Dan Pasternack knows that tough times can lead to better days for those that see them through. This sentiment is reflected in his own professional life, as well as the lives of the characters he creates. Pasternack co-writes and produces a new show on Starz called "Gravity," a refreshingly off-beat series about a support group for those that have attempted suicide. The comedian, writer and producer discusses his new project, which premieres Fri., April 23 at 10:30 p.m. on Starz, and how his own experiences helped create a series whose tagline is "a show about life when death doesn't work out."
How long did you live in Atlanta?
I moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in 2007. I had been consulting for Turner [Broadcasting] for the prior year, and when I accepted the position to head content for Super Deluxe, the company relocated me to Atlanta. Since [Super Deluxe's] demise, I had been commuting to L.A. and New York from Atlanta for work until earlier this year, when I accepted a full-time position [running development of original content] at IFC [in New York].
During your time in Atlanta, did you ever perform stand-up, or keep an eye on the local comedy scene?
After Turner shut down Super Deluxe, I think I went slightly insane. Here I was in Atlanta with a house I had just bought the year before, no job, and no real creative community around me like I had in L.A. I started as a writer and a stand-up comedian when I was 16 to 17, but I hadn't been on stage since my early 20s.
In need of an outlet of expression and a group of like-minded folks, I decided to try to prove that I could still do stand-up. I quickly found there was a place for me in the Atlanta comedy scene. Without being hyperbolic, I really credit the Atlanta comedy community with saving my life. And I thought about them a lot when we were developing "Gravity," which is a show about coming out of a dark, lonely place and becoming connected with a tribe. There are even subtle and overt stand-up comedy elements in the series.
Is it difficult to make a show about suicidal people funny? Is it even meant to be a comedy, or just a dramatic show with comedic relief?
It's interesting because I come from the school of thought that if approached with the intention of humanizing, as opposed to trivializing the storyline and characters, there's something very empowering and illuminating about taking on taboo subjects. My heroes in comedy growing up were guys like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, so my comedic sensibilities naturally deal with topics that others might not be comfortable with. But I think it's one of the most life-affirming shows that I've ever been a part of, because it's about characters who are at their lowest point, have walked right up to the edge, and end up charging away from death. There's a comedy about extreme characters, and laughter is such a powerful muse, and I would maintain that because of the comedic elements of the show, you would identify more with the characters than if it was just a sad story.
Was the show shopped around, and how did it end up on Starz?
Well, with a show like this you really can't take it too many places. I think we pitched it to three places, and Starz was definitely the best fit. You know, when you have a show with this tone you can't really take it to the networks and ask to be put on primetime after "According to Jim." Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of really good shows on the networks, but I'm better suited creatively to work in cable, and it's been a much purer reflection of my tendencies as a creative person.
How did you become an executive producer and writer for the show?
Eric Schaeffer ["Gravity's" creator and executive producer] and I have worked together a lot through the years, and produced a show for FX about five years ago called "Starved," and it was similar in tone. Eric called me about the idea, and told me about a few characters that had been developed. I got on a plane and met with him and Jill Franklyn [the third executive producer], and we wrote the pilot story and overall concept of the show, and pitched it to Starz.
Would you ever come back to Atlanta to work on a creative project?
Absolutely, as long as we don't have to shoot outside during the summer. I have great relationships with lots of talent in Atlanta that I love and there's a unique confluence of cultures there that I'd love to capture in a TV series. Actually, I'm currently working on a series for IFC with Atlanta's own David Cross that will be premiering this fall.
You grew up in Los Angeles and currently live in New York City. How does Atlanta compare in terms of what it can contribute to the entertainment industry?
Well, specifically what I love about the Atlanta comedy scene is that no one there is in show business. What I mean by that is, for the most part, all the comics are focused on their art as opposed to looking for agents, managers and development deals. And the Atlanta talent is strong and has a distinctive voice that's totally different than New York and L.A.
So it seems someone should be able to answer my earlier questions....
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