PBS’ Ghostwriter was a show that inspired many of us when we were growing up. Spooky mystery adventures with a literary bent—what more could a young TV viewer want? Last year, when Apple launched their premium streaming service Apple TV+, they introduced a whole new generation of audiences to the show in the form of a reboot. This series brought an exciting new premise that saw classic literary characters escape from books at a mysterious bookshop.
On May 1, the show will be returning with a new set of episodes; to celebrate, we chatted with the series’ Oscar-winning showrunner Luke Matheny and the Sesame Workshop’s Kay Wilson Stallings about reimagining the show for a new era, focusing on introducing viewers to classic literature, and the responsibility of taking on such an iconic kids’ series.
The new series takes the classic ’90s show, which centered on a group of young kids solving crimes with the help of a mysterious “ghost writer,” and throws it into modern day. Matheny said that although the series had a legacy and a built-in fanbase, when he approached the project, it was all about finding the most satisfying way to make it something new. “I just want to try to tell that story the best way I can, obviously keeping in mind some of the beloved components of the original,” he said. “But if you’re trying to reimagine, you actually have to reimagine it, so I try not to think of the original when I’m working on this version.”
Matheny worked alongside Kay Wilson Stallings, the VP of Creative Development at the Sesame Workshop, to craft a story that would both educate and entertain. “The big change we instituted was that the ghost would be releasing fictional characters from books, which was not a component of the original,” Stallings said. “For us, that was a really cool device that would fulfill Ghostwriter’s promise of exciting kids and enticing them to read. Also, of course, the ghost would have to communicate in these cryptic written messages, which is obviously a hallmark of the original.”
Wilson Stallings expanded on the educational plan that the team built into the new series. “On the original Ghostwriter the focus was literacy and we were trying to teach kids how to read. What we wanted to do for this reimagined version was really focus on literature and opening up kids to an opportunity to learn and and experience whole new various genres of books. A lot of times when kids are this age, they’re now at that point where they’re learning to read and sometimes they get stuck in one particular genre of book, so what we wanted to do is in a really compelling story, encourage kids to explore, taste, and sample other types of books.”
Wilson Stallings continued, “So we have public domain books, which kids might be familiar with, from a movie or from a picture book version but have never actually read themselves. Like Alice in Wonderland, Jungle Book, or Frankenstein. We also have original books that were created for the series by authors that kids might be familiar with, like Kwame Alexander and D.J. McHale.”
When it came to working out which stories and characters to explore, Matheny shared some insight into how the crew went into shaping the stories. “Sometimes we just knew there were these great, well-known stories that we would have to get in there; then we figured out how that would serve our purposes for the overarching mystery,” he said. “Other times, we were at a point in the mystery where we needed a certain kind of book. Then that would guide our process of selecting a lesser known title that either we commissioned or a newer book from today that we just optioned. So there were many ways to piece the whole puzzle together.”
As for what the team would like to explore next, Wilson Stallings teased that they’ve “already been brainstorming what books we might want to do if we did another season.” For Matheny, there’s something specific (and unexpected) that he’d love to draw from. “Personally, I would push for something based on the original screenplay of Teen Wolf, but I’m not sure if I could get the writers to go for it.”
If you want to enjoy some of the classic books that Ghostwriter utilizes, you can check out Apple TV+’s newly adapted versions that reimagine the titles for young readers.
Featured Image: Apple TV+