'Supernatural: Bloodlines' boss on monster families, spinoff inspiration, and only sort of being 'The Godfather' for TV

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Image Credit: Chuck Hodes/The CW

After nine seasons of watching the Winchester brothers do their thing, it’s finally time to meet another hunter — and to trade listening to cassettes in an Impala for eating Death’s favorite food, Chicago deep dish pizza.

Supernatural: Bloodlines, the much-anticipated spinoff of The CW’s Supernatural, has been 18 months in the making. With tonight’s backdoor pilot, we’re finally ready to meet some monster families. We chatted with Bloodlines writer Andrew Dabb about why he chose to make “The Godfather with fangs,” what we can expect from these five families, future crossovers, and more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With a show as successful as Supernatural, the idea of a spinoff always seems to be a possibility. But I want to ask specifically about this premise of mob-like monster families in Chicago. Where did this idea originate?
ANDREW DABB: So like you say, the idea of doing a Supernatural spinoff has been around for a while. The challenge we always had is, we never wanted to do what I would call the Supernatural: Miami version, where we just follow another group of hunters in another part of the country. Because we felt like Supernatural’s done that so successfully; how do you compete? I don’t think you can. And then the other thing is, Supernatural’s going into its 10th season. I think everyone involved really hopes it’s going to go beyond that, so in creating a show, we wanted to do something that can exist alongside Supernatural rather than looking like a shadow of Supernatural. So when we started to talk about it, [we realized] Supernatural’s a country show. To do a city show made a lot of sense. Then, as we talked about, if you’re dealing with monsters in the big city, you’re probably not dealing with what we have on Supernatural, which is a monster that rolls into town, kills some people and moves on. They’re in this place where they’ve got millions and millions of people. There’s no reason for them to leave. So if there’s no reason for them to leave, they start families. And then that led to mob families, that led to five families, and it all kind of built on itself very organically.

The fun of it is in this show, we get to see the Supernatural world not only from the hunter’s side, which will be the Ennis [Ross] character played by Lucien [Laviscount], but we also get to see it from the monster side, and kind of see the intersection between those two things. And really focus on things we started exploring in Supernatural, which are monsters that have humanity. They might not be human, but they have humanity. Not that some of our monsters won’t be complete jerks that kill everybody. We definitely want that. But at the same time, you want some characters who are really sympathetic. So it all rose up kind of organically. We went to dinner, myself and Eric [Kripke], Bob [Singer] and Jeremy [Carver] and it came out over dinner, the idea, and then it was a process of honing it down to see what we can really fit into a pilot, and then what we want to save, hopefully, for the series, should the series go forward. So it was a lot of fun to put together, but that’s where the idea came from.

Were there specific spinoffs you looked at as successful examples?
We looked at The Originals, because I thought they did a really good job. Obviously it was a different situation. Those were established characters. But I thought they did a really good job of creating a different vibe in the same world. You look at something like Angel, for example – Angel, again, is a little different, but there, they moved from a suburban setting to an urban setting and used that to great effect. Then we looked at things even more recently like some of the NCIS spinoffs. But I would say probably Originals and Angel were the ones that really stuck out to us the most. And also I should say Deep Space Nine, because Supernatural is very much Star Trek-like — the boys are in their battleship, the Impala, driving place to place solving problems. This show’s going to be centered in one place, so the Star Trek: [Next] Generation/Deep Space Nine transition made a lot of sense to us.

In the promo, Dean calls this world “The Godfather with fangs.” Is that how you would describe the tone of the show?
Yeah, certainly the mob side of it. Godfather was very dark, but very grounded. You liked those characters even though they were mobsters, basically. And that’s kind of what we’re going for here – something that’s not necessarily incredibly dark, although certainly at times it will be dark in the same way that Supernatural‘s very dark. But we want to live in that world of criminals and monsters, again, in a way that grounds them and makes them relatable and fun and funny and entertaining. I think that’s really important. To say we’re going to be like The Godfather on television, that bar is too high. I don’t want that. [Laughs] Maybe like The Zucker Brothers’ Godfather parody, that’s what we’re aiming for. Like Mafia! But you look at things like Godfather and Goodfellas, a lot of Scorsese stuff, Miller’s Crossing, Deadwood – these were all inspirations, just in terms of telling a story that is as much about a place as it is about people. Because Chicago, we want to make [it] a real character in this show, both how it is now and its history. It has a lot of rich history both on the mob side and on the occult side.

In the promo, Dean mentions five monster families. I know of shape shifters and werewolves; what can you tell me about the other three?
Shape shifters and werewolves are the ones we really get to know in this planted pilot. The djinn family will be big players for us, the ghoul family will be players for us, and right now, the other family we’re looking at just because it gives it a different feel is a siren family, which is an all-female family. They’ve divided the city up, and we will have vampires in our show, but they’re not one of the families. I think we’ve got a different way to approach them that’s a little more down and dirty in the true Supernatural style.

So was staying away from the vampire craze a conscious decision in making these families?
It was a conscious choice, but it was more a choice just because of how we’ve portrayed vampires on Supernatural. Vampires on Supernatural, outside of the Alpha Vampire, are not like these really put together, classy people. They’re very much like bikers and truckers and things like that. So that aesthetic is something we wanted to carry over. Should the show go forward and we meet vampires, they’ll be a little down and dirty, a little scary, and a little like crazed drifters. But yeah, it was less, “Oh we don’t want to do vampires because everybody else has vampires” [than] “Okay, if we’re going to do vampires honestly in the Supernatural world, what would they look like?”

Speaking specifically about this backdoor pilot episode, it’s always difficult to balance the story of the main show with establishing a new world. So is there big movement in the backdoor pilot for the Winchester storyline?
There’s a big moment near the end that really acts as a spring board for the next three episodes, but this episode just by its nature — while Sam and Dean are in it and it’s great to see the city through their eyes and meet these characters through their eyes — they’re sharing screen, essentially, because we do have all these characters to establish. We have this new setting to establish. I would say it’s much more like a standalone episode of Supernatural, where Sam and Dean will go off on an adventure and have some serious talks but mostly focus on the standalone, versus a mythology episode, because our last three are really heavy mythology. We have a lot of plot threads this season. We’re wrapping a lot of them up, and so this is kind of the last little no-mythology thing we’re doing before the end of the season.

If this were to get picked up, I assume the door would be open for crossovers, right? Not only with Sam and Dean, but with other Supernatural characters as well?
Yeah. This is designed to exist in the Supernatural world, so particularly some of our supporting characters — Castiel, Crowley, Garth, Jody Mills — we would love to have them on the new show for an episode or multiple episodes. In terms of a crossover with Sam and Dean, again, we would love that if the show goes forward. That’s harder to do because they’ve got their own show, so it becomes a scheduling thing. But we’ve talked internally about some ideas to do that, and some ways that I think will make it a lot of fun.

Before I let you go, let’s talk about Ennis, the hunter at the center of this new show. Is he your typical hunter type? How would you describe him?
I would say that why Ennis is interesting to us is, Sam and Dean were really raised in a hunter’s life. Dean was raised in it since he was four, Sam was essentially born into it. By the time we met them in the pilot, they were, if not the best hunters in the world, second only to John Winchester. We meet Ennis in our pilot, [and] he has no idea what’s going on. By the end of our pilot, he kind of starts to know, but not really. Going forward, that guy’s got, like, five silver bullets and Google, and that’s it. There’s a lot of fun to be had in terms of his discovery of this world and watching him learn and grow. Not that he’s incompetent to start off with, because that’s definitely not the case. But he’s someone who’s not going to come into it with all the knowledge Sam and Dean did, so it gives us different stories to play. He doesn’t know how to kill everything. He doesn’t have access to the Men of Letters, he doesn’t have access to someone like Bobby. He’s a little bit on his own, so that’s a different lone wolf character. Generally, most of the hunters we meet, even who aren’t Sam and Dean, either grew up in the life or were veteran hunters like Garth or Martin.

The backdoor pilot for Supernatural: Bloodlines airs tonight at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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