‘Monarch’ Producer on Songs, Susan Sarandon’s Destiny, Judds Parallels



When Fox’s “Monarch” premiered to robust rankings following an NFL recreation on Sept. 11, there was an enormous sort-of-maybe cliffhanger: Can the Susan Sarandon character, touted as a collection lead, actually be as lifeless as she gave the impression to be on the finish of the pilot? However there have been different questions, too. Like: Will this be a collection wherein the characters are portrayed as having originated a whole lot of the large hits of nation and pop, from “Household Custom” to “Man! I Really feel Like a Girl” to “Born This Approach”? Will the center American viewers be fully down with a narrative that has an out lesbian character vying to turn into a rustic famous person? Do parallels with Naomi Judd’s story really feel as eerie as we predict they do? And did the pilot make all these tens of millions of viewers need to come again when there’s no NFL lead-in?

Right here with the solutions to — or no less than hints about — all of these questions is Nashville-based govt producer Jason Owen. He’s finest referred to as one in every of nation music’s uber-managers, guiding the careers of current or previous shoppers together with Kacey Musgraves, Shania Twain, Kelsea Ballerini, Dan + Shay, Religion Hill and Little Huge City, with occasional forays into TV. He’s made a extra wholesale leap into the medium with the country-themed drama that turned Fox’s most-watched fall scripted premiere in three years when it first bowed. Can the present stick with it? If not, it gained’t be for an absence of melodrama, as Owen — a fan of and even former worker of the Aaron Spelling college of soapiness — strongly signifies the collection has jaw-dropping developments in retailer, together with a soundtrack of nation classics and extra Music Metropolis star cameos.

Have you ever gotten suggestions out of your music-biz buddies in regards to the premiere?

The response has been nice. A number of it’s been humorous as a result of individuals are attempting to determine, “Is that about Shania? Is that about Kacey? Is that about whenever you labored on the document label?” It’s been enjoyable to let folks kind it out, or no less than create that of their head.

However so far as this going down within the nation music milieu you understand so nicely… it doesn’t really feel just like the present goes for precise and whole verisimilitude.

No, I agree with that. [He laughs heartily.] I agree with that, dead-on.

So how a lot did you’re feeling such as you wished the present to get down within the weeds reflecting real-life music business conditions, versus simply going, “That is melodrama. That is enjoyable. We don’t need to faux that all the things right here has a real-life corollary”?

That (the latter) is actually the way in which I felt. Look, I grew up with the Spelling-esque dramas, and I labored there after I was a lot youthful. I like that form of tv, that soapy, over-the-top escape from actuality. And I believe the issues that I really feel answerable for inside “Monarch” are a number of the issues which are kind of actually excessive. Melissa London Hilfers, who created the present and is the author, who’s sensible, agreed; we wished the combination of cleaning soap and the enjoyable. I all the time felt like “Determined Housewives” did an excellent job of that.

There have been issues that we attempt to hold a whole lot of authenticity to. In an upcoming episode, there’s a whole lot of conversations about touring, and about how issues are recorded, and tales about folks shopping for out different folks’s masters, issues that occur on a regular basis in our business that most likely folks in Hollywood don’t actually perceive, that we kind of dropped at dropped at the highest. So I believe that whereas there may be a whole lot of actuality, it’s an over-the-top actuality.

When did you’re employed for Aaron Spelling?

In 1998, proper out of faculty, I labored for Spelling, particularly on “90210” in expertise relations. I knew him fairly nicely, and he was wonderful, only a gem of a human. However his mind was kind of all centered round this extravagance, and it was simply superior to observe, and we don’t have (these anymore). I imply, we clearly have primetime soaps, however the “Dynastys” and the “Dallases.” That’s what makes this slightly completely different — or lots completely different — this than “Nashville.” As a result of it feels extra in that (Spelling-esque) world than “Nashville.” Wouldn’t you agree? It definitely will because the episodes proceed.

L-R: Anna Friel and Susan Sarandon within the collection premiere of Monarch. © 2022 FOX Media LLC.

Is it truthful to assume that, someplace alongside the way in which, Fox regarded on the preliminary success of “Nashville” and noticed there was an urge for food for a rustic music-themed drama, completed proper, even when curiosity in that collection waned over time? And the way did you become involved?

It began with Fox having a dialog with Gail Berman, who ran Fox within the day of “Glee,” “American Idol,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and all these enormous exhibits. The dialog along with her began with, “We’re enthusiastic about stepping into this area. Why don’t you take a look at growing a rustic music scripted present?” She actually knew nothing about nation music, aside from a very long time in the past, I believe she labored with Sandy Gallin when he was managing Dolly. However she has been a fan. She reached out to Bryan Lourde at CAA and mentioned, “Who could be my companion on this?” And Bryan mentioned, “Arms down, it’s Jason Owen.” We had a extremely nice, boozy dinner and fell in love with one another, and the remaining is historical past.

However to your level about “Nashville,” they have been definitely wanting… I believe they understand very nicely who their viewers is, which is primarily center America, outdoors of the coasts. And so they understand that music programming — whether or not it’s “Empire” or “Glee” or “Idol” — these tentpoles have actually labored tremendously nicely for Fox up to now, they usually have been searching for that once more.

Years in the past you began stepping into TV and talked about feeling like an enormous a part of the nation was underserved.

I really feel like there was a extremely missed alternative particularly within the South. One one that I like lots from a producing standpoint is Tyler Perry, as a result of he realized there was definitely an viewers that wasn’t being talked to, and take a look at the empire he created. In order an enormous fan of tv and movie, and somebody that labored in it an extended, very long time in the past, I actually felt like there was a lacking alternative, particularly the IP and the content material creation and the tales that actually come out of the South.

One other factor that’s very completely different from “Nashville” is that you just’re utilizing a whole lot of current star catalog materials, versus attempting to create a physique of authentic songs. You do have an authentic theme track, however for probably the most half, that is in a universe the place Trace Adkins’ character had successful with “Household Custom,” as an alternative of Hank Williams Jr. And you identify within the pilot that we’re in a barely alternate universe when Shania Twain makes a cameo, and complains that Susan Sarandon’s character stole what ought to have been her sure-fire hit, “Man! I Really feel Like a Girl.”

That’s precisely proper. One of many issues that Melissa and Gail and I have been all the time attempting to perform was that we wished the Roman household to be plausible in a manner that they they work together with the folks which are recognized stars in nation music. So, we wished the sensation that Dottie, performed by Susan, would have had a rivalry with Shania. And also you’ll see much more of that because the season progresses — much more cameos and much more of that interplay between the 2. That was actually essential to me, as a result of to be sincere, that added the enjoyable. I didn’t need to see Shania taking part in one other character when everybody is aware of who Shania is.

After which to reply your query on the covers versus originals, yeah, now we have most likely 90% catalog, and massive songs. I used to be truly an enormous fan of “Nashville,” the TV present, however typically I felt like the unique music bought misplaced. And I simply felt like, typically, a number of the songs that have been getting used — not all of them, however some — have been (current) songs that didn’t make information for a motive. Though these soundtracks did fairly nicely, I by no means did join with them the identical manner I did with “Glee.” And that’s one factor that I actually beloved about “Glee” and the way genius that was. It’s a special form of present, however an identical use of music. And in order that’s why I actually fought for us to make use of cowl songs, mainly, for the music.

Placing my previous document label hat on and placing on kind of the place I dwell on this universe now, I understand how essential catalog is for the enterprise. And there’s a lot wonderful music that all of us typically go, “Oh, I forgot about that track — holy shit, I like that track.” These have been the form of songs that we actually wished to select, with the large hits that everybody is aware of, scattered from the ‘70s to the current day. In order that was the concept. After which there have been a pair variations all through this season of pop songs, like (Woman Gaga’s) “Born This Approach” and (Harry Kinds’) “Watermelon Sugar,” which are made nation… countrified.

Whenever you usher in these pop songs, are they introduced as being authentic nation songs on this different universe, or is it, “Sure, it’s a pop hit inside this world, however we’re seeing somebody adapt it for nation”?

A bit little bit of each. Developing in episode two, there’s a cowl of “{Photograph}” by Ed Sheeran that Hint sings with Iñigo Pascual, who’s the youthful actor who performs his grandson, and it’s unimaginable and it looks like their track. I imply, he’s not saying “That is my track,” however they’re working up new music. That track is written like a rustic track, nearly, and in order that’s an instance of it.

Are you able to consider an instance the place nation songs have been chosen that you just felt have been worthy of being revived that perhaps aren’t on the extent of “Man! I Really feel Like a Girl”?

Yeah, I actually fought onerous, for “Nation Boy Can Survive” for our first promo. You’ll be able to think about, that track lyrically, taking part in that for the executives at Fox — like, “What are you speaking about?” [The 1981 Hank Williams Jr. hit is a deeply macho expression of rural superiority over urban lifestyles.] We had this enormous spot airing once we have been going to air final January [before the show was delayed] within the huge NFL championship recreation. That was gonna be the primary take a look at “Monarch,” and I do know who the viewers is for these video games, and Hank Jr. performed an enormous half within the NFL with the theme songs for all these years. That track simply kind of struck me as very Hint and really badass and what I had hoped this present was going to be. I didn’t need it to be one thing generic, so I actually, actually fought onerous for that, and fortunately, they listened. So that might be instance of a track that you just wouldn’t assume these days would get a whole lot of license, I assume, on community tv. [Laughs.]

L-R: Beth Ditto and Anna Friel within the collection premiere of Monarch. (Picture by FOX by way of Getty Pictures)

FOX Picture Assortment by way of Getty I

Most individuals studying at this level can have seen the pilot — for individuals who haven’t: premiere spoilers forward — and know that Susan’s character Dottie dies on the finish of the primary episode. Though that was clearly all the time a part of the plan, to have that occur so early, do you assume it’s onerous in any manner for the present to go ahead after the lack of that character, when perhaps folks have been set as much as have her be an ongoing lead?

Effectively, you don’t lose that character. I imply, I don’t need to give an excessive amount of away, however this isn’t a bait-and-switch. Susan could be very prevalent all through the collection shifting ahead, or Dottie is, I ought to say. You don’t ever take into consideration Susan feeling Southern, however then whenever you actually begin to consider a number of the roles she’s performed, it suits so completely, you understand? Like her voice and her moxie, it’s just like the epitome of a badass Southern girl. And so it was crucial for us to proceed to determine the best way to hold her in the appropriate manner. You’re gonna see. I imply… [He pauses and laughs.]

A lot of flashbacks?

There will likely be some, however there are another issues that occur in direction of the tip (of the season). You understand how soaps are: Who’s actually lifeless and who’s actually not? I imply, take a look at “Dynasty.” … And I don’t need to converse for her, however Susan had such a good time and actually loved taking part in that character… She was my date on the CMAs this final 12 months, once we have been gonna premiere in January. That is once they had tables within the entrance, and she or he and I walked to the desk and it’s just like the Crimson Sea parted. I knew folks beloved her, however I didn’t know that she would get that form of response within the room. She’s so superior.

Susan Sarandon within the MONARCH episode airing Tuesday, Sep. 20 on FOX. © 2022 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX.

Pete Dadds

To convey one thing heavy into it… it’s onerous to observe the pilot after which not take into consideration the Judds slightly bit. That’s perhaps unlucky timing, with the present having been scheduled for January, after which being delayed until now, approaching the heels of a scenario the place we’ve simply been enthusiastic about a matriarch who died by suicide. Since you might be so near the Judds, personally and professionally, and also you have been producing what was to be their reunion tour, how do you’re feeling about that coincidence now?

It actually bothered me, to be sincere. We shot scenes for the pilot and the second episode in September of final 12 months, and the scenario with Dottie’s character was simply a part of the drama. Within the scenario with Dottie’s character, so far as suicide is anxious, she was needing her daughter to help her. With most soaps, there’s all the time these sorts of occasions, so clearly it didn’t cross anybody’s thoughts then once we have been imagined to premiere in January. It bought moved due to COVID, as a result of we have been caught and we couldn’t end manufacturing in time to ship the entire season. So we moved to fall, which was finally one of the best choice for the present.

And so after the tragic occasions with Naomi, I’m very shut with the household and was very near the scenario, however I didn’t join the dots on it till after Naomi’s funeral, which I additionally produced (as a dwell broadcast), as you understand. I used to be at house per week or two later, watching all my episodes as a result of they have been simply getting completed with the music and the graphics in, and I sat down one night time to observe the primary three episodes again to again — and it actually hit me onerous. I used to be like, oh my God, that is such a tragic and unusual coincidence. “Coincidence” doesn’t give it the load I’m attempting to provide it. It actually bothered me. It nonetheless bothers me, to be sincere, simply because I like these ladies a lot.

Clearly I talked to Wynonna lots about it, simply to make it possible for she knew, and she or he was superior, as she all the time is. She was like, “That’s simply artwork imitating life, life imitating artwork, sadly.” I talked to Greg Hill, who was Naomi’s supervisor, who’s operating her aspect of the property, simply to make it possible for Larry (Strickland, Naomi’s husband) and Ashley knew. I used to be simply very clear by means of it, they usually know the way a lot I like them. It was bizarre. I imply, there’s nothing else I can say about it. And it has completely saved me up at night time and bothered me. However it does make me really feel higher understanding, particularly with Wy, contemplating how shut she and I are, that she understood.

It’s such an important plot level that it’s not one thing you could possibly’ve gone in to readjust with out redoing the collection from scratch, most likely.

Effectively, no. And if it will’ve been a special response (from the household), after all I might’ve completed all the things I might to do it now. I believe the comparisons actually lie within the first two episodes, although, and after that, actually, it doesn’t really feel like wherever near something associated to the Judds’ story. However given the circumstances that occurred, it’s an apparent like, whoa — is that this kind of ripped from the headlines? Which clearly it wasn’t. In order that’s a good query, for positive.

You’ve a homosexual girl character, performed by Beth Ditto (previously of the Arkansas-based indie-rock band the Gossip), as one of many principal household characters. That is probably not universally embraced with each single potential member of the viewers. I’ve already seen one conservative-minded nation weblog go, “Effectively this, this was clearly completed for wokeness. They’re simply gunning for Emmys by placing in a homosexual character.”

After all not. I imply, look, I discover it all the time essential, as a lot as potential, as a homosexual man, to have a homosexual character. And as you and I’ve talked about in interviews up to now, I’ve all the time felt extraordinarily welcomed — minus the CMA scenario a couple of years in the past. [In 2019, anti-gay-marriage activist Mike Huckabee was appointed to the CMA Foundation  board, then quit after Owen and others registered protests.] However I’ve felt very, very welcome and accepted and have had no actual challenge with being a homosexual man in our format. I’ve been on this enterprise for 20 years, in nation music, and now, particularly when you’ve so many ladies and men which are out, it’s turning into much less and fewer of a factor.

Beth Ditto within the collection premiere of Monarch. CR: FOX © 2022 FOX Media LLC.

Pete Dadds

And with reference to Beth — or Gigi, which is the character’s title — we have been searching for somebody that had that power and that kind of bullish “I’m who I’m and I don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks.” And once we auditioned Beth Ditto, after all, as everyone knows her from the Gossip [the alternative group she formerly fronted], we knew that instantly that’s who she is, and so all of it made sense. She was one of the best individual for that character. However I’ll say this, to Melissa’s credit score, and all of ours, it was very to have a homosexual character mirrored on this format. As a result of it’s the reality, you understand?

How do you’re feeling in regards to the eight-month delay in getting the present on the air, wanting again now? Did you’re feeling such as you have been in a position to nail something creatively that in any other case would have been tough?

Oh, 100% … particularly within the final half of the season. As a result of we saved having to close down as actors and and crew have been getting COVID. I believe Fox has talked about this earlier than, which is the reality, that we have been goinh to have the ability to premiere the primary few episodes, however then we have been going to need to take blocks of breaks from airing to edit and get them in. And clearly that’s loss of life in community. So it was a extremely, actually good move by Charlie Collier, who’s the CEO of Fox — to push this to the autumn. We have been we like [agonizingly] “Uhhhhh!,” as a result of we’d all been engaged on this for 3 years. However clearly he was proper; the rankings present it. And it additionally allowed Fox to have even an extended platform to advertise, as a result of they by no means actually stopped selling in pushing it to the autumn. It was onerous even to consider it, although. They have been giving up (the spot after) the NFL championship recreation, which is, outdoors of the Tremendous Bowl, one of the best place to launch a TV collection, they usually didn’t have something to place in that spot.

It was an enormous danger, however I believe it’s gonna be an even bigger reward. Clearly the following few episodes are actually essential, as a result of now we transfer into our regular Tuesday night time time slot, and now we have to take that viewers with us.

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