Horror comedies on the small screen are few and far between, but Starz has us covered with its forthcoming series, Shining Vale, which launches Sunday, March 6.
TV Fanatic chatted with creators Jeff Astroff and Sharon Horgan about the process of bringing the series to life.
Check out the full interview below.
How did you find each other? Either one of you can start on that.
Sharon: Well, we found each other because one of our producers on the show, Aaron Kaplan, had the good sense to put us together. I’ve been working with Aaron for years on various things. And I had this idea, and it’d sort of been a little bit dormant for a while, and fair play to him.
He was like, “We got to do something with this idea. It’s so good.” And then he sent it to Jeff and thank the Lord. Jeff loved it too.
Jeff: Yeah, I was actually doing another show that I felt would be on forever. Wasn’t. I’m here. And they’re like, “We want you to develop something else.” When I’m in on something, it’s the only thing I do. And so I said, “I don’t have my own original idea, so I’m going to go around and meet people.”
And I met with Sharon, an amazing cat, and I met with Aaron, and he said, “I have something with Sharon. She wants to do The Shining as a comedy.” I was like, “Oh, yes, I’m in.”
And then he gave me the pages to it. I saw that the sentence that we opened the show with, I was like, “I got to talk to her about this.” And we just hit it off and had similar ideas of what we wanted to do and how to take it. We both had the same kind of excitement slash fear. We were like, “Wow, this is, this can be really-“
Sharon: I’ve never actually heard anyone as excited as Jeff on that phone call.
Jeff: I was.
Sharon: So great, but it was really like, “Oh my God, of course, this has to happen.” There are some ideas that take a while to get off the ground and it doesn’t mean you stop loving them.
It just means that they’ve sort of in part for a while, but it just got me really re-infused about it. Because he loved it so much.
Well, Sharon, what was the inspiration? How did you even choose to… I think it’s not just that it’s The Shining as the comedy, but there are so many topics. There’s mental illness. There’s marriage. There’s infidelity. There’s motherhood. Parenthood.
Sharon: Well, I write a lot about a lot of that stuff anyway, but the idea that you don’t know if she has a mental illness or whether she’s living in a house that has this spirit of a woman who killed her entire family.
I don’t know why it came into my head. It started with, again, Aaron Kaplan saying that a friend of his had played this joke on him and had convinced him that a house that he had bought had had a murder-suicide take place. And he was like, “Is there something in that?”
And I kind of thought, well, I love the idea of a horror-comedy, but it has to be really scary as well as really funny. And so, therefore, it does need sort of high stakes and that felt like the highest stakes you can get, to have a woman battling demons and to have an audience sort of not be entirely sure of what they should believe. I don’t know.
Sometimes ideas are just… they’re weird, aren’t they? They come along fully formed and you don’t really understand why, but thank God they do.
And didn’t that kind of come out in the show? When Pat is writing, she has that same thing. She doesn’t know if she’s writing if the ideas are coming from her if they’re coming from somewhere else, where she’s getting them, why she’s getting them. She tries to follow them, then cut them off.
Is that the same as your creative process?
Jeff: I think it’s exactly that. There are so many lines in this that are just like every writer relates to is like, “Hey, you never know what your source is. And you never know when it’s going to be cut off.” And especially for me, you get to a certain age and we play that, I don’t know how far into it you’ve got into the show, but basically, that becomes a big thing.
And there’s a lot of times Pat’s like, “I don’t even remember writing this.” And there are so many times I write stuff. I’m like, “I don’t even know where that idea came from. What is this?”
And then it’s like, “What if a demon is actually writing your work?” And then it’s like, “How far will you go?” And the whole time, the whole trick in all these, one of my writers is a horror writer, and she always said the whole trick and why there’s not a lot of sequels… I guess there are sequels to horror things.
But in a haunted house, they’ll do an anthology or something. It’s because you’re just like, “Move out of the house.” Do you know what I mean? You’re not going to live there, but if this whole thing is playing out in our head, you can’t move out of that house.
You’re living in that house. That’s your house in your head. And that was the thing that I think just made so much fun. But yes, as a writer, there wasn’t a single day where I’m just like, “Well, there’s no show here. We’re done. I have nothing. Oh, we’re done.”
That’s across the board.
Jeff: I would sell my soul to finish this script. That’s like, every writer is just like at any given in their project. I will give you anything you want to get this done.
So you mentioned that it’s a haunted house story, what do you do versus whether it’s internal. If there comes a point where you determine that it’s internal, will you just stop the show… Or that it’s external, will you just stop the show or will you go anthology? What do you have a future planned out?
Jeff: Look, you go minute by minute with these things. I have an idea of what the second season is based on how we ended the first season. And it always happens kind of midway through a season.
You’re like, “Oh, I see this.” And actually, we even have thoughts on the third season, but that’s always the trick is you have to keep that balance that you know if it’s purely her mental state, then okay, then that’s solved a certain way. If it’s purely the other way, then you move out.
The trick of it is to keep finding things, but keep the audience engaged. And thankfully when you have a family that you care about, there’s enough… One of the things I loved about doing the research based on Sharon’s finding about mental health and possession is that anybody with a lot of hormones is also subject to the same thing.
So teenagers are subject to the same things. Sometimes you get older, people going through hormone treatments, menopause, all these things. So we have a lot to work with.
Sharon: There is a whole world there now, but Jeff is… There are so many great… Like one-liner I do is for the second series and the third series. So I think you’re sort of playing it down a bit. I get excited even thinking about it.
Jeff: So yeah, it’s very, very fun.
Carissa Pavlica: And my last question is for you, Sharon. You’ve worked with some amazing women and also brought some amazing characters to life yourself. What is it like having this story come to life with Judith Light, Courtney Cox, this amazing cast?
Sharon: Gus. Sherilyn Fenn. All of them. It’s pure. It’s proper. And it’s even better than I could have thought because the Pat Phelps that was in our heads was always great on paper.
But when you see her up and marching around all in black, really angry and spitting blood at her teenage daughter through the beautiful package of Courtney. You’re just like, “It sort of doesn’t get any better than that.”
But yeah, across the board, Alyssa and Judith and Mira, it makes me really proud that we’re able to do, that we’re able to bring these amazing characters to the public, but also really proud that all these women signed on to do it.
Jeff: And I will say more thing because I’ve spoken to Courtney and Mira about this, who were grateful that there are vehicles for them. Mira told me that she thanked me. She said You know what? You get to be a certain age, and all she plays are hard-boiled cops. She said, “Women just play the cop who’s over it.”
It’s like the uterus is out. It’s in the trash. There’s nothing sexual about it. It’s just the woman out for revenge, or she’s dried up, and she’s out for revenge. And she said, “It’s just not the case with people, but people don’t write for it.” So I love getting to write for because there are so many great actresses out there and actors out there to play this stuff. It’s been really fun.
Shining Vale Premieres on March 6, 2022, with two back-to-back episodes beginning at 10/9c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.