Showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen has the kind of writer and producer credits that let you know she’s about her business. Already under her belt: Brothers & Sisters, Fringe, Charmed and Lost. Next on her list is the forthcoming NBC supernatural drama with series, Midnight, Texas. Full of vampires, witches, psychics, hit men and other misfits, Owusu-Breen has adapted the mystical series from True Blood author Charlaine Harris’ beloved trilogy.
She knows more than a little bit about TV and also has some ties to the supernatural herself. She wrote about witches and magic for the fan-favorite series Charmed that ran for an outstanding eight seasons. With Midnight, Texas Owusu-Breen is ready to take viewers on a thrilling journey through a town filled with the magic and mystery.
“It just felt like it hit a lot of personal buttons for me,” she said. “It was a subject matter I loved and it seemed fun.” The forthcoming series follows Manfred Bernardo (François Arnaud), a reluctant psychic who finds solace and friendship in the mystical town of Midnight. The town has some quirks, but it’s also a refuge for those with even more hidden secrets than Manfred. “I fell in love with those characters and I fell in love with that theme. I fell in love with that town and I protect that,” she said. EBONY.com chatted with Owusu-Breen about her vision for Midnight, Texas, what inspired the show in and if she could actually live in the strange little town. (Spoiler alert, she can’t!)
EBONY.com: Midnight, Texas is based on the book series by Charlaine Harris who wrote the stories of True Blood. How did you learn about the series and how did you know that you wanted to be a part of transforming these books into a series?
Monica Owusu-Breen: Honestly, it was sent to me. I told my agent I was looking to develop something and he sent me these books and said, “Take a look, if you’re interested.” Within two chapters I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m interested. Really, really interested.’ First, it was Charlaine who’d I’d admired for a long time. Then the world was just so weird and fun, and just it had all these components that I loved. My mother and my mother-in-law had just died, and my mother lived in a tiny town which looks a lot like Texas. My mother-in-law was a psychic who moved to a small town. I thought that was a sign. I was like, ‘Oh this is so creepy and awesome that this was sent to me because I know what it’s like to be psychic. I’ve lived with her.’ It just felt like it hit a lot of personal buttons for me. It was a subject matter I loved and it seemed fun. The other thing I loved about it is it had this sort of kind heart in the middle. Its metaphor is about people who are different who come out of painful or traumatic situations who other people didn’t accept or don’t accept, who don’t feel like they fit in anywhere else and in Midnight they fit in. They have a community of like-minded people who are all different, who are all from different places, but still they form a tight-knit community of people who will look out for one another. It’s a crazy, risky world to be sure but there was something so loving about this town. So that’s who drew me to it.
EBONY.com: As far as creating the series and then running the show, how did all of it come together?
MOB: It’s interesting. It’s a collaborative process. You’re working with the director, I had Niels Arden Oplev, who I admired since he did Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He was someone whose vision I deferred to because he was so brilliant. I had my producers. I have the studio and the network. We knew what was most important was maintaining the spirit of Midnight. It was a diverse community of people. NBC was extraordinarily open. We did open casting for most of the roles except for the ones that had to be a particular race for story reasons. We found these amazing actors. It’s hard when you cast separately. Are they going to gel as a community? Are these couples going to feel right together? Is there going to be sparks between them? What was wonderful was when we got together in Albuquerque everyone was immediately drawn to one another. They were friends, they continue to be friends, they hang out outside of work and it really brought together a community. I had a sense of what I wanted the show to be. For me what was most important was the theme. What was important was keeping that sense of wild abandon that I loved about the book. You know, the cat talks, that was a surprise for me in the book, but a delightful surprise and I’m not sure if I would have ever have written a talking cat. But once you get it, I laughed aloud. I didn’t want it to feel boring. I didn’t want it to feel like it was every other show of supernaturals. It was also really important to me to keep these characters relationships true, to always focus on how the Midnighters deal collectively with problems. Let character drive the story as well and plot. A lot of people worked really hard on this show so just trying to keep our workplace collaborative and fun and engaged with the material. It was a good time.
EBONY.com: What sort of research did you do and how was your collaboration with Charlaine Harris since Midnight, Texas is her story?
MOB: She’s been through this before with True Blood. Charlaine understood that the books were her baby. She wrote them herself. She sat at the computer. She handed them over to me and said, “Make a TV show.” Now, TV can’t exactly be the same as the book. The book had this lovely small town pace where very little in terms of incidents happened in the book. It was about the lives of these small town supernaturals. NBC wanted something a lot more high octane and a lot more action driven. She understood that, and I think one of the great things is that we both love the heart of these characters and we both love the heart of the community of Midnight. I fell in love with those characters and I fell in love with that theme, and I fell in love with that town, and I protect that. For the plot itself, we took the first book of hers and the third book in the trilogy and we sort of changed the order of things. It happened a little differently, but the spirit of it is the same. [Charlaine’s] so giving and generous. She was like, “This is yours. I understand this is a TV show and I have a novel, and people [will] always have my novels. That’s what great about me, people can always go back to the source material.” She gave me permission to feel free to take the show in the direction NBC wanted.
EBONY.com: Is there anything that you learned about yourself as a showrunner and as a producer while working on the series?
MOB: I ran a show before with my old writing partner Brothers & Sisters. When we got that job I remember we went to the business section of a bookstore, back when there were bookstores, and we bought How to Manage Difficult People like all these business management books. We were like, ‘Okay, we’re going to be managers, you have to be tough. You have to be mean. Fire someone to prove you’re a boss. It was a hard show. I didn’t like the way I was as a manager, so when I pursued this, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to be me.’ I’m nice. I just am. It’s just the truth of me. It’s important to be the calm in the middle of the storm because you have so much stuff going on around you. There was something that happened on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, which I took with my into Midnight. When I entered in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D the showrunners, told me, “We have a no assholes policy on this show.” I worked there for three years, and I gotta tell you, they did and it was wonderful. You liked going in to work. We’re all under pressure, but there’s no reason to go after each other, there’s no conflict that we can’t resolve. So whatever happens with the success of the show the working experience was by far one of the highlights of my career, for sure.
EBONY.com: Could you live at Midnight, Texas?
MOB: This is the most superficial thing in the universe, but I feel like the food pickings would be so slim there. I feel like I’d miss the food. Is that sad? It’s like bring the people of Midnight to Park Slope or something. I like my sushi too much.
Midnight, Texas premieres July 24 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC