By Emily Hewitt
A talking doll, adventurous young people, and mysterious events are the main ingredients in the new Goosebumps series, inspired by five books in the popular R.L Stine series of novels.
D23 sat down with Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller, co-developers and executive producers on the series, to discuss their experience making the 10-episode series. The show debuts on Disney+ and Hulu with its first five episodes on Friday, October 13, with new episodes arriving on subsequent Fridays.
The show focuses on five high schoolers as they embark on a shadowy and twisted journey to investigate the tragic passing three decades earlier of a teen named Harold Biddle—while also unearthing dark secrets from their parents’ past.
The first five episodes center on the origin stories of each of the five characters and are directly named after five Stine books in the Goosebumps series: Say Cheese and Die!, The Haunted Mask, The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Go Eat Worms!, and Night of the Living Dummy.
“The idea was, ‘What if we took all these stories and assigned them to a character?’” Letterman said. “Those books fit the characters that we were cooking up. So, it happened organically.”
“At the end of Episode 5, they all come together and get launched into the back five episodes, which is really figuring out what’s behind everything that’s happened to them so far,” Letterman said.
This format let Letterman and Stoller stay true to the Goosebumps books, allowing some episodes to stand on their own, while also forming an overarching serialized plot with cliffhangers at the end of the episodes.
“If you’ve never heard of the Goosebumps books, you’ll still like the show,” Stoller said. “But I think for people who have read them, there are Easter eggs.”
Although plot elements of the books were translated to the series, the executive producers decided to age up the characters from middle school to high school age, making the stakes larger and better fitting the show’s theme of transitioning to adulthood.
When writing the pilot episode, they worked to set the tone and style for the rest of the series, and they also made a series “bible” in which they mapped out the entire run of the show. But pitching their ideas to others proved harder than originally expected.
“This is a comedy, horror, drama,” Stoller said. “To try to explain that to casting and to writers [is hard.] … We understand what we meant by that, but people aren’t in our heads. And so there’s a lot of trying to explain the tone to people. We wanted it to be really funny and scary and dramatic.”
Stoller and Letterman were joined by eight other writers to craft the 10 episodes of the show.
Perhaps best known to Disney fans as one of the writers on the hit films The Muppets (2011) and The Muppets Most Wanted (2014), Stoller has written, directed, and/or produced many successful films. Having worked mostly on comedies, Stoller was able to relate to the idea of getting lost in a book when thinking back to reading gritty Stephen King novels as a child.
Although Letterman is also a seasoned writer, director, and producer of feature films, this was his first TV show—which came with surprises. Luckily, TV veteran Stoller, who has collaborated on films with Letterman, could calm his nerves at moment of crisis—such as when they didn’t know how they were going to end the series a week prior to the start of shooting.
When they started production, more challenges were ahead, including the challenges of shooting in the snow to get the perfect gritty and realistic look.
“I’ve never been more cold and wet in my entire life than shooting on this show,” Letterman said.
Luckily, these executive producers escaped real-life goosebumps and frostbite, making it back to sunny Hollywood to finally release the show and perhaps even write another season.
“I hope fans feel like we treated the book series well, that we delivered what they would hope from a Goosebumps TV series, that we respected the material, and that we brought something fresh and new to it,” Stoller said. “[R.L. Stine] has written so many books, so there’s such a wealth of material there—that is. if we’re lucky enough to get another season.”