Mythology and folklore have captivated people for centuries, but perhaps no one more than television producer Eric Kripke. With a passion for the unknown and unexplained, Kripke pitched his idea of a pair of demon-slaying brothers in a Chevy Impala, which would eventually become the fan-favorite Supernatural.
Now in its third season, the show has broken out in all-out war, added a few major characters, and seems poised to be its best yet. Kripke talked to TV.com about the new season, the delicacies of introducing new characters to a rabid fan base, and classic rock-and-roll.
TV.com: Eric, thanks for talking to us. We're going to jump around all over the place, but right now, let's just go general. What was your inspiration for making the show?
Eric Kripke: I've had a lifelong obsession with urban legends and American folklore. Ever since I was a kid, I always loved those stories...the really fun, bloody, gory stories with a twist at the end. I was always attracted to them and began studying them in college, and started exploring the deeper levels of those stories. And you really learn a lot about a culture by studying what it's afraid of... They're really just wonderful little sociological capsules of American culture.
I really was attracted to the idea that America had its own mythology, as really fleshed out as any world mythology, and it just wasn't that well publicized. Our mythology needed a better publicist. I had a half-dozen different versions of a show to do that, basically just be a delivery system for urban legends.
At one point I wanted to do an anthology show. Another time, I wanted to do a series about a reporter who works for a tabloid magazine, pretty much a rip-off of the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And then, finally, just through development with the studio, settled on this idea of telling these stories in the format of this Route 66: Great American Road Trip with these two brothers.
TV.com: Well, it worked well.
Eric Kripke: It's sort of funny how it all worked out. I literally had scribbled [the idea] in a notebook the day before my meeting with the studio, and then I came into the studio and had pitched them my reporter idea. And they didn't like it. They said, "What else do you got?" I didn't have anything. So, I tap danced and said, "Well, I got this great idea about two brothers on a road trip." They loved it, and it ended up being the show. So, it's funny how that works out.
TV.com: What was the overall theme for season three? How would you describe it as different from the previous two?
Eric Kripke: Season three was and is this "wartime season." It was the season that I personally have been waiting for, where there are a lot of really big story triggers that we pull, and a lot of big mythology triggers that we pull. And it was the season with which really all hell breaks loose--very literally--in which these hundreds of demons are unleashed upon the American landscape. Sam and Dean and other kind of sweaty, frightened, scared, outgunned hunters out there, all have this war on their hands. And [the question for them is] how do you fight it? And what did that mean for Sam and Dean? Very specifically, Dean has a year to live, and we're not entirely sure if Sam is 100 percent Sam, and that Sam is truly all right or is he going to become something else? He has this sort of dark destiny that we're toying with, or that we ask on the show whether or not he's going to fulfill.
And if he does, what does that mean for Dean, and are Dean's obligations towards his brother to save him or to stop him? And so that really becomes sort of the central questions of this season.
We're really aiming for a more epic, more intense season as we've just escalated into this nationwide war, but all very beneath the surface. It's a war, but it's a secret war. It's never one you'd see on the six o'clock news, but it's there nonetheless. And there are these very select group of soldiers who have to fight it.
TV.com: I'm impressed with the way the storyline is developing over the course of the seasons and was wondering how much of the series do you actually have planned out?
Eric Kripke: We have about five seasons worked out, but those are the roughest cocktail-napkin sketches of a road map. We know roughly where we want to shake out every season, and we know roughly some of the major turning points we want to hit. But you leave that road map very intentionally blank because so much gets filled in in the day-to-day, and you just have to allow for the happy accidents and the pleasures of discovery when you find a character who really works for you. For instance, when you find a storyline that you really like--we have this brilliant group of writers who are constantly coming up with this stuff--you have to give the writers the freedom to fill in the blanks because they'll come up with stuff much better than anything you ever originally conceived.
The character Gordon, who became one of my favorite characters and one of the best storylines of the show, was never a part of the mythology. [Writer] Sera Gamble came up with such an intriguing character that we just started developing storylines for him. The same with what [writer] Ben Edlund did with Agent Henrickson. And even the idea of the boys being wanted by the FBI, it all just came out of just an episode that Ben wrote. So, you let a lot develop as you go.
TV.com: Now, let's talk about the strike. How has it affected your show?
Eric Kripke: It sucks, man. It sucks out loud. We want to go back to work. We have written 12 episodes. We have now shot all 12 episodes. That's 12 total for season three. [editor's note: The CW has confirmed to TV.com that new episodes of Supernatural will return to the air on January 31.] Vancouver, which is where we produce the show, had to shut down. And things are very quiet here [laughs] at Supernatural. It's a terrible, awful thing. The reasons I find it so awful and sad and tragic and depressing have nothing to do with telling the story of the show.
Last week, about 250 crewmembers who work on Supernatural went out of work, pretty much everyone in the Canadian production office. And these are brilliantly talented people who bust their ass on the show, and have sacrificed so much working day in and day out at Supernatural. And [executive producer] Bob [Singer] and I had to put them all out of work. So, it's bad. It's bad for everybody. And it's painful. And I happen to agree with the reasons that we're striking, but it doesn't make it any less painful. I just hope the powers that be on both sides can settle as quickly as possible so we can get back to work. And, yes, part of it is because I want to continue telling the story, and I want to keep telling stories about Sam and Dean, and I want to create more product for the fans.
But I have to say my most driving impulse is I just want my crew to work. And I hate that they're out of work going into the holiday season.
TV.com: Everyone is hoping it ends soon. Now we're going to touch on some fan questions if that's okay with you.
Eric Kripke: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. I checked out your Web site, by the way. It's cool.
TV.com: Thanks! What are the toughest decisions you had to make concerning the story of the show? And do you have any regrets, or would you have made any different choices?
Eric Kripke: The toughest decisions we had to make... That's a really hard question. I don't know. I mean, it's just that every day is this evolution of trying to make the best decisions that you can. An expression from Bob Singer is, "Show runners make decisions, and they have to make them quickly. And they might not always be the right decision." But we're in the job of making decisions.
So you never really know [at the time], and you're obviously making what you think is the best and smartest decision. Hopefully, you're right more often than you're wrong. But nobody bats a thousand. Very rarely do you make a day-to-day decision where you say, "Oh, oh, that's a tough decision, and the wrong one." Every day you say, "Yeah, this is probably what's best." And then a month later, you look back on the episode and it sucked out loud. And you say, "Well, maybe that wasn't the best decision."
Something that I regret... I probably never would have introduced the Roadhouse [in season two]. I feel like that was a large concept that didn't really work out, and was the only thing I wasn't completely satisfied with in that season. Overall, I love that season. I was really proud of it, but for just that one little aspect of the Roadhouse. So, if I were to do it again, I probably would never have introduced it.
TV.com: When you were casting Sam and Dean, what were you looking for, and what have Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles added to the roles?
Eric Kripke: When we started casting, we had archetypes in mind, which were Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. We were really looking for Sam to be empathetic, kind, and likeable, and really the audience surrogate. The person who the audience would most see themselves as and really carry the story through their eyes. And that required a really unique likeability. For Dean, we were looking for Han Solo. We were looking for devil-may-care, charismatic, a little rough around the edges, a little edgy, says things that are not always the kindest thing, as long as they're funny. And that was really what we started out with.
And Jared and Jensen both just so inhabited those parts, and then proceeded to blow us away with how dimensionalized they were. For Jensen, the level of emotion and totally flawed, screwed-to-hell psyche that he brings to Dean, we really are enamored with. This idea that on the surface here's this Han Solo devil-may-care persona, but when you really scratch beneath the surface, you see that anyone who has that persona has it because they are just so messed up, and that you would have to be so screwed up and damaged to be the person who always jumps first off a cliff.
So, he really brought Dean to life in a really three-dimensional way, and Jared did the same thing with Sam. Yes, Sam was likeable, and the audience surrogate and all the things he was supposed to be, but also angry, and disaffected, and, at times, hilariously funny, loyal, and despondent. He brought in all of these different colors that have really brought these characters to life, which I think is probably very rare for a genre show to have--characters as dimensionalized as ours--and I'm really proud of it. It has a lot to do with Bob Singer and the other writers probably more than it had to do with me. I came in just looking for good kills, and through the talents and abilities of the actors and the writers, they just brought these guys to life in a way I never really dreamed, obviously.
TV.com: Regarding the "Mary's Dead Friends" storyline, one user specifically wants to know what happened with that. It seems to have been dropped.
Eric Kripke: No. It's definitely coming back. It's a big reveal--it happens later on, but I'm not going to say when. We just introduced it to let the fans and let the audience know that it is alive, and it is out there, and it is a concern, and we wanted to reference it. But no, the answer is coming down the line.
TV.com: Another user wants to tackle a pretty heavy issue. This season there seems to be a direction towards Christian demonology. Lucifer was mentioned. Is this focus going to continue? And do you think there will be any sort of negative reaction?
Eric Kripke: In terms of negative reaction, no. We've been pleased with it. It seems like the fans have been pleased with it. We don't really consider it Christian demonology as much as it is just more of a focus on demonology.
Last season, I would say the overall story followed different psychic children, and we were sort of excited that this year the mythology has a little more teeth, because it's just about all of these different demons and all the different things demons do. For us, it's very cross-cultural. We borrow from every world religion, every culture. The cosmology of the show is that if a legend exists about something somewhere out there in the world, it's true. So you really have this cross-pollination of different demons, different creatures, all from different religions.
But yes, we are exploring demons much more this season because they have sort of come into focus as our primary group of bad guys this year. That's been interesting because there's a really great variety of what they can do, and what they're capable of, and they're a little more fun to write because they're always such ascetic smart-asses.
TV.com: Can you describe the process of introducing Ruby and Bela without interfering with the main focus of the story, which is the brothers' journey?
Eric Kripke: We've always wanted to expand the universe and introduce new characters. And for us, it's about introducing them conservatively and in small doses. Because the fans are a protective and occasionally nervous bunch, we are always reiterating both in interviews and in practice that the show is about Sam and Dean. They are the two leads. It'll never be about anything else. It'll always be about the two of them, the issues they're going through, and then, first and foremost, their relationship with each other.
When we bring in Ruby and Bela, we don't bring them in where the whole episodes are about them. The episodes are about the boys. And the women come in, and they come in for a few scenes. They're there for important plot elements, but it's not the Ruby and Bela show, nor is it about the four of them cruising around in the Impala together. It's about the guys.
As the series progresses, and as we get more comfortable with these characters and they start to take on a life of their own, we are interested in sort of exploring stories about them further, and getting in deeper layers. We have an upcoming episode where we really get into Bobby's backstory. And we actually look at Bobby as the model of how we successfully introduced a character. He came in slow. He came in sporadically, and the audience got comfortable with him. And Jim Beaver is such an amazing actor that he makes it easy.
So we're looking to do the same thing [with Ruby and Bela]. We don't want to push it. In fact, I would say the one episode this year (and again, hindsight is 20/20) where we did push it was this episode called "Red Sky at Morning," which I think was by far the least successful episode this year because it really kind of became the Bela show, and it wasn't as much about how the women complicate the lives of the boys. This also is to answer your "What do you regret?" question--I would say I regret the episode of "Red Sky at Morning." [Laughs.] It's probably not an episode I would do again because I think we tried to do a little too much, too fast. So it's about everything in moderation.
TV.com: Last question: I love the kick-ass classic rock soundtrack. What is the ultimate demon-slaying road-trip song?
Eric Kripke: Oh, for [one] used in the show, I would say [AC/DC's] "Back in Black." If we ever got a chance, the one that we could never afford and never get permission it'd be Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog."
TV.com: Thanks for talking to us, Eric.
Eric Kripke: Thank you.
The final four episodes of the strike-shortened season of Supernatural return to the CW on January 31. For more information on the show, read TV.com's previous coverage.