Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's classic Vertigo series Preacher leaves a long and dusty path to adaptation in its wake — a road that finally ends with the first episode of AMC's TV series, which aired last night.
The attempts to bring Preacher to life are well-documented in the Hollywood trade press, from the earliest attempts with an Ennis-written script produced by Kevin Smith, to a version starring former X-Man James Marsden, to an HBO Original Series that never got off the ground, to yet another new movie version directed by Sam Mendes. For one reason or another, these adaptations never happened and the property sat in development hell for the better part of two decades, after its final issue was published in 2000.
Of course, the television climate has changed radically in the last 16 years; serialized TV has become the standard rather than the exception, thanks to prime-time successes like Lost, and comic books on TV aren't restricted to teenage fever dreams like Smallville.
These days, there's a more mature audience for comic book TV. There are two hit shows based on Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, with Kirkman's horror drama Outcast soon to follow; Netflix's Marvel shows are decidedly hardcore; and even shows like iZombie and Lucifer have made other quirky Vertigo comics into palatable procedurals for the masses. As Ennis told the audience at a SxSW Preacher panel, "I think TV has finally caught up with comics."
So here we are in 2016, and the unlikeliest Hollywood duo have finally made Preacher a reality. Even with the maturation and mainstream acceptance of comic book adaptations, it's surprising that the minds behind relatively lowbrow stoner comedies like Superbad, Pineapple Express and This is the End — whose only other comic book property experience, The Green Hornet, flopped — are the ones that were finally able to give birth to a live-action adaptation of Preacher. Joined by showrunner Sam Catlin — an instrumental voice on AMC's Breaking Bad — Preacher is shaping up to be the next big success story for AMC, even with near-impossible expectations from comic book fans and 20 years of hype.
During the same SxSW panel, Rogen summarized why they're the ones that have been successful in completing Preacher's journey to the screen. First and foremost, they were fans of the comic since it debuted in 1995, they understand it, and want to realize its potential as a cable show:
"As soon as we had any power in Hollywood we've been trying to make it. It's always been in the hands of more powerful and more talented people than us, but somehow they all fucked it up and it rolled downhill into our laps. It was just persistence. We were always very vocal about how interested we were in it and what big fans we were. ... We're huge fans of the comics, so it's really been a balance about how do we make a TV show that's great and still do all of the things that, as fans of the comic, we would want."
Rogen added that their first meeting about Preacher happened on the set of Superbad, so the show's premiere marks about a decade since it first became a shadow of a possibility. In those years, Rogen and Goldberg have found great success in comedy, but detractors are quick to point to The Green Hornet as an example of the duo's inability to handle a known property.
This might be true, but therein lies the most revealing fact about the passion and pedigree behind Preacher. Rogen and Goldberg are aware of their shortcomings on The Green Hornet and have learned from them, which ultimately led to bringing Catlin on board as showrunner.
Rogen explained to Business Insider why they won't be making the same mistakes with Preacher as they made on The Green Hornet:
"I don't think it's a coincidence that after 'The Green Hornet' is when we started producing, writing, and directing way more movies that, to some degree, have a larger rate of success. It taught us so much about every element of filmmaking on the biggest scale you could imagine. We took those lessons back to how we make movies on a much smaller scale. We were able to direct 'This Is the End' because of what we learned on 'The Green Hornet.' I think we were able to produce '50/50' and all the other movies we've produced since because of what happened on 'The Green Hornet.'
"We're going to maximize the potential while using our strengths as people who make movies. We tried to do that with 'The Green Hornet' and due to the process and due to our inexperience, it just did not go that way. But with 'Preacher,' for many reasons, it's playing much more to our strengths. I think us in combination with Sam Catlin have done a much better job reimagining the material in a way that is better for audiences."
Essentially, Rogen and Goldberg culled a bright talent from their favorite show — Breaking Bad — and in doing so, relegated the production to someone who could make sure their vision for Preacher was executed in a way that would satisfy themselves as both producers and fans.
It's this self-awareness and extreme respect for the source material that should be a signal to Preacher fans that the property is in good hands, even if they aren't the first hands that might have come to mind. Where departure from source material used to be the standard in adaptation — fearing that audiences would be unable to go along for a journey without some basis in reality — that frame of mind is slowly disintegrating as shared universes take over movie theaters and independent comics continue to make a splash on television, oftentimes with more involvement from the creators and publishers than would have happened a decade ago.
Preacher's long, hard road to production feels, fittingly, almost like divine intervention, as though the property was simply waiting for the perfect shepherds to lead its hyperviolent, dark, funny characters to live action. With their penchant for the bizarre (that Channing Tatum scene in This is the End, for example), willingness to lean into the controversy that the show will no doubt cause (The Interview), and pure passion for Preacher and its characters, Rogen and Goldberg are just the duo that the story was waiting for.