Dead Boy Detectives premieres April 25 on Netflix

April 25, 2024
Online Originals

Dead Boy Detectives Showrunners on Sandman Easter Eggs and Their Show Leaving Max for Netflix

Co-showrunners Beth Schwartz and Steve Yockey unpack the long development (and fast greenlight) of their new supernatural series.

This story is about two pairs of friends. Both were destined to meet and do great work. One of the pairs just happens to be, well, alive.

In the Netflix series Dead Boy Detectives (streaming April 25), Edwin Payne (George Rexstrew) and Charles Rowland (Jayden Revri) are "the brains" and "the brawn," respectively, behind their own supernatural detective agency. British teens who were born — and died! — decades apart, the boarding school alums find each other in the afterworld and solve paranormal cases in the mortal realm. In the first season's run of eight episodes, they help rescue a young girl kidnapped by a witch.

The eerie mysteries have been brought to life by co-showrunners Beth Schwartz and Steve Yockey. Though both are TV veterans — she was an executive producer, writer and showrunner on Arrow and Sweet Tooth; he was a writer and producer on Supernatural and developed The Flight Attendant — the pair never crossed paths until they were fixed up, Hollywood-style.

"The pilot was already made," Schwartz explains, "but the executive producers called me and said, 'You've got to come on this show, because you're going to love Steve.' We had one Zoom meeting, and I was sold. It's been the perfect partnership ever since." Yockey seconds that: "We just vibe together very well and are very in sync about what the show wants to be."

They're also well-versed in the show's long history. Dead Boy Detectives originated in a "Season of Mists" storyline in Vertigo's The Sandman No. 25 comic from 1991. A decade later, Sandman creator Neil Gaiman — who is an executive producer on this new series — spun off the supernatural teens into a four-issue mini-series. They've starred in their own comic books ever since. (A TV adaptation of The Sandman, meanwhile, premiered on Netflix in 2022.) But fanboy trivia aside, "We designed the show so you can sit down and watch it without knowing any backstory," Yockey says. "It's a pretty straightforward series, just with really bright and weird colors."

Before jetting off to London for a press junket, Schwartz and Yockey took the Television Academy behind the scenes of their new series.

Steve, why were you interested in adapting the series in the first place?

Yockey: I've been a fan of Sandman and Dead Boy Detectives since high school. So, after I wrote The Flight Attendant's pilot script, I was feeling confident and went to DC [Comics] over at Warner Brothers and said, "Can I please have this little property you've never heard of?" They said, "Absolutely not." Then there was a regime change, and I snuck in and asked again. The studio signed off, Neil said it was okay and then we were off to the races.

And Beth, did you know a lot about the story going in?

Schwartz: I didn't. But I was the test audience for the pilot and loved it. I fell for the characters and the friendship between the two boys, along with the world that Steve had created. It was so fun!

This series features detectives and boarding school. As two Americans, was it peculiar writing for a series that's so British?

Yockey: No. This is the world [of the show], so it needs to be specific. I liked that the kids went to boarding school, and one died in 1916, and the other died in 1989. Their histories just make the world richer. So we stuck with the British.

The two leads are relative unknowns. Where did you find them?

Yockey: We had a great casting process that involved casting directors in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Australia and two in the UK looking for these kids. When we found them, we just knew. George and Jayden had fantastic chemistry. They both took their roles very seriously, and that has resulted in them becoming best friends and attached at the hip. I think that helped the characters.

The series was originally developed for Max. Why did it switch to Netflix?

Yockey: Max was very excited about the show. Then there were some issues between the studio and the network in terms of timing. So we ended up moving to Netflix. I've never seen a television deal move so quickly — we barely had time to let the cast know. But we're really happy with the result, because we could build a world that took place in The Sandman universe and include good Easter eggs.

Schwartz: I love a good crossover. I have a lot of experience in it, and I love it for the fans. So now we have the freedom, and it's worked out really well.

Yockey: I was really happy that Kirby [Howell-Baptiste], who plays Death on The Sandman, appears on our show. Neil worked with us on that. It was fantastic.

What kind of stories should viewers expect for the rest of the season?

Schwartz: There's a case of the week, which is a bananas case. Not actual bananas, but all the cases are so different. It has that procedural element, but you have no idea what to expect. The characters also evolve and go on their own emotional journey.

Yockey: I will say that this season gets progressively darker and only moves in one direction. The episodes are also packed. I'm a big fan of dense storytelling. It's the only similarity between this show and The Flight Attendant. Beth will get on me about it sometimes!

Beth, as a veteran of the Arrow-verse, do you envision any Dead Boy Detective spinoffs?

Schwartz: We joke about it in the writers' room all the time. We had so many amazing and creative characters in every episode, and we would love to see them all get their own shows!

Dead Boy Detectives is streaming now on Netflix.

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