Neil Gaiman has been an icon of genre storytelling for decades, but it’s only recently that his works have made it to television — and his involvement with each project varies wildly, based on the situation. While Gaiman is currently finishing the mini-series adaptation of “Good Omens,” the cult favorite novel he co-wrote with deceased friend Terry Pratchett, the ongoing adaptation of “American Gods” is also on his radar. In a recent interview with IndieWire, Gaiman refuted what he called “slightly hysterical” reports of staffing issues behind the scenes, while also revealing just how much he contributed to Season 2.
A modern-day fable about the clash between ancient gods and the New Gods that have arisen in the 21st century, the Starz series, which premiered in April 2017, was initially run by writers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. However, in the fall of 2017, during the development of Season 2, Fuller and Green were fired, with no one immediately picked to succeed them. This led to a moment when, in January 2018, then-Starz president/CEO Chris Albrecht told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour that “Neil Gaiman will be taking more of a central role in moving forward into a more traditional showrunner function” — which Gaiman quickly refuted on Twitter:
I'm already showrunning GOOD OMENS and I won't be physically showrunning two shows. But I plan to work really closely with the new showrunner, and to help plot and guide and build American Gods, just as I did when Bryan & Michael came on as showrunners.
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) January 12, 2018
“I am still slightly baffled by that Chris thing. I’m not quite sure why he said what he said,” he told IndieWire over a year later. “It would be true to say that he misstated it, but it would also be true to say that at no point was I ever going to be showrunner, because I was in England, showrunning another show. And not only that, but I was doing the kind of showrunning where you were on set all of the time, making it.”
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So it was never a possibility for Gaiman to also lead the charge on “American Gods.” But he did say that “I think, my suspicion, honestly, looking back on it, was that Chris probably thought that if he said it publicly, it would happen. I don’t think he was fibbing. I think he actually thought that he could bring it to be by saying this is what’s happening, and then I would have somehow have gone, ‘Ah. I have just grown another body in the night. It can go over to run stuff.'”
Gaiman made it clear that he was not a showrunner on Season 2, but did say that “while I’ve had very, very little time off in the last 18 months, the time off that I have has all been given to ‘American Gods.'”
This included, he said, a week in January 2018 working with the newly hired Jesse Alexander about “what was going to happen in Season 2 and outlining things to him and getting him up to speed on the plot of ‘American Gods’ and on the mega-plot of American Gods and of stuff that I’d planned and stuff I’d suggested to Micheal and Bryan that we could do.”
Gaiman also spent a few days, after reading Alexander’s first draft for the first episode, doing a pass on the script. “I got to read it and go, ‘Ah. You’ve never actually been to the House on the Rock, and this is your first time writing these characters and you’re not quite there with their voices yet,'” Gaiman said. “And I said, ‘Look. Would it be easier if I just took a pass on your script, just to get some of that stuff to just work for you?’ So I took a pass on his script and gave it to him and he then took it back over again. But in each case, I felt like, okay, I’m here helping Jesse to do what he needs to do in order to get a season of ‘American Gods’ made.”
At another point, just after San Diego Comic-Con 2018, Gaiman went to Toronto to visit the set, and while there spent time with co-executive producer Heather Bellson. “She’d written Episode 3, which is fabulous, and she was about to do Episode 7 and so I got to say, ‘Ah. Well, this is meant to be the Mad Sweeney one. You realize I have 7000 years of Mad Sweeney backstory.’ And she’s like, ‘Tell me.’ So we holed up in a trailer in Toronto and we did 7000 years of Mad Sweeney backstory. Which actually is there in Episode 7.”
The entire writers’ room for Season 2 is new, and Gaiman wasn’t involved with their hiring, but he said that “I enjoyed what they did. It was one of those things where I didn’t really get to talk to them much until the end. Initially, mostly, because my contact was just Jesse — I was in London making ‘Good Omens,’ so I’d read scripts as they came in and give notes, the same as any other exec. But then toward the end, there were times when I’d talk to Jesse and he’d go, ‘It’s just easier. Why don’t you go and tell that person directly?'”
It’s been known for a while that “American Gods'” behind-the-scenes shifts are far from over — Alexander will not return for Season 3, should it be greenlit, and at this point there is no showrunner in place to take over for him.
Gaiman brushed over reports around behind-the-scenes chaos during Season 2: “I would read these slightly hysterical articles based on fourth-hand information with people who weren’t actually involved — naming no names, but the Hollywood Reporter should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “I’m like, ‘But I’m standing back here and I’m watching the sausages getting made and they’re an awful lot like the sausages from the first season and they taste like the sausages you like.'”
As he continued, “People went, ‘Oh my god. Bryan and Micheal have left.’ As if Bryan and Micheal had been up there in Toronto every day of shooting, overseeing and had personally handcrafted this thing, and they hadn’t. They show ran and they show ran from a distance and they got the scripts written and they didn’t write all the scripts for the first season. So it was a kind of a thing where I’m going, ‘Okay.’ One reason why we got Jesse in was for that consistency. He’d worked with Bryan previously. But the truth is, the people who were making ‘American Gods’ were still making ‘American Gods.'”
As he did during the show’s TCA panel, Gaiman cited second unit director Chris Byrne as a source of consistency, as well as many of the returning team on screen and off. According to him, “people are running around claiming that the sky is falling, which is fine, but I’m backstage far enough to be able to see that the sky is doing just fine and pretty soon, Season 2 will come out, everybody will be happy. The big question then will be, ‘Where’s Season 3 and when’s that happening?'”
How long “Gods” might last beyond Season 2 is officially undetermined, though he does have a ballpark in his mind. “I just look at the book and go, ‘Well, we got that far in Season 1 and that far in Season 2, and then we’ve got Season 3, and if we’ve got eight episodes, we go that far, and we’ve got 10 episodes, we go that far. We’ve always talked five seasons, and I think five seasons seems about right. But on the other hand, I think you can only look as far as you’ve been renewed.”
That said, Gaiman does have hopes that the show will continue, because “that’s the joy of ‘American Gods’; there’s always been too much of it. There’s stuff that happens, particularly to Mad Sweeney and Laura in Season 2, that by the end of it, leaves you going, ‘Holy shit. Well what’s gonna happen in Season 3?’ And what would happen in Season 3 is even weirder and madder and more ‘American Gods.'”
“American Gods” Season 2 premieres Sunday, March 10 on Starz.