You may have watched ghost-hunting shows in the past, but you have never seen anything quite like Living for the Dead.
From the brilliant minds of Kristen Stewart, her friend CJ Romero, and the folks at Scout Productions that brought us Queer Eye, Living for the Dead combines all the elements we know and love from the Netflix series (the heart, the humor and, of course, the hugs) with some spooky ghost hunting in some seriously haunted places.
“We always joked from day one that this is gay Scooby-Doo,” executive producer Rob Eric, who also worked on both the original and rebooted Queer Eye, told The Daily Beast’s Obsessed.
And the Scooby gang in Living for the Dead does not disappoint. Juju Bae, Alex LeMay, Roz Hernandez, Logan Taylor, and Ken Boggle make up what I’ve dubbed the Paranormal Five (a supernatural twist on the Fab Five). They all bring unique talents (as well as an abundance of compassion) to the investigations, whether it’s communicating with the spirits, manning technical equipment, or doing deep spiritual readings of those most affected by the spirits in the place.
The first season of the unscripted series, which premieres on Hulu Oct. 18, finds the gang taking their ghost-hunting talents across the Midwestern United States to investigate some legendary haunted landmarks like the Clown Motel in Tonopah, Nevada, as well as some lesser-known, reportedly eerie spots like the Palomino Club in Las Vegas.
Ahead of the premiere, executive producers Rob Eric and Renata Lombardo tell Obsessed how Stewart brought the idea to them, the moment they knew they found their amazing queer Scooby Gang, and why this ghost hunting show is unlike any other.
First of all, this concept is brilliant: Queer Eye, but for paranormal hunting. Love it. I know that this was an idea that Kristen Stewart and CJ Romero came up with, but how was this pitched to you?
Eric: We got a call that Kristen Stewart and CJ had an idea, and do we want to hear it? I’m like, it’s Kristen Stewart, of course, we wanna hear it! (Laughs) It was a seedling of an idea. They were at a brunch and somebody mentioned something about a gay paranormal show, like, why don’t we have one of those? And Kristen was like, “I would fucking watch that forever.”
As would I!
Eric: Kristen was very specific on how she wanted emotion and heart and humor. And so obviously they reached out to the Queer Eye guys. We started talking about it and developed the format with her, and sort of gave away some of our trade secrets of how we create emotion and heart and humor [in Queer Eye], and then shot the show. It was an amazing relationship. We’re still working together on other stuff, and she’s awesome. They’re both awesome.
Lombardo: We were excited about the Kristen Stewart call, but we had no idea truly the power of the celebrity of Kristen Stewart until she mentioned that she was developing the show with us in an interview. I think it was around Spencer, and it got picked up and there were so many articles that came our way. Everyone was like, “Is this you guys? What’s happening?” It just proved that there’s an undeniable stardom with Kristen.
You mentioned the heart and the humor of the show. At one point watching the screeners, I wrote down, “This is ghost therapy,” because it is such a unique and compassionate approach to the paranormal. Instead of going for scares you go in trying to not only heal the spirits, but those affected by them. How did you find this approach?
Eric: I think it was probably what we collectively—Kristen, CJ, and Scout [Productions]—bring to the paranormal, right? We’ve seen a million paranormal shows and for us it always seems like they go in and they sort of irritate the spirit in order to try to do something. We’re like, well, we should actually try to communicate a little bit more, like we do on Queer Eye. It’s not just going in and taking somebody and saying, “Hey, if you use this moisturizer to do this, you’re gonna be great,” and we walk away. There’s more interaction, there’s more character, and there’s more of a companionship between the characters—whether the character is a ghost or the person that’s trying to get rid of the ghost.
Much like finding the Fab Five, I’m sure it was a journey to find the Paranormal Five. Can you kind of walk me through the process of casting these five roles and what you were looking for in each role?
Eric: These were not people that we just pulled from obscurity and said, “Hey, you’re now a medium.” These were people that came to us. They were mediums, and they were people that were skeptics. Not only does Roz have her show about the world of paranormal, but she always is very clear [that] she’s a skeptic. We wanted that element in there as well, because I think the audience always approaches a paranormal show with a bit of skepticism, as well as interest.
Lombardo: We reference, from one end, it’s the heart [we were looking for], and on the other end, it’s like gay Scooby-Doo. We wanted to be able to live in both spaces, so we had to find talent that could walk both lines. One is being sort of serious about the craft and what they brought to the table. And the other one is that we have to have fun with this, because it’s gay camp that we didn’t want to lose in the process. Because they are gay ghost hunters, and [that’s] what makes this show distinctly different tonally from other ghost hunting shows as well.
Yes, there certainly hasn’t been a show like this before.
Eric: When we cast them, it wasn’t just video casting. We brought everybody out. We wanted to meet them in person, see how they can work together. But we also wanted to see their talent. And there were some really scary moments with all of them. Renata sat in when Ken did a reading of my cards and was so frighteningly accurate.
Lombardo: Oh yes. I had chills. Literally, he needed to grab Rob. He was like, “I need to read you,” and pulled him aside. I had chills multiple times because we work together every day. I know him fairly well. And the stuff he was saying, I was like, “How? What?” That was honestly what put him through for us.
Eric: My business partner David, he had a reading from Logan. That was bonkers... [Logan’s reading] was so specific that there was no doubt that there was some connection that he was having. David broke down because it was about his father who had passed away. But it was so connective that it wasn’t just like, “Oh, your dad says hi,” or, “Your dad’s super proud of you.” It was down to a moment that he had on his deathbed that no one would’ve known about and David’s never spoken about. And David had never met Logan before. So it was amazing.
And this was just the audition?!
Eric: Right? And then you got into the field with them and it was nonstop. You’ve got five people who, when they merge together, that communication is open. They’re open for everything. So therefore that world connects much easier for them.
Another character in the show is the locations. They are so fun and spooky and unique. What was the search like not only for the locations, but the people that were in them?
Lombardo: We sought out iconic haunted locations. We made it hard on ourselves because we could have probably just gone to one city and just done more of what we do with Queer Eye, where we hub out of one city and sort of branch out. We shot for the stars in Season 1, which was a hybrid of finding the most iconic spooky locations across basically like the western middle of the United States, and then also finding people that were associated with those locations.
Eric: And some of these places have been done before on other shows. We didn’t care.
Yeah, you do it your way.
Eric: We are doing it our way. And why is this reoccurring? Why does it keep happening in this place if all these people come to visit? What are they not doing that we should be doing? The one thing that we wanted in every location was visibility. We didn’t want to just go have our team stay in a hotel, then they just go visit the people and then we leave. Tonopah is a perfect example.
Lombardo: That’s the Clown Motel episode.
Eric: It’s a really weird little town. I think the population’s like maybe 1,500 people.
Lombardo: Because it’s such a small town, the town got wind that this gay something was there. Something gay is happening in town. (Laughs)
Eric: We shot a sequence in the bar where we were meeting up with some town people. This beautiful moment happened where this woman—who never told us anything about this, we had no idea—brought up the fact that she was dealing with a non-binary child. As that moment was happening, I was downstairs in front of the monitor like, “Dear, sweet baby Jesus, let’s just keep going here.” Because this is that conversation that we don't normally see in paranormal shows, but we also don’t normally see in small towns like this.
It was a really amazing moment.
Eric: And that woman who stands up [after] and she says, “I’m pansexual,” it was this coming-out party that happened and it was a really beautiful, natural thing to see. So we insisted that in every one of our shows we were having visibility in these towns. Not just for the purpose of the investigation, but also the purpose of we’re a very large crew of LGBTQIA+ people. We need to be seen.
I love Kristen Stewart’s narration. It really brings a whole fun, campy layer to the show. How did you come to the decision to include narration, and was Kristen always going to be the voice of it?
Eric: Kristen was always the voice. We talked about it. I think it was Renata’s idea actually from day one.
Lombardo: She’s got such a great voice and such a distinct voice. And we talked a lot at the beginning about, how do you get Kristen’s DNA in the series without Kristen being on the show? So, conceptually it was always sort of like Kristen’s like the Charlie of the Charlie’s Angels. So that's sort of where it started.
Eric: And she’s a perfectionist. In the booth, I remember sitting in one of the sessions where she was just like, “I don't like the way I said that. Let me say it this way. What if I say it like this? What if I bring it here?” Super collaborative. Kristen cares deeply about this show and the people that we’re helping on the show. She wanted every element to be right, and when her voice is essentially the lead thing you hear on the show, she wanted to be just perfect.
Lombardo: And keep watching. You may see her, but in the time being, you’ll hear her.