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Fear the Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson on how they plan to avoid 'copycatting' the original

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Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Being a companion to the highest rated show on television has to be a pretty sweet deal. But for Fear the Walking Dead showrunner Dave Erickson, there are other things inherent in that connection that must be dealt with — things like inevitable comparisons, and expectations, and making sure you’re not treading on already well-covered terrain. Erickson is a very thoughtful guy who actually welcomes the comparisons and openly discusses the process for making sure his show (which debuts tonight at 9 p.m. ET on AMC) has checks and balances in place to make sure it does not end up “copycatting” the original Walking Dead. Start your Fear pregame right here by perusing our chat with the main man in charge.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So is this your first big foray into the horror genre?

DAVE ERICKSON: Yeah. I mean, it’s not something I’ve ever written before and I think that was probably by design, I think. The goal was to start from a family drama perspective and then sort of bring the horror genre into it and make it a strange hybrid. So no, I had never. I mean, I’ve been pretty much just a drama guy since I started. So that was part of [Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s] rationale for bringing me on, but I think that’s kind of the balance we’ve tried to strike.

Talk a little bit about the positives and negatives of being this  spin-off or companion show in the sense that obviously the positives are that you’ve got a lot of attention out of the gate. And then the potential negative is that the comparisons are going to be inevitable.

I am as willfully ignorant of that. I think it’s a blessing. I don’t really see a downside to it. I mean, yes, I think the great part of this is that we are and will continue to receive a lot of attention and then inevitably, you can’t not compare the two shows. I think they’re different in tone, I think they’re different in character and location, obviously, and my hope is that the bulk of the fans who have flocked to The Walking Dead will also appreciate this show as well. I think we’ll come out of the gate strong and then hopefully people will recognize that there are differences.

It’s still very much a show and a world that Robert created and I think it’s okay to be a little bit different from the original and create our own vision. Ultimately, I think the fans will appreciate that. So the comparisons, they’ll be made, and I think it’s actually informative. I look forward to finding out and hearing what people think about the distinctions, and the differences, and the similarities in the show. I think that’s really part of the evolution.

You got a taste already of the intensity of fan reaction just by even announcing your title, which created a bit of a polarizing stir.

It was a long conversation for us internally as well about which way to go, but it was important that we had Walking Dead in the title. I think it was important that we were paying tribute to the franchising, to the story, and the narrative that Robert created. I don’t go online that often, but I knew there was a lot of talk about it. I knew there was a great deal of buzz about the title. I also feel like the title, like anything else, it’s going to continue to evolve. I think people will start referring to it as Fear. I think it’ll become its own thing ultimately and look, the more people are talking about the shows individually or together, I think it’s great. It’s just going to feed what we do.

How involved has AMC been in this whole endeavor in terms of notes, or feedback, and stuff like that?

They’re very involved. They were from the very beginning. It was always important to them, to Robert, to me, that whatever we did, as much as we wanted to be part of the larger mythology of the show, it was important that we also were justifying our own existence and that we were telling a story that felt — even if you’ve never seen the original show — it would be valid and fulfilling and that was incredibly important to everybody involved. So AMC, they give notes on scripts, they give notes on cuts, they have feedback when we do the casting process, they’re very hands on. But at the same time, they offer you the freedom to do your thing and they will have notes and suggestions, but typically it’s sort of a take this if you will — which I appreciate because it gives you a latitude you need to develop and build the show. They’ve been very good partners.

Have you ever had a situation where you came up with an idea and then producers on both shows like Gale Anne Hurd, and Robert, and Greg Nicotero, or someone at AMC is like “That’s really cool, but we did something similar to that on the other show so let’s change this a bit?” Has that situation come up yet at all?

Yeah, there have been a couple of small things. There was one in terms of an amputation, which I think Gale felt might be too similar to the original. I know the show pretty well and then between myself, Robert, Gale, and Greg, there have not been a ton of examples of where we felt like we were overlapping too much, but there have been some subtle and small things where Gale or Greg have come up or Robert said, “You know, we already did a version of that. Let’s try to do something different.” But I think as we get deeper into the show there’s going to be more and more examples of that. I think it’s important.

You’ve got this great group of producers who have built that story and built The Walking Dead, so it’s invaluable to have them, and have them read scripts and outlines and being able to guide us. I’s good to have that protective line, but there hasn’t been a ton. Once we get into a little later seasons where the apocalypse is really taking a hold, I think that’s when it’s probably even more important to have Robert and company to mind the story, make sure that we’re not copycatting, which is the one thing we want to avoid and will avoid.

You and Robert have both emphasized that this show is very family-oriented, as opposed to the bigger group that we see in the other show. We know there’s always a lot of death on The Walking Dead, but does this make your core a bit safer in that you don’t want to necessarily kill off the family at the center of the show, at least not right away? Does that give them at least little bit of a stay of execution?

I would say, look, you’re living in the apocalypse, ultimately no one is safe. I’d love to see our core family survive for seasons to come, and who knows. It’s a very, very dangerous world and so I can’t really say specifically which way we’re going to go, but I’d like to see our family survive, the core family survive, but we’ll have to see what the apocalypse is going to throw at them.

For more Fear the Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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