Original ‘Heathers’ Writer Doesn’t Like The TV Pilot Either, But Thinks You Should Keep Watching

After a less-than-positive reception to the Heathers TV show, the Paramount Network reboot of the beloved 1988 cult film is now indefinitely on hold. On Wednesday, the cable channel called off the March 7 premiere, citing the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The show has been delayed to "later this year."

Based on the 1988 dark high school comedy directed by Michael Lehmann and written by Daniel Waters, the movie and show have at their center the Heathers, a group of rich, WASP-y, croquet-loving popular mean girls who all share the first same name. In the film, Veronica (Winona Ryder) is their more down-to-earth, over-it friend. But after she meets bad boy sociopath JD (Christian Slater), they scheme to kill Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), the head Heather.

In the reboot, adapted by showrunner Jason Micalleff, the plot stays the same, but the Heathers become a fat girl, a black lesbian and a genderqueer teen. (Veronica, meanwhile, remains petite, straight and white). The new Heathers prefer to bully by mobilizing thousands of Twitter followers against anyone who dares to fat-shame, slut-shame or culturally appropriate.

A week before the show was put on hold, fans got a look at the Heathers pilot for free on iTunes. (It has since been removed). The first episode plays like a ruthless mockery of modern teens and their politically-correct culture. (Awkward, considering the impact real-life modern teens are making in politics right now.) But there was a twist: Unlike in the film, the TV Heather Chandler is not actually dead.

Heathers_8 FROM LEFT: Grace Victoria Cox as Veronica, Melanie Field as Heather Chandler, Brendan Scannell as Heather Duke, and Jasmine Mathews as Heather McNamara. Paramount Network

The fan reaction was unfavorable, to say the least. Daily Beast writer Samantha Allen dubbed it "a Trumpian, LGBT-Bashing Nightmare," and most of Twitter seemed to agree. "This TV reboot seriously destroys everything the original plot stands for," wrote one user.

But Waters thinks you should give the show a chance—should it ever see the light of day. In an interview with Newsweek, the 55-year-old screenwriter argues that while the pilot was "a Mad Libs version of the movie," the subsequent episodes—which sees not quite redemption, but at least more complex arcs for the plus-sized and genderqueer Heathers—are worth a watch.

How are you taking the backlash the pilot episode has faced online?

The good news is that both the love for and the hatred of the show is filled with such love for the original movie. I'm basking in the glow on both sides. The show itself is reverent, and so are the fans who hate it. I'm coming out a winner!

What was your impression of the pilot when you watched it?

Having seen the first five episodes, the pilot was really the only problematic one. It's a Mad Libs version of the movie—they're just taking the film as a template and arbitrarily replacing things. That was what I feared the whole show would be. I think the ad campaign didn't behoove them, either. People are misconstruing the idea that "the unpopular kids are now the popular kids, blah, blah, blah" as some sort of thesis statement of the show. If you get to the later episodes, you see it's something more than that. I probably have a different perspective, though. When I have too much to drink, I'll go on the Heathers Tumblrs, just to feel the love. I've read so much fanfiction based on Heathers, where everyone makes it their own. It's all endearing, and no one's trying to replace the movie. Like, JD is a lesbian—I like it!

The pilot was specifically criticized for an anti-politically correct, anti-LGBT culture attitude. Do you see where that's coming from?

Vaguely, yeah. But to me, the Heathers get all the best lines, so that's the real war. If anything, JD and Veronica are too bland. People were accusing them of doing Winona and Christian impressions—from your lips to God's ears! But the main Heather and Heather Duke, they come off very entertaining.

I think [the writers] made a mistake by making it a spoiler that Heather Chandler lives at the end of the pilot. From the trailer, the fans think the show is killing these people, but actually, they become real characters. When a gay character and a plus-sized character become complex, that's better than what the ad campaign is making it seem like. It's easy to satirize a right-wing bully. When you also slap around earnest progressives, that's when you really earn your satire credentials. 

And you think the Heathers show earned that?

I do. Everything seems a little cheap in the first episode, but when you realize they're really coming after everyone it gets better. I won't spoil anything, but it's going in a cool, weird direction. Veronica, who I didn't find very interesting at first, becomes quite an interesting character by episode five. JD though still needs some help. He's more like Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter than he should be. Everybody made fun of Christian Slater for imitating Jack Nicholson, but it's like, imitate Christian Slater, c'mon!

christian-slater-heathers Christian Slater as JD in the 1988 film 'Heathers.' New World Pictures

How does timing play into the reception of your film and the series now? Was it smart to delay it?

People always come up to me and say, "Heathers couldn't be made today." Well, no one wanted it to be made in the late 80s, either. And believe me, at the time, Heathers wasn't beloved by everyone the way it suddenly seems to be now. It was very divisive. There's never a good time. I'm really disappointed they pushed back the show. When I heard, I thought, "Oh, you're going to wait for the week when there isn't a mass shooting? Good luck with that." I think it's better to get it out there, and the ensuing arguments will be creative, interesting and helpful.

How did you feel when you found out Heathers was becoming a TV show?

Well, it wasn't the first time. I was a little like, "Go ahead and try to imitate me! I saw where it got Bravo, let's see where it gets you!" But even if you don't like the thesis and the writing of [the Paramount series], it's incredibly well shot and well done. And probably one of the reasons I'm being so nice to it is that it does treat Heathers like the Bible. I end up coming off like God! Hey, if you're gonna call me God, I'll be your friend. 

Were you consulted at all for the making of the show?

Absolutely not. [Laughs.] They mumbled something to me. There are friends of mine in similar situations, like the guy who wrote Adventures in Babysitting—we all had these hilariously medieval TV contracts if you did a movie in the 1980s. It covers ABC, CBS and NBC, but it didn't predict the future of the internet and other networks. So they've found a reboot loophole. It's kind of sleazy. 

Are you getting anything from Paramount for the series?

I'm getting pizza and beer money. And pizza and beer money that's been pushed back now! Now I'll never get that pizza.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Join the Discussion