Interview: ‘Riverdale’ Writer and Co-Producer, Ted Sullivan

So, are you guys currently working on season five? What does that look like?

TS: Well, we’ve been chugging along and it’s really cool. I really love the types of stories that we’re telling. I love the fallout from season four. It’s strange because the climax of season four is not – well, the conclusion is now episode three of season five. So, you know, it’s uncharted territory. But in another sense it kind of frees you up because when you come back from a long, you know, from some time off it free us up in a way we never would’ve been able to do before. So, we’re experimenting with the storytelling, which is kind of cool and neat. I’m enjoying it.

We do Zoom calls, so all of us are in the zoom calls and we have an interactive whiteboard which you can see on the screen and update in real time or even cards you can fill out and put on the whiteboard. So, that part is, it’s fun because I live alone. I take this self isolation very seriously. So, I have not had physical interaction with people for a long time. But at least I get some onscreen interaction with people every day, which I like very much.

Our room is very, very tight. It’s a rare thing to have a room without a snake in it. Usually in a writer’s rooms there’s someone who is a backstabber or credit grabber or just a negative influence. Roberto has assembled a room that is very supportive of each other, and who genuinely likes each other. And if there’s anything that I’ve missed the most I’ve just missed those moments in the office where you’d be in the kitchen or the elevator in the hallway or in the lounge area, and you get to just talk and catch up with people in a way that you don’t get in a Zoom call, because we’re super focused on Zoom calls.

And the other thing that just kind of sucks a bit is that you also miss out on those moments of inspiration when you’re getting yogurt, somebody else is getting an apple and you go, “Oh, I was thinking about your episode.” And then you start talking for a little bit and then you bring that idea to the room. That’s the part that I miss really the most from a creative standpoint because of those little moments of inspiration. Even mentioning that you saw a documentary that was really cool last night and someone else goes, “Oh, we could use that in the story!”

But at least we still get to keep moving and developing story and we are doing that — we’re writing away.

I foresee a bunch of fans now trying to find the Zoom chat and introduce themselves into the room. That’s what I foresee in your future (laugh)!

TS: We are password protected exactly for that reason!

Riverdale — “Chapter Seventy-Six: Killing Mr. Honey” — Image Number: RVD419a_0093b — Pictured (L – R): KJ Apa as Archie Andrews, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, Charles Melton as Reggie Mantle, Madelaine Petsch as Cheryl Blossom, Casey Cott as Kevin Keller, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Speaking of these fans, how much influence do they have on the storyline? Any? A little bit?

TS: Well, you know what? When I did Star Trek, I thought, man, these fans are tough. They were nothing like Riverdale fans. (laugh)

I want to be clear about something. The majority of Riverdale fans have been great. It’s the subset of the subset that kind of drive me crazy. It’s these super shippers that can be nasty or mean. Where I’m just like, “Man, chill out.” But, in general we are aware of the fan point of view but we do go where the story will provide the most drama.

If you took into account the fan opinions or feelings all the time, your characters would suffer no drama and they would just be happy all the time.

Which would make for some boring television.

Very boring television! The other thing is people sometimes don’t take into account that these are kids in high school, who are going to be making mistakes and how they react to those mistakes are going to be character building moments

So, if Archie kisses Betty in an impulsive moment after the traumatic year that all of them have had, well, that’s a human reaction. And the fallout from that is another human reaction. So, that’s how you learn. And that’s how you grow and that colors the decisions you make. That’s the whole point of the kiss. The other thing that I would say to some people is Jughead and Betty have been together since season one very early on and Archie and Veronica have been together for most of the show.

So, you know, they’ve been happy for a long time. Yeah, stuff has happened, but they’re always supporting each other and they’re always saying how much they love each other, and they have more sex than anyone I ever knew in high school (laughs). So, you know, they’ve had many seasons of people being together.

When I first came in I was like, “Well, the first thing we have to do is break all these people up!” And everybody said, “No, no, no, no! Do you want to get killed by people?” And you know, because my instinct is always — I’ve done shows like Revenge and on that show we would break people up, no one will stay together for more than like three episodes. Because that’s the whole point! You get people together, you break them up, you get them back together, you introduce someone else.

That’s not how this show works. And even this was a kiss, you know? There were things on the table where more than that happened, but then in the end we kind of wanted to protect the characters and wanted to protect the relationships, and not go someplace where you couldn’t come back from. I think we take into account what the reaction might be, try to do it responsibly, but in the end you have to go where there’s good drama. And the fact that people get upset about it and talk about it, that means that they’re invested.

The part I don’t like is when they come and attack you personally. Or the thing that really drives me crazy is when I’ll post something about a friend that is fighting a terminal disease and trying to raise awareness for it or promoting another friend’s charity or something, and they’ll go on the post with, “Why did you do that to Varchie? Jughead and Betty belong together!” Dude, this is not the right forum for that. If I post a picture about Riverdale, fine, but don’t do this on a post about someone who’s fighting a terminal disease.

I completely understand that. So, this was not on the official question list, but it’s a bit of a good transition into it. Other CW shows that I’ve been a fan of, we’ve been told (nothing official), that live views don’t really matter as much as streaming because of their Netflix deal or streaming on the app or in social media interaction. Is there any truth to that?

I don’t know what the policy with The CW is but I can just tell you what my personal feelings are. I don’t even know why we register that anymore. I mean, especially on a show like this. I mean I’m sure overnight matters to corporations and all that. For me, when people talk about ratings, I go, “The vast majority of our target audience doesn’t even have cable. What are you talking about?” Why would you use a metric that most people don’t even use to watch our show? That’s just strange. It’s such an antiquated idea. I don’t have cable anymore. I mean I only stream stuff, why would I pay for cable when I don’t watch? I never flip through TV. It’s like, why would I watch a rerun with commercials of a show if I can just go to a streaming service and watch the unedited version of that show without commercials?

I agree. I think most people who have cable these days are more likely to have like bundled deals, with phone plans.

TS: Yeah. Or your grandparents!

Or them (laugh)! On to you, for now. We’ll get back to the show in a minute. Outside of working on season five of Riverdale, are you doing anything solo, any passion projects, anything now that you have all this time?

TS: Oh yeah, I’m writing a bunch of stuff. I mean, there’s one thing that I can’t talk about because it’s, you know, coming along in a real way, which I’m really excited about. But I’ve written three pilots so far and I’m working on another one. The stuff that I do does not reflect the shows that I’ve ever written for. The stuff that I’m drawn to you are more like The Crown or Downton Abbey. I write historical dramas that I’m very passionate about.

I wrote a true story Western on the Wyoming Range War, which was about people of color, women, immigrants who moved to Wyoming in the 1880s to settle, grab land, outside of America and the corporations coming in and starting a war to take it over from them and make it become part of America. It’s an amazing true story that hasn’t been told yet. And it’s a Western that features people that are not normally in Westerns, but I find really interesting.

I wrote a mini series about the election of 1828, which is a metaphor for the election of 2016. And this was between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and it’s a look at history repeating itself and why we’re in this situation. I don’t really read fiction, I read nonfiction. I think history is the most amazing story around and I hate how history is taught in this country. I grew up part of my life in Europe and when I moved back to America, I couldn’t believe how boring history is taught here. History is an incredible story and you get to look back and see it in context and you get to understand why things are the way they are and why things unfolded the way they did.

And the election of 1828 has sex scandals and murder, betrayal, and women who were powerful and created  names for themselves, freed slaves and abolitionists, gun fights and duels and it’s the most incredible story. And all you would learn is in the history books is, “Oh, John Quincy Adams ran for reelection in 1828. And this time, Andrew Jackson won.” It was the reason why we have this whole fake news stuff. The reason why we have campaigns to begin with or where stump speeches actually began with Andrew Jackson giving a speech standing on a tree stump. The story is all smear campaigns and it’s unbelievable stuff that I love writing about. Because I can’t go out and because I can’t see people, I just sit at home and read and write. That’s what I’m doing now.

And there’s a lot of credit to be put into that because I would say a lot of our history is very dry and also very whitewashed. These are people who existed, so their stories should be told. And I like that you’re attempting to do that.

TS: Oh yeah. The thing that drives me absolutely crazy about history, up until very recently, it was a story about white men and told by white man. And for instance, the story of the election of 1828 is as much a story about Louisa Adams and Rachel Jackson, the wives and their influence on the election or the house slaves of Andrew Jackson or a rebel escaped slave named Garson in Florida.

And these were all major players in this election and most of them have been lost to history and are only now being told because there’s a whole new generation of women and people of color who are going back and looking at history and reexamining history and saying, “Oh wait a second. It didn’t unfold the way that we’ve been told because the way it was told was to create a myth.” Well, myths are boring. The truth is interesting.

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About the Author

Heather Mason joined the TV Source Magazine team in December 2017 with plans to cover The CW's 100.