Originally, The Middleman – the brainchild of former Lost and Medium writer/producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach – was intended to be a TV series but became a best-selling comic book published by Viper Comics. However, things have come full circle for Grillo-Marxuach as The Middleman was picked up by ABC Family last summer. Grillo-Marxauch and Brian Ward, Shout! Factory DVD producer, recently spoke with Mania.com about the DVD set of the entire series, which was released on July 28.
Mania.com: Tell me about how you got your idea for The Middleman.
JGM: I wrote the pilot script in 1998. In 2004, when I was on Lost, I told Paul Dini (writer/producer of Batman: The Animated Series) about the script. I wouldn’t be able to do it as a series because I needed tons of millions for the budget. He told me it would work well as a comic book, so he pulled some strings and made some calls. He had the connections. I was eventually introduced to Les McClaine (The Middleman artist)… Paul is the godfather of The Middleman.
Mania.com: The Middleman is a “Dirk Squarejaw” – your words – hero who battles supernatural and extraterrestrial evil, yet is very clean-cut, a choir-boy. Why isn’t he dark and gritty, which is the norm of many heroes today?
JGM: Optimism comes from me as a person. You make the choice to be good and have it work for you. That’s me. Buffy and Angel show the tragedy of heroism and that’s a valid point. I’m trying to countermeasure that by saying being good can pay off… That heroes win. Being good doesn’t have to have a darkness in it. Very pointedly, I’m saying that heroism is positive and doesn’t have to destroy you to work out. I believe in that. For me, a lot that preoccupies me is the idea of how to be good… Ultimately, every show deeply reflects the core morals of the show’s creator. Star Trek reflects Gene Roddenberry’s optimism. The X-Files represents Chris Carter’s antiestablishment views. Battlestar Galatica demonstrates Ronald D. Moore’s love of military fiction. For me, The Middleman reflects my optimism.
Mania.com: How is The Middleman different from other sci-fi franchises?
JGM: After nine seasons of The X-Files, seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and five seasons of Angel and Alias, the field of science-fiction has been mined – and strip-mined. I accept that. With The Middleman, we take a baseball bat, drove a nail through it and twisted it into something new. Aliens on Earth is nothing new, but boy bands who are really dictators from outer space… (laughs)
Mania.com: You left Medium to do The Middleman?
JGM: Glenn Gordon Caron (Medium and Moonlighting creator) gave me his blessing because it was a 10-year dream of mine. It was wonderful for him to say, ‘You go after that.’ To have the creator of Moonlighting and judge my work to be good enough to work on his show was an honor. And to have him give me his blessing was great, too, because The Middleman wouldn’t have existed without Moonlighting. (The Middleman) owes its banter and dialogue to Moonlighting, which was a gateway to The Middleman – that’s pretty awesome.
Mania.com: Comics and movies had a tremendous influence on you when you were growing up in Ann Arbor, yes?
JGM: I’m a child of a very pop culture-heavy generation. I’m from the Star Wars generation. I’m a huge nerd. I was the guy who read all my friends’ comic books. I remember Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen when they were first published,” he said. “One thing that stuck in my head as a watershed moment was when my friend bought the original independent black and white Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I feel like I watched it go from an underground indie to a mainstream phenomenon.
The show is referential of pop culture. In the pilot episode when the Middleman and Wendy were discussing comics, she cites her favorite comics as Powers, Fell, Astro City, Y: The Last Man, X-Men (“old school” original, not Ultimate), Mouse Guard, and The Flash.
Mania.com: So who’s your favorite Flash: Barry Allen, Wally West, or Jay Garrick?
JGM: I love all Flashes equally (laughs).
Mania.com: What two movies changed your life?
JGM: Two movies actively changed my life – Star Wars and Superman. I saw Star Wars when I was 7 (years old),” he said. “After that, I hungered for material about Star Wars. I reading a lot of stuff, saw a lot of behind-the-scenes documentaries. On one of them, (Star Wars creator) George Lucas talked about graduating from (the University of Southern California) Film School…
I realized that I should go to the same school that he did in order to do this stuff. I pursued this as a holy grail for most of my adolescent life. I take my career as it comes to me. I’m not chomping at the bit to tackle one project. I’m focused on The Middleman right now because I love the show… When it eventually ends, I’ll go back to writing Middleman comics. Right now, I like delivering fun and excitement on a TV scale…. Getting Lost was one of those great breaks that led to great things.
Mania: What’s so special about this DVD set? How do the extras stand out?
Ward: First and foremost, I think what separates The Middleman from other complete series is the quality of the show itself. The Middleman is honestly a better show than most out there. If you’re a lover of science fiction, action and genuinely witty comedy, this show is for you. If you’re a geek, a nerd, a dork... this show was absolutely written for you by people just like you. I can’t say enough about the series itself. The bonus features naturally fell into place from there.
Mania: What are some of the extras/bonus features?
Ward: There is an entire disc of bonus features. In fact, there are so many on the disc, we literally ran out of room. On the bonus disc alone, we have five original web featurettes that introduce you to the world of The Middleman. Everything from who the Middleman is to their technical gadgets, their headquarters, and there’s the story of taking the show from a pilot script that was rejected by every network and turning it into a popular comic book before it went back to a television series. We also have every one of creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s weekly “Javicasts” from ABC family, a gag reel, the original casting tapes for nearly every member of the cast, three different looks at the evolution of that brilliant opening title sequence, the complete table read of the 12th episode, some deleted scenes... There’s a ton of stuff on that disc. We also have four audio commentaries with Javier and various members of the cast and crew.
Honestly, the really great thing about this series is the love everyone had for making it. I’ve been on a lot of TV and film sets. And I’ve worked on stuff like this for a lot of shows. To have a cast that loved a show in which they were starring is one thing. It’s kind of expected. Or, at least, you hope for it. But to have a crew as dedicated to a single piece of material really is unique. And to prove it, we’ve even included one of my all-time favorite bonus features. It’s a gallery of AMAZING photography by the show’s camera assistant, Ralph King. It’s almost like a yearbook for the cast and crew, but it gives the fans such an insight into what it was like to be on this set with this gang everyday. We really lucked out with these.
Mania: For the fans who faithfully watched the series, will they find something new and cool on it?
Ward: The loyal fans will absolutely be getting something new and exciting. The episodes were taken from the 16:9 high-def masters, so it looks stunning. And we tracked down the original 5.1 audio mix, which we included on the set. But the fans will be getting just about everything they got on a weekly basis, from the series itself to the extra material ABC family had on their website and then the stuff we created specifically for this set. There may even be an Easter egg somewhere on that bonus disc. Who knows? The Middleman DVD is by far one of the great joys of my career. And I think the fans are going to see why when they pick up a copy.