we had to pull back. Hitting that sweet spot was easier. In season two in LA, we found we’d document very precisely what we hear in Whole Foods and Erewhon. It would come across as so broad and so ridiculously funny that I found myself toning a lot of things down so it would be in the pocket that is the tone of this show. We have fun with and don’t make too much fun of. We’re not a comedy reaching for the joke. We are right in the heart of that wellness culture in LA, and we watch what people spend their money on in LA and walking that tonal line has been a different challenge this season. Hopefully, we hit it, and people enjoy it and don’t feel we’re being too mean.
What’s it like doing The Magicians? I spoke to John McNamara back when he was doing Trumbo about it and here we are, another huge fan following show.
To me, The Magicians feels like home. I’ve spent most of my career writing fantasy and The Magicians is such a labor of love for John and myself and all of the other writers. We wrote the pilot in his garage. We optioned the book with our own money. John and I were looking to write something we were passionate about and wanted to give ourselves a break from developing within studios. We bought ourselves a little time and freedom. We’re two friends writing what we care about.
It’s interesting that you bring up Trumbo because when The Magicians got picked up, John was about as busy as a person can be. He had the show Aquarius and Trumbo which was doing really well and now The Magicians. I got to watch how he juggles these things as someone who has been a showrunner a lot longer than I have. When it looked like You was going to go to series. I wrote the pilot with Greg Berlanti, and I was side by side with the guy who is maybe the best in the business and juggling a lot of stuff. To me, this is one of the luckiest things of my entire life that I have gotten to work alongside these two gentlemen who are so great at remaining so creative and authentic on the page and caring about all the right stuff as artists. They’re also both so prolific. I really learned from the masters about going back and forth, John and Greg are true masters at that.