Looking back at the work of David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf

Feature Louisa Mellor 31 Jan 2014 - 07:00

A look at the pre-Grimm work of co-creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf, a screenwriting partnership that’s lasted over thirty years…

A poker table in the late seventies, a bathroom in the mid-noughties… television shows have many birthplaces. Had screenwriters David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf not been introduced at a card game over thirty years ago, and had producer Todd Milliner not taken a 2006 shower in which he pondered what existing stories were in need of a modern update for TV, then Grimm might never have existed.

First, that poker game. Greenwalt and Kouf’s friendship began a couple of years before their first official screenwriting credit on 1982’s horror spoof Wacko, a job for which the pair were paid the princely sum of fifteen thousand dollars…

“We did a lot of fun movies back then”

That’s what Greenwalt told Collider in 2012, and he isn’t wrong. After slasher parody Wacko, a comedy sold as an Airplane-style romp, Kouf went on to write critter horror The Boogens, and after that, a handful of rom-coms in partnership with Greenwalt.

Those rom-coms, from 1983’s Class, starring a young Rob Lowe, to 1984’s American Dreamer, and 1985’s Secret Admirer, didn't exactly set Hollywood alight; romantic-comedy wasn’t about to make either Greenwalt or Kouf’s names. It took a different combination of genres before critics and audiences really warmed up to their work.

1987’s Stakeout, a crime caper starring Emilio Estevez and Richard Dreyfuss, did well for Kouf (so well in fact, that a 1993 sequel was made, though to less critical acclaim). In the same year, the screenwriter achieved similar success with The Hidden, a sci-fi crime flick starring Kyle McLachlan as an FBI agent before he ever caught a whiff of Twin Peaks’ cherry pie. Combining crime with comedy, sci-fi with crime… Jim Kouf’s name was soon indissociable from the cop genre.

“I want to believe”

David Greenwalt, who had been forging a TV career in the meantime, also found himself circling detectives and precincts with a regular gig writing and producing ABC’s The Commish after short stints on The Wonder Years and Doogie Howser M.D. Greenwalt didn’t stray far from law-keeping in his next writing and producing role on seminal FBI sci-fi, The X-Files.

The nineties was a time of more comedy crime and action pictures for Kouf, who added Rush Hour and the US version of Taxi to his roster of cop flick scripts. By the time Greenwalt and Kouf came to create Grimm’s Detective Nick Burkhardt and his Portland PD chums in 2011, they’d both been writing cops for over twenty years.

Greenwalt’s next major TV project would keep him busy through the end of the nineties and, thanks to its five season spin-off, well into the next decade. As part of the writing and production team on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Greenwalt lent his expertise to the first three seasons of the high school supernatural drama before leaving to establish spin-off Angel, a show that combined the detective procedural with fantasy in the way that Grimm would a decade later.

“Into every generation, a slayer is born”

As an integral part of Joss Whedon’s Buffy team, David Greenwalt wrote, directed and produced across the show’s first three seasons. He had solo writing credits on season one episodes Teacher’s Pet, Angel, and Nightmares, season two episodes School Hard, Reptile Boy and Ted, and season three episodes Faith, Hope & Trick, and Homecoming, as well as directing Reptile Boy, Bad Eggs, Homecoming and The Wish. It was in episodes written by him that Angel, Spike and Drusilla, all of whom would go on to become Buffy regulars, were first introduced.

The parallels between Buffy and Grimm are many. Like Buffy Summers, Grimm’s Nick Burkhardt is the inheritor of a mystical legacy that pits him against demonic creatures who morph via CGI magic from their human to their monster forms. Like Buffy, Nick inherits super strength and a host of lore and weaponry to help him fight his battles. Like Buffy, Nick’s supernatural responsibility interferes with his professional and personal life. And like Buffy, Nick quickly forms a rag-tag group of pals who help him fulfil his destiny, his very own Portland-based Scooby gang.      

Nick’s friendship with one of his helpers in particular mirrors a central premise in Buffy and Angel: that of a slayer befriending its prey… 

“A vampire in love with a slayer. It’s rather poetic… in a maudlin sort of way”

 

In 1997, an impressive gymnastic kick from Buffy (vampire slayer) and the line “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, I don’t bite” from Angel (vampire) set in motion a seasons-long tortured romance. In 2011, a police investigation into a kidnapping brought together Nick (Wesen slayer) and Munroe (a Wesen), setting in motion a seasons-long friendship.

Grimm translated Buffy’s premise of a slayer falling for the creature it’s destined to hunt into a different context. Instead of Buffy and Angel’s romance, Grimm gave us Nick and Munroe’s bromance. As a Blutbad - one of the more vicious species of Wesen in the Grimm world - like Buffy and Angel, Nick and Munroe should be natural enemies. Also like Angel however, Munroe is a reformed Blutbad, one who stays off the people-eating with a strict regimen of vegan cookery, Pilates and meditation. 

The further Grimm goes on, the more Wesen join Nick’s gang. Nowadays, there’s also Munroe’s girlfriend Rosalee (Bree Calvert), a Fuchsbau fox-like creature, and sporadically, Eisbiber Bud (Danny Bruno) joins the fun. This collection mirrors not only Buffy’s gang of witches, werewolves, vampires, ex-demons and normal Joes, but also the group of white hats at the centre of Angel. 

“Help the helpless” 

In 1999, David Greenwalt left Buffy to set up Angel, an L.A-set, noir-tinged supernatural detective show starring David Boreanaz about a vampire with (intermittently) a soul seeking to fulfil his destiny by helping the helpless. When he moved to Angel, Greenwalt instigated a reunion with the writer/producer/director with whom he’d collaborated throughout the eighties: Jim Kouf. As he tells it to Collider, “I got into television, and I dragged Jim many years later into TV with Angel. I knew he’d love it.” 

Kouf joined Angel as a consulting producer for almost thirty episodes, writing three (Five By Five, The Shroud Of Rahmon and The Thin Dead Line, two of which feature familiar ground for Kouf in the form of precinct cop Kate Lockley). Angel’s supernatural detective premise was a good match for Kouf’s previous work, and his partnership with Greenwalt on the show laid the foundations for their current collaboration on Grimm.

Between Angel (which he partially left after season three to work on sci-fi drama Jake 2.0 before returning to direct his final episode in season five) and Grimm, David Greenwalt was temporarily part of 2007's vamp-detective series Moonlight, a show that went on to cancellation after just one season, but left the project after just a few months. Before that had come producing roles on sci-fi series Surface and Eureka. Until Grimm, Jim Kouf's most sizeable post-Angel TV gig was as a producer for Jennifer Love Hewitt-starring supernatural series Ghost Whisperer.

All that experience fed into the pair's 2011 reunion for Grimm, a series that NBC quickly renewed for second and third seasons (and, as NBC boss Robert Greenblatt tells it, whose chances for season four renewal are currently looking "very good").

“He’s the one who must stop them. This is his calling. This is his duty. This is the life of a Grimm.”

 

The initial idea for modernising the Brothers Grimm fairy tales came from producer Todd Milliner (half of Hazy Mills, the production company he shares with Sean Hayes). According to David Greenwalt, six or seven years ago Milliner “…was taking a shower and he had this idea of ‘What can I do for a show that’s in the public domain?’ In other words - cheap. He came to us and basically said, ‘A modern retelling of the Brothers Grimm’”.

Hazy Mills met with Greenwalt about the idea, before NBC came aboard and suggested the show should revolve around a cop. Crime drama with a supernatural twist? Greenwalt knew who he had to call. “I said, ‘Jim, you’ve got to come help me.’”. Help Kouf did, and along with writer/director Stephen Carpenter, Grimm was born.

Aside from Nick, Monroe, Renard, Hank and Juliette, there was one crucial character to cast before the ball could get rolling: the city in which Grimm would be set. Portland’s rainy climate, expanse of forest land and diversity of locations made it the perfect backdrop for a modern retelling of stories originally set in Germany’s Black Forest.

“A story machine”

Grimm’s storybook architecture, in which The Three Little Pigs are policemen and Sleeping Beauty is a veterinarian cursed by a lawyer witch, takes in folk stories and legends from far and wide. Jim Kouf explains, “A lot of the time we’ll try to take a real-life situation and try to find a fairy tale aspect of that and then try to create our own fairy tales.”

Described by Greenwalt as “a story machine”, Kouf is also a stickler for research. Actress Bree Calvert, whose character Rosalee became a regular in season two, is full of praise for Grimm’s creators’ level of dedication to getting things right. “David and Jim leave no stone unturned in terms of details to the story and honouring the origin of these stories”. Between seasons one and two, Kouf took a road trip through Europe, driving from Paris to Vienna and visiting Germany’s Black Forest to draw inspiration for the second season, a central thread of which takes place in Austria.

Though its Portland setting is fundamental to the show, Grimm is very much a global series as Sasha Roiz, who plays the show’s mysterious Captain Renard explains, “We’ve incorporated fairy tales from all over the world, various cultures, various languages”.

The response to Greenwalt, Kouf and Carpenter’s global cherry-picking through myth and legend has been a positive one. After season two, Jim Kouf explained, “We were number one in Germany, we were number one in the UK recently. It’s playing great around the world and I think it’s because these stories are so basic to human nature that people respond to them”. “We mix the modern and the ancient” says David Greenwalt in agreement, “We have a lot of fun doing that.”

Not as much fun as your audiences have watching.

Grimm season 3 starts on Wednesday the 5th of February at 9pm on WATCH in the UK (Sky TV 109 & Virgin TV 124).

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