R.L. Stine published 62 little books in the Goosebumps franchise between 1992 and 1997, turning the classic horror and sci-fi of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits into a hit YA series, long before YA franchises dominated the libraries. It became the best-selling book series of all time in its day, at one point selling four million copies a month, and spawning a creepy little kids anthology show. 30 years later, the YA and horror landscapes have changed dramatically, but Goosebumps still has something to offer beyond deep nostalgia.
Case in point, the new Disney+ and Hulu reboot of Goosebumps, which takes the bold step of incorporating multiple stories from Stine’s series and arranging them into a surprisingly coherent, clever little TV series. The show follows the aftermath of a Halloween party in a haunted house where a kid was burned alive decades prior. The party (and the house’s new owner, played perfectly by Justin Long) unleash the ghosts of the past, and suddenly various teenagers and their parents are drawn into a dangerous nightmare involving various cursed objects.
In a cogent and elucidating conversation, Goosebumps‘ executive producers Conor Welch and Pavun Shetty spoke to MovieWeb about their attachment to the series, the choice to deviate from a mere anthology show, and just what makes a good reboot.
Coming Up Goosebumps
MovieWeb: What were your relationships like with the Goosebumps books prior to your involvement here?
Pavun Shetty: I grew up with the books. I loved them. I used to steal them off of my older sister’s bookshelf and read them, and I always felt like I was reading something that I shouldn’t be a part of, which I think is part of the Goosebumps mythology. And I also watched the original ’90s shows, so I was pretty lucky when I started working at our company, Original Film, that did the first movie and the second movie.
Pavun Shetty: And so the director of the first movie, Rob Letterman, and I started talking about what a TV version would look like. And we wanted to make sure that we honored the iconic stories that everyone loved that R.L. Stine created, but also did an elevated take on them and just added a little bit more intensity to the scares, and a little bit more sophistication to the humor. Rob and Nick Stoller had worked together before, and all of us had worked together, so we kind of put together the take that we were trying to appeal to both adults and kids at the same time.
Conor Welch: Similarly, I grew up loving the books. It was in fact the first book series that made reading fun to me, as opposed to just a task or an assignment, you know, demanded by teachers and parents. But what’s really cool is now my oldest daughter is just crushing through this book series as well. So it’s really fun that we can share that. And that was a big endeavor, in terms of putting the show together, with making something that she and I could watch together. That fans of the books when they first came out would watch by themselves but also with their kids, who hopefully now are into this series on their own. I feel like one of the hallmarks of the books was that they were all a little bit scarier and a little bit funnier than you expected them to be. And that was certainly the intention with our adaptation as well. And I think we nailed that.
(Not) An Anthology Show
MovieWeb: There’s a unique hybrid here between an anthology series and a linear narrative. Why did you decide to incorporate multiple books into little stories while combining them into a cohesive arc, rather than simply making an anthology show?
Pavun Shetty: We talked about it a lot. But we look back on these books with a real sense of nostalgia now because we read them at such a formative part of our youth, and now our kids are actually reading them for the first time, and it’s such an odd experience to have those things together. And I think that was our goal of the show, to really tap into both of those things at the same time, so people can genuinely enjoy the show for different reasons.
Conor Welch: One of the reasons that the series is so timeless is that kind of all the horrors and hauntings and scares are really grounded in very tangible, very relatable, very real-world issues that most adolescents go through, whether it’s alienation, identity, love for the first time. It felt like we really wanted to introduce each character of this series with a very clear, very relatable issue that then we could sort of elevate and make more cinematic through some of the genre elements
Pavun Shetty: I mean, we were lucky that we had access to all of the books, and there’s so many great ones. Our partners at Scholastic now gave it to us and R.L. Stein obviously gave us his blessing there. So we had access to everything, which is a little bit daunting, but also exciting at the same time. And I think we ultimately landed on a structure where, for the first five episodes, we would use five of the most popular books from the series.
Pavun Shetty: And then the season’s 10 episodes long, and so after five episodes, our main cast gets together and kind of saves the town as an ensemble. But throughout the entire series, we’re pulling little bits of these Easter eggs from all of the books, and so there’s plenty more to come. But I think if we had endeavored to do all the books at the exact same time, I think it would have been a little bit too much. So we kind of did a hybrid where we told little stories, but also kept the narrative going in a serialized way.
Conor Welch: It was important to us that this felt like a premium and sophisticated television show that audiences would come back to week after week and be eager to see what happens next. And so by virtue of that, it seemed that we needed to, as opposed to diverging from the anthological nature of the original television series and also the books, to really create an overarching mystery that would kind of pull the audience through and also establish character dynamics in the opening episodes that you would be eager to see how they play out.
Conor Welch: I feel like we cast a group of five young actors, most of whom an audience will not have seen before, and it was really exciting to watch how their chemistry gelled really soon out of the gates. So yeah, it was fun to be able to play with them and to follow their dynamics as a group.
Nostalgia and a Recipe for Reboots
MovieWeb: How do you balance the appeal to nostalgia (and older generations) with the desire to create something new that appeals to a younger generation?
Conor Welch: Credit to Nick Stoller, Rob Letterman, and our showrunner, Hillary Winston, who really did an excellent job of servicing our main five, the teenagers going through their high school experience, but also adding on top of that, their parents and the real relatable adult issues that they’re going through, whether it’s financial troubles or secrets from their past or how to speak to their children. They did really well in marrying those two things and making the contemporary storylines feel very real and now and of the moment.
Conor Welch: Our young actors were actually super helpful in making sure that this didn’t feel like old people writing for young people, but really plugging us into the cadences and dialogue and how people think and act these days in high school. So, too, with the younger writers in our writers room. And then yeah, on top of that, we really wanted to have some adult storylines and, and also to feed into the nostalgia with some flashing back to the ’90s, when Pavan and I grew up, when we were reading those books, and it was really fun to kind of play with what people were wearing, what people were listening to.
Pavun Shetty: Yeah, I think those awkward high school issues that we really tap into are sort of timeless. So you could be a high schooler today or a high schooler in the ’90s, like the characters’ parents are, and still have a lot of those same issues going on […] So it wasn’t a distinct attempt to tap into nostalgia, but I think these issues are sort of prevalent regardless of when you went to high school or what age you are right now.
Pavun Shetty: If I knew the recipe to success, I’d have a lot more shows on TV. So I wish I knew the exact answer. But I think the important thing […] is the source material needs to be rich and needs to have a pure baseline that you can build upon. And with Goosebumps, the books are huge. We can’t underestimate how big these books and how beloved they are. It’s the second best-selling book series in history. It’s all over the world, and people love this franchise, and people are still discovering the franchise for the first time. And there are so many books, and the tone is so specific.
Pavun Shetty: I think, in order to redo something, you have to really honor the source material in a real way, but at the same time, make it feel contemporary and that it has a reason for being. That people who really love the original IP come to it and see that you love the original IP as much as they do. But people who never read the Goosebumps book should be able to come to this too, and just really feel like they’re seeing a satisfying show that’s scary and funny and emotionally compelling. And all of that starts with the books, and just really diving in and embracing what the original intent was.
Pavun Shetty: I honestly have never worked on a show where both parents’ and the kids’ eyes light up when they hear about it. It’s never happened before, and I think that’s really unique to this property.
Goosebumps had its five-episode premiere Friday, October 13th on Disney+ and Hulu, and new episodes stream weekly on Fridays.
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