SDCC 2020: NOS4A2 showrunner Jami O’Brien talks horror on TV

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 01: NOS4A2 Producer Jami O'Brien poses for photos at Bookcon on June 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for AMC)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 01: NOS4A2 Producer Jami O'Brien poses for photos at Bookcon on June 01, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for AMC) /
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Jami O'Brien
Jami O’Brien (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for AMC) /

1428 Elm had the opportunity to chat with NOS4A2 showrunner Jami O’Brien ahead of San Diego Comic-Con @ Home’s Scary Good TV panel.

Shudder will be presenting the Scary Good TV panel for SDCC 2020 on Saturday, July 25 at 6:00 pm PDT. The SDCC 2020 panel will include horror notables Nick Antosca (Channel Zero), Don Mancini (the Chucky franchise), Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead and Creepshow) and Meredith Averill (Locke & Key).

Jami O’Brien, the showrunner for NOS4A2 will also be participating. She took a few minutes to talk to 1428 Elm about what it takes to adapt a beloved horror novel for the small screen.

1428 Elm: Hi, Jami, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. A lot of our readers watch NOS4A2 faithfully (including me), can you explain for us exactly what a showrunner does on a series like this?

Jami O’Brien: Oh, sure. We do a lot, actually (laughs)! It varies from show to show, oftentimes they are the creator of the show, and the head writer of the show. They’re always the head writer, sometimes they’re the creator, which is the case for me. I created the show for television, I was the person who first adapted the book, I’m the head writer and then I’m also kind of like the head producer.

So, I am involved with hiring everybody, involved in casting everyone, I’m involved in a lot of conversations with the various department heads, I like to think of myself as the head collaborator. I’m responsible for talking to a lot of different artists and producers, and helping wrangle the cast so that we’re all making the same TV show, if that makes sense.

1428 Elm: It does, and you’ve done a great job on all of that. You’ve worked on both Fear the Walking Dead and NOS4A2, are you a fan of the horror genre yourself?

Jami O’Brien: I have become one in working on these shows. You know, I’m not a person who had a deep knowledge of horror before working on Fear the Walking Dead, honestly. When I was a kid, I was too afraid to watch Friday the 13th. I avoided horror for a long time, actually, because it scared me.

But, when I started working on Fear, which I was drawn to because I loved the story, and I loved the characters, I learned the joys of working on horror and watching horror, and I love it on NOS4A2 as well. I think it’s actually a lot of fun, and a great way to bring tension, and delight even.

It’s funny, people ask me sometimes why I think people like horror, and I think there are academic reasons that are really smart, and for me, I think it’s like, listen, it’s fun to see the transformation of Charlie Manx. It’s fun to see the demon kids, there’s a delight in it that I think is not to be discounted, in addition to all the smart reasons having to do with anxiety and social justice and all that stuff too.

1428 Elm: Well, my theory has always been that those of us who love horror can be prepared for anything that may happen in real life.

Jami O’Brien: I think that’s true, and it’s funny, I think that’s the thought behind Lou Carmody as a character on NOS4A2. When he first meets Vic and they kind of have a moment after battling Charlie Manx, when they actually talk to each other, he says to her, “Listen, I read comic books and I know crazy stuff is out there.” He’s a genre nut, and it has prepared him to fight Charlie Manx.

1428 Elm: Had you read Joe Hill’s novel when you decided to work on NOS4A2, or did you read it after?

Jami O’Brien: I had been working at AMC on a show called Hell on Wheels for many years, actually worked on it for the whole run of the show, it ran for five seasons. And at the end of it, one of our executives, a young woman named Emma Miller, who’s a very smart AMC exec, asked me if I had read NOS4A2, and the truth is I had not, but I had read Locke & Key and was a big fan of that, so I knew Joe’s writing a little bit.

I was excited to check it out. She said “We’ve got the rights to this, read it and see what you think.” So, I read it and loved it. So, I read it before adapting it for sure, but I hadn’t read it when it came out. And I’m delighted that I have now.