How to Revitalize Beloved Pop Culture Brands Like Star Trek, Hannibal and American Gods

Bryan Fuller and Michael Green explain how they did it

These days, one of the safest bets for attracting TV or movie audiences is to rely on existing brand or franchise and try to revitalize it. When it's successful—like the recent Star Wars films or Fox's X-Files revival—it brings in both diehard fans and a fresh audience.

Two of the best writers involved in resuscitating beloved pop culture properties are Bryan Fuller (who breathed new life into the stale Hannibal Lecter franchise by turning Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon into an audacious NBC series) and Michael Green (who worked on Smallville, putting a new spin on the Superman story). Now those two are teaming up for a new, high-profile adaptation, turning Neil Gaiman's acclaimed novel American Gods into a series for Starz, debuting this spring.

But American Gods is just one of several major brand refreshes that Fuller or Green are overseeing in 2017. Fuller also co-created the first Star Trek series in 12 years, Star Trek: Discovery, for CBS All Access (though he has since departed the show) and is developing an updated version of the '80s anthology series Amazing Stories for NBC. Meanwhile, Green co-wrote three major franchise films: Logan (a darker, grittier spin on the Wolverine franchise), Alien: Covenant (the follow-up to Prometheus, which more directly ties into Alien) and Blade Runner 2049, which brings back Harrison Ford and whose first trailer generated enthusiastic buzz last week:

As they prepare to launch American Gods in the spring, Fuller and Green sat down with Adweek to talk about their approach to breathing new life in beloved pop culture brands, and what they've learned about trying to make fans happy—or not:

Adweek: What has to stand out for you when you're looking at an existing brand or a franchise, and trying to make it your own?

Bryan Fuller: It has to be about something more than just its own plot, to start with. And you have to be able to isolate your own memory of what it is you loved about it. Because if you take something as broad as a superhero character, everyone came at it at a different time and a different incarnation and a different run of a different artist, and so there are different aspects of the character that are in the soul of it for you. That's the core of adaptation, is you have to be able to dive into those things and celebrate that particular aspect of it. It's about taking those core values of what the piece is and making sure that you can now re-present those things to other people, and hopefully they'll appreciate it in the same way that you did.

As you were adapting American Gods, how do you decide what to transfer from the book and what you can leave aside?

Fuller: I think a lot of it boils down to personal taste. There are things about the book that resonated with each of us, specifically and differently, that we both wanted to make sure that we got into the story. And for any of these things it really becomes fan fiction…

Michael Green: …In the best possible, celebratory way.

Fuller: And that's really taking responsibility for not only how we see the project and what gets us excited about it, but also recognizing that there are like-minded fans in the audience, and there are people who don't agree with how you see any given property. So if you're trying to make everybody happy, that way madness lies. But if you're taking seriously your place as the first seat in the audience and that this is fan fiction that you want to see of this property because it's so beloved for a variety of reasons, that's the best barometer, because you know how to make yourself happy as a fan.

While there is a segment of the fan base that might be enraged by anything you do, does the fact that there are already known entities make things easier at all?