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"The Gates": Exclusive Interview with Co-Creator and Executive Producer Richard Hatem

ABC’s The Gates has been described by some as Desperate Housewives Meets Twilight, but the more likely hybrid is Desperate Housewives combined with the ‘60s Gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows.

In the series, Nick Monohan (Frank Grillo) and his family move from Chicago to a quiet, upscale planned community called The Gates, where he will serve as Chief of Police. They soon realize that their neighbors are not who they seem to be. For instance, Dylan Radcliff (Luke Mably) is the owner of a large biotech company who lives in the neighborhood and who happens to be a vampire. His wife, Claire (Rhona Mitra, from Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) was turned into a vampire by him. Peg Mueller (Victoria Platt) is a witch who owns and operations a magical tea shop; Devon (Chandra West) is also a witch running her own, competing magic tea shop featuring specially brewed teas she uses to manipulate her customers; teenager and football star Brett Crezski (Colton Haynes) is a werewolf; and Alex Parker (Sierra Palmer) is a teenage witch. Bottom line: life – and death – is interesting in The Gates.

One of the show’s three executive producers is Richard Hatem, who comes from a writing background immersed in the otherworldly genre, among his credits Miracles, Tru Calling, Supernatural, The Lost Room and The Dead Zone. In the following exclusive Q&A, Hatem discusses The Gates and shares which genre show put him on the road towards becoming a writer.

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: What I like about pilot is that you get to the ending and you realize there are werewolves and during the episode we learned there were witches in addition to the vampires. So for me, it was, like, “Wow, this is like a modern day Dark Shadows.”

RICHARD HATEM: I definitely do remember Dark Shadows. They’ve been trying to remake Dark Shadows for television and they’re trying to do a movie. They’ve been exploring what the modern Gothic soap opera could be; what the update is. When we were working on this, I said, “This is it. This is Dark Shadows. It’s a soap and it’s voyeuristic, but it’s fantasy wish-fulfillment. This is the modern version of that, only in this case it’s a real world that’s recognizable and it’s probably more fun, I think. It’s not Gothic.”

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: So that did enter your mind?

RICHARD HATEM: Based on my credits, every single year somebody comes up to me and says, “You interested in trying to do a Dark Shadows?” But there’s something about Dark Shadows that feels almost campy, and when you look at it you kind of say, “I suppose there’s a way to do it, sort of, but I don’t know…” Suddenly, working on this I realized, “Oh, when people said they wanted Dark Shadows, they wanted this.” I hope that’s the case.

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: Talk to me about the development of The Gates. Where did it come from and how has it evolved?

RICHARD HATEM: I’d worked with [executive producers] Grant Scharbo [who co-created the show with Hatem] and Gina Matthews before. They called and said, “We’ve got a really good idea; c’mon down and let’s talk about it.” So I went down and they pitched it and at first I was, like, “What is The Gates? Is it The Gates of Hell? Is it a Hellmouth and monsters live there?” I was sort of not getting it. But as we talked more, it sort of evolved and it wasn’t that at all. It’s actually much more about people who then reveal themselves to have problems that then turn out to be supernatural problems. That I got. I could write that. So once we got there, we were off to the races. It was one of those unique situations. Usually you come with an idea you’re excited about, and then every day after that you realize why it’s never going to work and all of the problems you didn’t think of and why it’s complete garbage. On this one, we realized every day we’d sort of go, “Wait a second, it works even better than we thought it did.” Then we kept adding stuff and when you have a few days like that, you know that you’re on to something and that’s a great feeling. And that’s how it was with this.

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: When I first heard the concept, my response was, “This is Desperate Housewives with fangs.”

RICHARD HATEM: Exactly! And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. People say things like, “It’s Desperate Housewives meets Twilight.” I’m like, “Look, all of television, and especially the most successful shows, are 90% familiar, 10% new twist.” House isn’t new. House is Marcus Welby with a pain in the ass. And it’s the biggest show in the world. Glee is a hit, but it’s new and original. That’s the exception, not the rule. The Mentalist is every show we grew up with in the ‘70s and ‘80s, only it’s got a good-looking British guy and a twist on the concept, but it’s still basically Murder, She Wrote.

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: A lot of people have complaints like, “Oh, no, another vampire show,” but there’s got to be a reason that True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, the ongoing fascination with Buffy and Angel and all of these things are co-existing at the same time.

RICHARD HATEM: It’s an ongoing genre. You love Dark Shadows, I take it you’re a Night Stalker fan. Those are the reasons I’m in this business. It’s a viable genre. No one sits around and says, “Oh, no, another cop show; another doctor show, another lawyer show.” There are reasons that these things are successful and they’re often the biggest hits of all. They fulfill certain audience desires and you have different versions. We’re very different from Vampire Diaries, we’re very different from True Blood. People who like those shows, I would imagine would love this, too, because it’s another angle, another doorway into the house of supernatural storytelling. Sunday nights, True Blood is on at 9, then you turn on ABC at 10 and watch The Gates, so you get a full night of vampires.

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: Nothing wrong with that.

RICHARD HATEM: Nothing at all. You know, you write something, you’re very close to it and you really have no perspective, but then when I finally sat down and watched the pilot, it hit me that this show is the kind of thing that people will get obsessed over. It’s not a concept like FlashForward or Lost, which are all about “the answers.” That isn’t this show. This show is simply about these characters and the endless trouble they get into and the endless situations and the endless different configurations we can give them. Therefore you’re not waiting for a punchline, you’re actually enjoying the journey. You know what it’s all about just from the commercials and it’s, like, “Okay, lifestyles of the rich and undead.”

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: How would you describe the overall thrust of the first 13 episodes?

RICHARD HATEM: I can tell you that the character of Devon is going to become increasingly crucial. She’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve and she’s got a plan. I can tell you that this was an episode order, not a pilot and then maybe a series; not a 13 episode order with the possibility of a back nine. They told us right up front that we had 13 episodes and what that did was allow us to write a complete story with 13 chapters, that comes to an end but also leads into a second season if we should be so lucky. Questions we’re raising will be answered.
VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: There’s nothing worse than getting into a show and having it end prematurely with the questions raised remaining unanswered.

RICHARD HATEM: The nice thing about is that when we see a 13 order, because of our budgetary model it was a 13-episode guarantee. It’s not like, “Well, if you guys don’t perform well, we’re going to shut you down at episode eight.” They have to produce 13 episodes, so 13 episodes will be made, they’ll come out on DVD, they’ll play internationally. No one will be left hanging. It won’t be like Moonlight. This is definitely a train we’re getting on and it’s not a train to nowhere. Which is great for us as writers, because we didn’t have to – pardon the pun – vamp for 10 episodes and get to the end of the season. Every episode takes you an hour down the narrative road, and by 13 you’re, like, “That’s what happens.” So it’s fun for us.

VAMPIRES & SLAYERS: You mentioned that without things like The Night Stalker you wouldn’t be in this business. What was the profound effect these things had on you?

RICHARD HATEM: I’m 43, which means I was watching The Night Stalker when I was eight or nine years old. That was a show about facing your fears and when I was a kid, I was afraid of everything. But here was Kolchak, who no matter what was happening, he was scared too, yet if he had to go down in the sewer to fight the Spanish Moss Monster, he did it. For me, through this show I could experience fear but also deal with those fears and triumph over those fears. Even though he was such an anti-hero; he was not handsome or a six foot tall guy, he was just a regular guy and he was funny. So that made it okay. It really did have a profound effect on me. I would say that that and The Rockford Files were the two shows that showed me you could be funny and brave, and not be a traditional hero. Being obsessed with those shows, led me to want to write shows.

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