Last week, we had the chance to sit down with Robbie Thompson, the showrunner behind the Supernatural prequel The Winchesters. He was at NYCC to help launch the show. Thompson has an impressive resume – from working on Netflix’s Cursed to Human Target and Jericho. But perhaps what stands out and is most special to Supernatural fans is his time on the hit show. We talked about that and more in our roundtable interview.
[Note: There are mild spoilers from The Winchesters ahead.]
The Winchesters’ connection to Supernatural
If you talk to those involved with the show, Supernatural is referred to as “the mothership” for The Winchesters. It ran for 15 seasons on the CW and helped catapult Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, who played brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, into stardom. The brothers Winchester drove around in a 1967 black Chevrolet impala and hunted, fought, and worked against all manner of creepy paranormal and supernatural creatures. But at the core, the show was about family.
Since before Supernatural ended in 2020, there had been talks and attempts at getting a spinoff series off the ground. Wayward Sisters, an episode of the 13th season of the show, was meant to be a “backdoor pilot” but didn’t go forward. The same thing happened with Bloodlines, an episode from the ninth season of the series that was meant to launch a spinoff. Neither of these spinoffs happened, to the sadness of fans.
Given that there had been unsuccessful attempts at a Supernatural spinoff before, the team behind the Winchesters had a tough job ahead of them. Part of that was because there’s so much lore involved with the show.
NYCC roundtable interview with Robbie Thompson
Thompson talked to us about honoring that lore and the decision to go back in time and revisit the very start of the Winchester family with the love story of John and Mary. He also talked about the decision to make the show more inclusive – something that the original show had been missing.
[Note: Interview transcript has been edited for extra/filler words and clarity while retaining context.]
Interviewer: Let’s start with an easy question. We sort of know where John and Mary and up, so what’s kind of the premise for the show? What are we gonna learn about the characters? What’s the journey like?
Robbie Thompson: So when Jensen and Danneel [Ackles] first approached me about it, my first question was like, hey if we know the ending, how do we get there in a way that – as Kim Manners used to say – do what the audience wants, but in a way they don’t expect. But then my question was also the answer, was to figure out how can we do that.
And the first thing we talked about was making sure that we were not going to erase 15 years of Supernatural. Jensen and I are both big Back to the Future fans. And we talked about like the, you know, the fading Polaroid. You don’t want Sam and Dean to suddenly be fading.
We’re not rewriting anything. We’re not redoing anything. This is a long-winded way of saying, I’m not going to tell you everything because we want to tell the story. But I will say that, you know, there’s some hints about where we’re going in the first episode, and then kind of throughout the first season, but we’re gonna pull the curtain back completely about where we are and what we’re doing, what we have been doing in episode 13. Right. And it may or may not involve that handsome gentleman.
Interviewer: Just to follow up on that. I would say it is a little challenging being that it’s so close to when the original mothership is going on in the timeline. A prequel series right now like, Rings of Power, push it that way in the past, and don’t have to worry about that kind of thing.
Robbie Thompson: Sure. Sure. Actually, no, it was actually one of the benefits of it. Because, you know, one of the things we talked about early on was, how do we expand the Supernatural universe? And we found, like, my questions were the same as most everybody’s questions. I was like, hey, this is cool. But how’s it going to work? You know, because we’re a show that deals in the paranormal and the supernatural. And it’s a show that also pushed itself, in previous seasons to do different weird out-of-the-box ideas. You know, we found that we actually had more than a few ways to peel this onion. So how we’re actually doing that is, is top secret for now, I promise. We’re not going to keep everybody guessing for too long.
But it was actually a huge advantage because there is so much history, and yet, there were characters, like for example, the character of Milly Winchester. Milly, you only hear her name. But we got to talk about the fact that she’s a mechanic, the fact that you know, what her perspective was on Henry leaving. Did she know about the Men of Letters does she know about monsters suddenly? And actually gave us a whole new lane to kind of explore within the context of the show. So it wasn’t limiting at all.
And I’ll be honest with you putting it 1972. So I never have to deal with cell phones. Or the fact that Sam always had Wi-Fi, even though they were like, in the middle of nowhere, it was a pure joy. Like we actually were doing research the other day and found out like, cops had pagers back then, but for them, this would be like getting your new iPhone. Like, oh, my God, this is amazing.
And so now, it wasn’t actually limiting. I mean, did we talk about different iterations of where a prequel-type story could go? Yeah, absolutely. We did. We talked about quite a few different iterations. But this one always felt more personal in a way to keep a certain handsome gentleman, you know, also involves in a pretty direct way.
Interviewer: You mentioned the time jump, is there anything from the 70s, any references that you kind of took inspiration from, that you study from? Was there anything that was particularly influential?
Robbie Thompson: Without question the music. You know, I think one of the first couple of weeks, Jensen, Danneel, and Rene Reiff, who’s their executive – we just were kind of talking and figuring out this was two years ago, almost to the day. And Danneel made us a playlist, just 70 songs, and they’re just… I’m blanking on the documentary’s name. I’m so sorry. But they’re just had been released a documentary about early 70s music. That was also a huge source of inspiration. I’ve been writing the last four weeks… all the music from Moonage Daydream – that David Bowie documentary.
So a big touchstone was the music. Music is it was a cornerstone of Supernatural. Whether it’s our unofficial theme song, you know, “Carry on”, or it’s like references to Metallica and AC DC and all that stuff. Some songs we could afford, some songs we could not. What are you going to do? But the big thing was music.
The other thing, obviously, is you start to get excited about… I’m a child of the 70s. And you know, you started getting excited about the fashion as well. There’s also a lot of parallels. 2022 sadly, is not that different from 1972 in some aspects and so that was also an appeal as well to maybe couch some stories and give it sort of a timeless feel.
Interviewer: As showrunner, you set the tone.
Robbie Thompson: Sure. Is that true?!
Interviewer: You do. And Supernatural is horror, this is a love story. Supernatural is tragic. We’ve seen a lot of comedy in the trailer so far. What tone are you going for?
Robbie Thompson: Well, you know, Supernatural did something, there’s a really great connection. I had this teacher in- when I was at University of Michigan, it was a comedy horror class. And it was a class where we studied the correlation between gross-out comedies of the 80s and gross-out horror of the 80s. And what was interesting is there was actually a lot of parallels. Most good, you know, horror scripts give you a laugh. It’s designed to release tension. And so really, the tone that we wanted was the tone that Supernatural had.
You know, Sam and Dean are really funny. Like, they are very, very funny, guys. And we did some pretty broad stuff. I would say that, you know, in terms of this, heart was a big thing for us, humor was a big thing for us, and so was horror. And so we are trying to strike the same balance that Supernatural did. Do we, you know, also kind of carve out our own little space in it? Yeah. Because like you pointed out, it is a romance.
So yeah, I would say the tone is more along lines that the mothership did. The difference being Supernatural started and was really grounded as a two-hander and then it grew from there. We start with a pretty instant family, like we’ve got, you know, our core four, as we call them. Then we’ve also got Demetria [McKinney], who plays Ada (Monroe), and Bianca [Kajlich], who plays Millie (Winchester). And so that group, it’s just a different dynamic from the jump. And so that inherently gives you more voices.
And as a result, you’re going to have different types of humor, different types of drama, different types of tragedy. All the characters, especially the core four, are really kind of bound, though, in the way that all hunters are, which is some form of tragedy in their lives. And some of those we get right out of the gate. You know, like with Carlos’ backstory that you’ll see in the pilot shortly.
And then someone we kind of hint at, we’ve left this character as we move on in the seasons. Supernatural was a pretty big influence on this show. So my short answer is that, but the longer answer is, because we have more voices, we have an opportunity to kind of stretch a little bit.
Interviewer: Speaking about voices, are there proactive steps that have been taken in the show in terms of like, the casting?
Robbie Thompson: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not an indictment or a criticism of the mothership. But it was developed a long time ago. And fortunately, I think we’re being much more reflective and inclusive. And it was part of the design from the beginning, it was something that was very important to Jensen and Danneel, as part of their production company Chaos Machine.
That’s also important to me. You know, my mom is Mexican, you know, my wife is, is Latin. I know, some people also prefer Latinx. But that’s what she prefers. So that’s what I’m using. And, you know, it was very important for me to be able to see my family on screen as well. And so yeah, it was really important. And it was also just an opportunity because we were a little left of where we were, you know, and we were starting with just more faces. It was an opportunity to do that and it was done deliberately. Thank you.
For more on The Winchesters and Supernatural
You can read more of our The Winchesters interviews from NYCC, including roundtable interviews with executive producers Jensen Ackles and Danneel Ackles. We even chatted with actors Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly, aka John and Mary Winchester. And if you’re new to Supernatural and The Winchesters universe, check out our detailed episode guide, including the best episodes to watch to get you up to speed.
New episodes of The Winchesters are available to watch live every Tuesday on The CW. What do you think of The Winchesters so far? Please join the conversation and share your thoughts on the Cosmic Circus discord or Twitter @MyCosmicCircus.