In an era of “auteur television,” where nearly every show can point to a head of state running the show, Season 2 of Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” is “a republic.”
That’s in the words of executive producer David Zucker, when asked at the Television Critics Association press tour about the complicated alternate reality show’s recent behind-the-scenes drama. Originally developed by former “X-Files” producer Frank Spotnitz from Philip K. Dick’s 1963 novel, Spotnitz exited the job of showrunner midway through the production of this season.
Showrunner departures aren’t necessarily unusual, but they don’t tend to happen publicly while a show is still in production, and usually another producer or producers are designated to inherit the title. “House of Cards” Season 5, for example, will be run by Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese, following the exit of Beau Willimon.
Meanwhile, when asked directly during the TCA Summer Press Tour this Sunday if there was currently a designated showrunner on “Castle” Season 2, Zucker said no. “We’re running, in many ways, like a republic. It’s very unique to this show. There are, sort of, senior powers in sort of every aspect of the realization of the show. And that, frankly, is something that Frank himself instituted.”
“No one would, I think, choose to build a show this way,” he added. “And going forward, we’re going to continue to figure out how we can best realize the show with all the forces we have at hand. But at this point we have, I think, a system that is working as good as we can make it, and we’re going to continue to try and find ways to improve it. Hopefully, to make the best show as possible.”
But how exactly is this system working, and why not replace Spotnitz? Later in the day, IndieWire sat down with Zucker and executive producer Isa Dick Hackett, who explained the reasoning behind not bringing in a new official showrunner.
“You don’t take someone like Frank and replace him,” Zucker said. “That was hopefully the smartest decision we made for our immediate purposes — you can’t replace him.”
With “Castle,” Hackett pinpointed the timing of Spotnitz’s departure as happening around the production of Episode 4. This meant that there was a need for, in her words, “creative adjustments” on a writing level, as the entire season had not been scripted out yet.
Zucker said, “That happened last year as well. We make adjustments where you end up writing something, and in Episode 7 you’re like, ‘Okay, we can set this up differently?’ and then you go back.”
That said, that far into production, bringing in a new showrunner might have led to fundamental changes in tone and structure that could have left the season feeling disjointed. “It’ll feel cohesive. It’s not like two different shows,” Hackett said.
Added Zucker, “It’s not a situation where a new showrunner came in and said, ‘You know what, I’m going to take this in an entirely different way.'”
While the idea of bringing in a new showrunner was discussed, the pair seemed grateful it didn’t happen — Zucker referring to the idea as “traumatic.”
“For everybody, yeah,” Hackett agreed.
The reason it’s worked out so well is the unusual organization of the show on a production level. For example, co-producer Marta Evry was responsible for overseeing all the post-production on both Seasons 1 and 2, and all of the principal players would feed their notes to her, including Spotnitz.
“The show really demands this level of individual responsibility and contribution,” Zucker said. “I think what’s unusual here is that because of the degree to which Frank empowered and collaborated with everybody on the show, including the actors — it’s something I hadn’t really witnessed before to this extent, that level of collaboration and participation. I think is part of why this show hopefully is as rich as it’s proven to be.”
Zucker and Hackett were reluctant to discuss whether a hypothetical Season 3 would bring in a new showrunner, saying that “The foolish enterprise for us would be to say let’s go find somebody else… I think what we really have to look at is what’s in the best interest in the show. It’s about finding the right voices who can carry this story forward in the best way possible. I think one has to focus on the writing, first and foremost — and then the management in some ways is a separate consideration.”
Would the door be open for Spotnitz, should he desire to come back? “I think it’s an impossible hypothetical,” Zucker said. “There’s no animosity amongst us. I think the whole transition, if you can even call it that, was undertaken hopefully with as much respect and consideration as it could be.
“Depending upon how the show grows through this year and where it’s headed,” he added, “I don’t know that for Frank’s purposes, it’s something that he would necessarily would want to return to.”
Zucker’s big takeaway? “Now having had this experience, it is something that is essential for any show — I think, to put it in familial terms, there has to be a parent. There has to be somebody who has that authority that people can talk to.”
By not bringing in a metaphorical “stepdad,” Spotnitz’s vision, it seems, was still able to serve as the chief creative voice for Season 2. The end result of that parenting decision will be seen when “Man in the High Castle” returns to Amazon on Dec. 16.