We discuss the new “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” series with staff writer Jared Rivet and what it was like bringing the beloved show to a new generation.
Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society…
For a lot of us, hearing this phrase brings back countless memories of sitting in the dark on a Saturday night with the glow of our TV dimly lighting the room, much like the campfire that the Midnight Society gathered around, to watch the latest scary tale being told that week.
While the adults of the early 1990s had their Tales From the Crypt on HBO, us kids at the time had our Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon. It was ours then, and it’s still ours today as adults — because the show has become more than just a memory. The experience of Are You Afraid of the Dark? grew with us and shaped a lot of our love for horror. We are all members of the Midnight Society.
Mentioning Are You Afraid of the Dark? to the kids of today will most likely elicit a quizzical raised eyebrow (if they even look up from their phone). This is where us members of the Midnight Society come in. This Halloween season, we get to have our treats and eat them too by experiencing Are You Afraid of the Dark? all over again thanks to the upcoming revival series. And we get to introduce our kids and younger generation to the new Midnight Society!
Let’s give them the joy that we had as the fire flared up and the latest tale being told appeared on the TV screen. Let’s give our kids memories. Let’s give them nightmares.
It was a great honor to discuss the details and creation of the new Are You Afraid of the Dark? with series staff writer and horror lover Jared Rivet. Jared has been working in the genre for a long time, and his passion for this new series as well as the original is evident. Fans should feel confident that the right people are running the show.
I want to thank Jared for taking the time to talk with us about this very cool project! Now let’s get to the interview and talk some Are You Afraid of the Dark? And be sure to tune in to the new episodes airing on Nickelodeon this October!
INTERVIEW WITH JARED RIVET
1. Tell us about the work you’ve done in the horror genre and what it is about horror that you love so much?
You didn’t start off with an easy one! Let’s see. I wrote the screenplay for a horror movie called Jackals that was released in 2017 by Scream Factory. It starred Stephen Dorff and Johnathon Schaech and was directed by Kevin Greutert (Saw VI). It finally became available to stream on Amazon Prime last month, and I’m hoping a lot more people will check it out (though it is definitely not appropriate for Are You Afraid of the Dark’s target audience). I originally wrote that script on spec in 2007 for Tobe Hooper to direct.
I continue to write/produce/direct/act in episodes of the Earbud Theater podcast, which is a scripted anthology series in the Twilight Zone/Tales from the Crypt mode. Working on those puts me in my happy place. They are fully dramatized audio dramas with top-notch people in every facet – actors, sound design, composers…it’s my favorite creative outlet.
And I have been co-hosting Dead Right Horror Trivia, a monthly horror trivia event in Burbank, California since 2015. My co-host is Dr. Rebekah McKendry, an accomplished writer-producer-director in her own right. Your readers might know her from her years co-hosting the Shock Waves podcast. The trivia event was started in 2013 by Bekah and Ryan Turek, who is now the DVP of development at Blumhouse. When Ryan left to focus on his gig at Blumhouse, they pulled me out of my team to replace him, and also so that we would stop winning all the time.
2. How did you get involved with writing for the upcoming Are You Afraid of the Dark? revival series, and what details can you tell fans about the show?
I have known Are You Afraid of the Dark? writer-producer-show runner BenDavid Grabinski for many years now. And I should make it clear that BenDavid did all of the actual writing of the scripts for the show. His energy and commitment to this project blew me away. Back in December 2018, when it was announced in the trades that he had been hired to write the feature film version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? for Paramount, I sent him a text to congratulate him.
He proceeded to tell me that he was actually no longer involved with the movie (which has long since been put into turnaround) but that he was about to start developing a revival of the TV series for Nickelodeon. I rolled the dice and texted back to him that if he ever needed a staff writer for the new show, I would love to be involved. It’s the kind of thing you say to folks in the industry all the time. Rarely does anything come of it.
You know, you can’t catch a fish unless you put your line in the water, so you throw it out there even though you might go home with an empty bucket. But BenDavid actually said that we should talk! So we did. He got that I sincerely meant what I said. And before I knew it, I was working for him as a staff writer on the show.
3. Did you watch any of the original Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes when they first aired in the early nineties? Did you re-watch any to prepare for the revival? If so, what were some of your favorite episodes and moments from the series?
Unlike BenDavid, who grew up watching the show and was a hardcore, lifetime fan, I was in my early 20s when the show premiered. In fact, I was already living in L.A. and struggling to become a working screenwriter while the show was at the height of its popularity, so I had aged out of the demographic. I know I will probably be crucified by the fans for admitting that, but I hadn’t actually watched any episodes of the original show until a few years ago.
I was pitching an unrelated horror TV project and a network executive mentioned during a meeting that we could hypothetically turn my original concept into an updated take on the Midnight Society (nothing came of any of that, by the way). That being said, my first duty on the new show was to become an expert on the old show. I watched and studied the whole series, taking copious notes on all of the episodes, reading up on the history of the show, watching fan videos online, etc.
I loved it. In fact, that might have been my favorite part of the whole project — sitting down to watch the next episode, getting invested in Gary and the rest of the Midnight Society as characters, finding out how much I had underestimated the show all these years and how consistently effective, well written and scary it was. I kept a list on the side whenever an episode really sparked with me. I figured it would be a running “top ten” list, but it wound up being 22 episodes long!
My personal favorites? ‘The Tale of Laughing in the Dark’, ‘The Tale of the Midnight Madness’, ‘The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float’, ‘The Tale of the Super Specs’, and ‘The Tale of the Dollmaker’. Those are my personal top five. I also have some deep cut favorites, like ‘Quiet Librarian’, ‘Night Shift’, ‘Water Demons’ and ‘Unfinished Painting’. I recently wrote up a piece for an upcoming issue of Delirium magazine about the five best episodes of the original series. That list is a little different from my personal favorites.
4. Is anything in the new story at all inspired by the stories of the original series? Do you have any insight on how the new story was agreed upon that you can share with us?
I’m not allowed to get into a whole lot of detail at this point, but BenDavid had already sold Nickelodeon on his take for the concept of the show. So the storyline and broad stroke plot points were all there by the time I got involved. As you might have already seen from the promos, the new show is actually about the members of the Midnight Society themselves. And we have a new, original villain (played by Blindspotting’s Rafael Casal) that I hope will stand toe-to-toe with the classic nightmare baddies of the original AYAOTD.
We tried to make sure that the story had the tone and flavor of the original show but with a modern flair. It isn’t a remake of any of the classic stories by any means, but I hope the fans will get the same vibe. And, it should go without saying that it is scary.
5. Can fans expect to see any familiar characters like Dr. Vink, Sardo, or Zeebo the clown in the revival series? Should we keep an eye out for any Easter eggs?
You will have to wait and see…
6. What were some of your favorite films growing up? What personal horror influences did you bring in your writing to the new Are You Afraid of the Dark? Series?
Great question! I wrote a piece that was included in a book of 48 essays that was edited by Christian Ackerman and published last year called My Favorite Horror Movie. The mandate was for each of the contributors to write about our absolute favorite horror movie – not necessarily the “best” horror movie or the greatest horror movie ever made, but our individual, specific favorite. Lots of great horror industry folks contributed, I was honored to be asked.
Anyway, the movie I wrote about was George Romero’s Creepshow. It is undeniably my all-time favorite horror movie and, as I wrote in the book, it showed me at a very formative age that I didn’t have to be terrified of horror movies, that they could be scary but also fun. And I think it’s safe to say that Creepshow’s sense of scary-fun was something that was also present in the original Are You Afraid of the Dark?. Not to mention the fact that they are both superior horror-anthologies, a format I have a special affinity for (feel free to check out my Earbud Theater episode from last October, ‘Tales from the Dead of Night’ to get a sense of my slavish devotion to the horror-anthology format).
Once I realized that Are You Afraid of the Dark? was the equivalent of Creepshow for a whole generation of young people, I got it. And latching onto that tone made working on the new show an absolute blast for me.
7. Did you feel a responsibility to both placate old fans as well as excite a new generation? How did you personally approach such a beloved property?
The contradictory trick was to not really think about it while also remaining somewhat conscious of it. BenDavid already had this great story he wanted to tell that would serve as a terrific way to introduce a new generation to the Midnight Society. But one of my jobs as a staff writer on the show was to basically be the AYAOTD Police. To make sure that we were being consistent with everything that had been established in the original series, especially in terms of the Midnight Society’s rules and rituals, but to also step in and flag if something felt like it might not be Are You Afraid of the Dark? enough.
At the end of the day, we will have to let the fans decide if we were successful. I hope that they see the amount of respect, admiration and reverence we have for the original and that we are also doing something for a whole new generation that hasn’t yet spent time around that Canadian campfire having stories “submitted for their approval.”
8. Because you have a background in more adult oriented horror, did you find writing a series for kids on Nickelodeon difficult? Were there times when you thought what you wrote may be too much for younger audiences and you had to re-work your approach or re-write certain scenes?
Another great question! I have personally written all kinds of horror. In fact, that’s one of the main things I love about the genre: the variety. Horror allows the writer to do anything and everything. As a genre, it is fairly limitless.
I mentioned my productions from Earbud Theater earlier, and because it’s an anthology series, those stories vary drastically from episode to episode. (‘Tales from the Dead of Night’ alone has three different stories that could each be given entirely different subgenre labels.) And in my vast catalog of unproduced feature screenplays, I have written horror-comedies, period pieces, PG-13 supernatural thrillers, zombie movies, werewolf movies. And that’s not getting into the other horror TV projects I’ve developed over the years.
Working with BenDavid to flesh out his ideas for Are You Afraid of the Dark? was great because I don’t think any of us felt like we needed to pull back, at least in terms of scares or making sure that we were, first and foremost, telling a compelling, scary story. I don’t think BenDavid ever felt like he needed to “talk down” to our target audience.
I feel like D.J. MacHale and Ned Kandel really paved the way with the original show. If the conceit is that these are campfire stories, you are instantly putting yourself in the mindset to craft the kind of scary story that leaves you with a satisfying shiver. The old show might not have had gruesome murders or torture sequences, but they never skimped on the nightmare fuel. And those are the things that stuck with people all of these years! I feel like if we don’t get at least a few complaints about the show being too scary, then we failed.
9. How is it different writing a 3 episode television series compared to a feature length screenplay? Can you tell us something you learned in the process that you weren’t expecting?
In this case, the three-episode format really lent itself to a very clear “three-act” structure. BenDavid’s scripts for the three episodes really click together as one, long movie. And the series was shot that way, with one director (Dean Israelite, Power Rangers) for all three episodes. Now, I will also contradict myself a little and say that while, yes, each episode represents one “act” of a bigger, three-act story, each episode will feel like its own, hour-long movie.
I definitely learned a lot from working with BenDavid on this project. That guy is tireless and driven like no one else I know. As someone who intends to do more writing for television and be a showrunner in the future, BenDavid really showed me what it takes. And he is incredibly loyal and just fantastic to work with.
And if there was something that happened that I wasn’t expecting, it was probably the butterflies I got in my stomach early in the process, when we were locking down the names and personalities and bios for our characters. I was so invested and into the process that BenDavid blew my mind when he stopped to remind me that we were literally creating the new Midnight Society. I just got chills again thinking about it.
10. Lastly, tell us about Earbud Theater, Dead Right Horror Trivia, and any other upcoming projects you’d like to share.
Absolutely! For obvious reasons, I have been too busy to contribute any new episodes to this season of Earbud Theater, but I am in the process of locking down what I am doing next for them right now. Most likely a second volume of ‘Tales from the Dead of Night’. But by all means, go to earbudtheater.com and check out any episode. They’re all free. I am extremely proud of the shows I have been involved with, but there are so many great people doing first-rate work over there that you can basically throw a dart and hit a solid episode.
Dead Right Horror Trivia is (almost) always the third Thursday of every month at Blast from the Past in Burbank. Check out our Facebook page for more information. And if you are in the area, put a team of 4 to 6 people together and register for that month’s game. The questions are tough and the competition is fierce, but I can guarantee you will have a good time if you are a horror fan.
Other than that, I am on the verge of a couple of projects finally becoming a reality, working on a new horror spec script as well as my next Earbud Theater project — and keeping my fingers crossed that the fans (new and old) love our take on Are You Afraid of the Dark? when it airs in October on Nickelodeon!