Nearly 25 years after his first groundbreaking animated series, Spawn creator Todd McFarlane is returning to television with an upcoming new live-action series based on the New York City hard-boiled detectives Sam and Twitch that debuted in the original Spawn #1 comic book and starred in several spin-off comic book series of their own.
The series is a co-production of Todd McFarlane Productions and Wiip, who recently produced the critically-acclaimed Mare of Easttown (opens in new tab) for HBO. McFarlane is partnering with writers Jason Smilovic and Todd Katzberg on the new project, and all three will also serve as executive producers.
While McFarlane originally served as executive producer and writer for 1997-99's HBO animated series Todd McFarlane's Spawn (opens in new tab) and 1997's live-action big-screen Spawn (opens in new tab) adaptation, Sam and Twitch will be McFarlane's first foray into live-action television, and as he tells Newsarama, he's excited about this collaboration.
"Mare hit hard and there's something to be said about being around the new kids on the block," McFarlane says. "We're in good hands. New company, but veteran hands. They know how to navigate everything but can we make a drama that can appeal to studios and audiences. We have the same goals, so game on."
Newsarama spoke to McFarlane about the production of Sam and Twitch, how it's taken so long to finally get this project off the ground, and what he has in store for the series down the road.
Newsarama: Todd, today you announced that Sam and Twitch is in development for a live-action television series. You've partnered with Wiip for a co-production. How did this all come together?
Todd McFarlane: A while back I actually signed a first deal with them when they were a fledgling company coming out of the gate. We've both been trying to do our own thing, now I've got a few things they're excited about so, you know, it might be good timing. So let's see what the producers of Mare of Easttown and the creator of Spawn and co-creator of Venom can do together. What's the result here? Let's go find out.
Nrama: Do you have a network lined up yet?
McFarlane: No, no. Nothing that far, yet.
Nrama: So this seems pretty aetherial at this moment.
McFarlane: Well, no, it's beyond that, I think. We have our writers, and we're setting things up. I mean, we're just out of the gate so usually, that means you get Creator A and Creator B and what they both bring to the table.
But we have found and vetted our writers, Jason [Smilovic] and Todd [Katzberg]. Besides them being super cool, if you say their names together you get Jason Todd.
Nrama: That being the name of Batman's first Robin.
McFarlane: We're looking at some showrunners and actors and we'll piece that all together fairly quickly. So then we put together a list of people we want this to air on and we'll pitch it to as many people as possible.
So, we're way past the selling option part of it, but this is just one of the first announcements coming. We've got a few more coming soon.
Nrama: How hands-on are you going to be with this? You were pretty hands-on with Spawn at HBO back in the day.
McFarlane: My goal isn't to be heavy-handed, I'm not interested in that. What interests me is doing strong, accessible dramas that have something to say and that people will be entertained by. If that comes by something I had a hand bringing into life in another medium, so be it. I'm not a slave to anybody having to adapt something directly, if we keep just the core elements of these two men having a strong bond, and they live in a world that can be odd and not make sense... they'll be fine.
Nrama: Sam and Twitch have always had this X-Files vibe to them. How are you going to make it unique and stand out?
McFarlane: It's interesting you say that. Years ago, when I originally went around pitching this series I called it Hill Street Blues and X-Files. That's me aging myself of course, but I didn't want it to be all one thing or the other. I want it to be this weird hybrid. I think if you can balance them, there's a way to be both.
Nrama: Okay, you just said when you originally went around pitching this and I want to say I remember reading something about this in Wizard almost 20 years ago, or at least around the time the HBO show was on.
McFarlane: I think years ago I had it set up with Dick Wolfe then more recently BBC, and the thing that's interesting is that no matter where you went, everybody had a different type of story they wanted to tell. Nothing was the same. Networks wanted these kinds of stories, cable wanted these, so we're probably going to lean more towards the stuff that's more readily available for the streamers as there aren't as many rules.
Nrama: Are we far away from casting?
McFarlane: Well, not that far. We've begun drawing up our lists of people that we may be appropriate. The writers have their wishlist, I have mine.
Nrama: So break down what you think the show has potential to be because it seems to me, it can't just be them trying to hunt down Spawn or any characters tying back to Spawn. You're keeping Spawn out of this iteration of Sam and Twitch, right?
McFarlane: If you look at the body of work in Sam and Twitch in their own comic books, I don't even think Spawn is in any of them. You have to show they can stand on their own two feet. I mean look at Robin's first book, you gotta show that he can be on his own. Sam and Twitch are exactly the same. If done right, somebody who has never heard of me, them, Spawn...none of that matters.
Now, those that do, they'll probably see the few winks I'll be doing but it's not necessary if we do our job right.
Nrama: How's it feel getting back into TV?
McFarlane: [laughs] That question might be more relevant when we're actually making it.
Talking about TV and talking about making tv is all well and good, but the actual content is still king. I envy anybody who gets anything made in that city. Selling your properties, developing your properties is so hard as is, but making your properties is such a different game and you're hoping for a home run every day along the way.
Nrama: This is something you've told me that you've wanted for a long time, albeit we've already seen them in cameos in the Spawn movie, the Spawn TV show, and even videogames. So what's interesting to you about their dynamic?
McFarlane: They're two guys that go to work and have a strong bond towards each other and even though they may think night and day about everything, at their core they need one another more than anybody else. If Twitch couldn't be with his family, ask him who he would want to be with, and he would say Sam.
I think they get each other and have this strong relationship and you can paint that in any strong drama, and that's what people will relate to.
Good drama works wherever you find the material.
Nrama: Are you going to set any 'rules' for the show? I think of Smallville's first season where it was the 'no flights, no tights' rule, but obviously that changed as time went on. For example, are you against Spawn showing up at some point?
McFarlane: We don't have any plans for him. There are characters here with their own stories to tell. They live in a world where sometimes, the shadows move and not everything makes sense, but they're trained to make sense of it. Somebody has to solve or explain these mysteries.
Nrama: Are you drawing from any particular comic arc for the story, or just sort of freehanding it at the moment?
McFarlane: At first, yeah, there's going to be a few things we take from but there's only so much. So if we are successful, we're going to have to freehand a lot along the way. We just have to make these guys strong on their own.
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