Soon, the world of Preacher will collide with TV viewers when it debuts on AMC. The controversial Vertigo comic took a long time to adapt for the screen, with good reason. Tackling the darkly funny book required proper timing (the success of fellow comic show The Walking Dead) and the right atmosphere (increased competition from streaming services). In addition, anyone seeking to bring the book to life would be forced to wrangle with glowering fans and network censors, as producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg quickly discovered.
Preacher purists feared the This is the End duo would take too many liberties with the adaption, something the pair admitted to months ago. Before the show's premiere, they took time to explore these source material alterations.
CBR interviewed the production team in anticipation of the show’s pending debut. In the Q&A, Rogen and Goldberg discussed the inevitable alterations to the show due to constraints of adapting the print medium to television. Interestingly enough, Rogen claimed that, even though they knew source changes were inevitable, the two producers weren’t the first ones to broach the subject initially. Rogen said:
“We talked to Garth [Ennis] quite a bit. He came to our initial pitches for the show. He reads everything that happens…He was a big advocate of taking a new path to allow a new audience to discover the show and not strictly adhering to the comics...I think everyone was afraid to say it, and we were all maybe thinking it. And I think he was the one who was just like, “You can’t just do this.” He was like, “I don’t even think it would time out.” He’s like, “I don’t think you would get enough episodes. You have to change it. It just wouldn’t become a TV show.”
Goldberg elaborates on Ennis’s desire to revise his own work, and why the comic book writer felt the tone was more important than a strict adherence to content:
“We were proposing that we do an extremely similar to the comic version. And he told us that was stupid and that we should change it…He just said, “As long as you don’t change the core emotion of the main characters and that they are somewhat true to the comic characters.”
In addition, Goldberg and Rogen listed a whole host of minor changes – which the super-fan nitpickers will likely note – including a less-mangled “Arseface” (Ian Colletti), Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) not constantly wearing sunglasses (‘so he “can act”). The producers also delved into the larger alterations, such as choosing a black actress to play Tulip (Ruth Negga) and making her “more volatile,” as well as distinct changes to the storyline. Rogen elaborates on a couple of the plot divergences:
“We changed the Arseface backstory to some degree. We changed his relationship with his father to some degree.The biggest thing we did is you don’t see him [Custer] ever being a preacher in the comics.
"And we were just like, “It’s called ‘Preacher.’ He’s dressed as a preacher the whole time. Maybe you should see him being a preacher.” And so, we thought it would…And when the comic starts, he’s done with it, basically. So we thought it would be good to kind of show what that part of his life was like as well.”
Although Rogen and Goldberg joke that the changes will “be devastating” to some, they also felt they were necessary to make the television version work – and that fans would eventually “get over it.”
The producers do make a good point, though. Adapting a two dimensional project for a three dimensional audio-visual world comes with distinct physical and plot-based challenges. Casting choices and practical needs often alter the source material. Television also requires story alterations which take into account both the medium and the audience. Creating a crawl might be a great way to introduce the backstory for Star Wars, but most viewers prefer to see the story happen in front of them via a living, breathing prologue or introduction.
Whether or not fans accept Garth Ennis’ involvement in, and Rogen and Goldberg’ explanation of, the source material changes, Preacher is bound to launch a plethora of strong opinions. If the producers can maintain an appropriate tone, devotees of the graphic novel might be willing to overlook some of the TV show's alterations. It will be interesting to see how everything comes together when Jesse Custer meets Genesis tonight.
Preacher premieres tonight (Sunday, May 22, 2016) at 10pm on AMC.