Apple TV’s reboot of the 1992 magical show of the same name Ghostwriters is bringing literature to life in a whooole new way. Initially directed towards children, but now a hit with both adults and children alike, the show premiered late last year, with the latest batch of episodes released just weeks ago. We sat down (virtually and transatlantically, of course) with SVP of Creative Development at Sesame Workshop and the show’s writer and director, to take a closer look.
The premise of Ghostwriter is mystically simple:
When a ghost haunts a neighborhood bookstore and starts releasing fictional characters into the real world, four kids must team up to solve an exciting mystery surrounding the ghost’s unfinished business.
Summed up in three words by showrunners Kay Wilson Stallings and Luke Matheny, Ghostwriter is “mysterious, smart, cinematic”, and a “thrilling, supernatural mystery,” respectively.
With Ghostwriter being a reboot of a beloved classic, there were certain aspects that were imperative to the newer, shinier version, namely the cast’s diversity and the show’s core premise. In the 1990s version, the cast was made up of a young and diverse team, which for many people, marked the first time they were able to physically relate to those on screen. As Matheny points out, “It doesn’t seem as big a deal nowadays, but it was a huge part of the original.”
Adding to this, Kay says they intended for the cast to be real, so that “the audience can relate, and be friends with them.”
image via apple tv
Along with the integrity of the cast, it was important to the production team that the urban setting be retained. The original was based in a part of Brooklyn, New York that is now gentrified. Going back twenty/thirty years, this was not the case. Maintaining the “gritty” and real feel of the original backdrop was a huge part of the 2019 version.
When it comes to innovation, however, both Matheny and Stallings had ideas on how to refresh the series and move it away from the original in certain aspects. They decided to have characters jump out of the books, bringing them to life, a fun addition which Matheny says “meaningfully expands what they can do, and honors the original.”
Where the original series focused on basic literacy and on teaching kids to read, the new version decided to promote literature instead. It is no longer just how to read, but also what to read. “No longer learning to read, but reading to learn.” Kids are often reading the same books over and over again, particularly in education. Ghostwriter serves to “encourage them to explore different kinds of books,” opening them up to a whole new world.
With a show that focuses on the issues that kids face and helps them develop their reading, the cast of children at its core is part of what makes it so special. Both Matheny and Stallings admitted that some of the young cast had little experience on-set and on-camera, but each and every one of them rose to the challenge. The kids were eager and ready to learn. As Stallings had said, these are real kids, and like real kids, they get distracted, and they get antsy, but they take direction, and they learn as they go.
Matheny adds that the set is an “interesting place to be” and being there is surely “a nice departure from your 12-year-old routine.” The result is an authentic ensemble that brings a fun energy to both the set and the on-screen scenes they inhabit.
What separates Ghostwriter from many other children’s shows, is that it actively strives against any “dumbing down” its content for a young viewership. On the contrary, the show acknowledges that the target audience is far more sophisticated than they are generally given credit for. They have real issues, like family conflict and divorce, peer pressure, and learning difficulties, and Ghostwriter aims to reflect this.
Stallings says the goal was to create a show that was both “appealing and aspirational.” With laugh tracks and the like, “a lot of content for the age is cheesy”, and children often turn to watching things that in turn are not appropriate. Ghostwriter call fill this gap, treating children like children, but with the respect and intellectual stimulus they deserve. Matheny adds that the production team “wanted to treat the material with sophistication narratively and visually”, rather than “talking down” to the young audience.
You can find all episodes over on Apple TV – whether you’re 12 or 62! The show has extended beyond Apple TV-compatible devices, with a series of books available as companions to the series, and an exciting reading challenge to go alongside it. As Stallings shared: “The Apple and Sesame marketing teams had been talking about how to take the experience off-screen, to encourage kids to read, and to love it.”
A lot of children are reluctant readers, only reading the same kind or genre, and the challenge was designed to have kids expand into entire realms of books, out of their comfort zone. You can join in on the fun on Twitter with #GhostwriterReadingChallenge and get the whole family involved.
In an age where young children are more glued to technology than ever before, the magic of reading needs to be maintained, and Ghostwriter helps promote exactly that. With a young, fresh cast, and punchy, exciting writing, it is not one to be missed.
Featured Image via Appletv