6 of the strangest inspirations for hit TV shows

Ian Sandwell
Photo credit: Adult Swim/AMC - The CW

From Digital Spy

It's been revealed that there's actually a TV show in the works based on that irritating Plain White T's song 'Hey There Delilah' that you just couldn't avoid in 2006.

So that got us thinking of the unexpected inspirations behind some hit TV shows – not that we're saying that show will be a hit – because it's not always an obvious source material that has led to major TV shows being born.

1. Breaking Bad

Photo credit: AMC

Things could have gone very differently for Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan as he revealed in a 2010 interview that the show was inspired by his (very briefly) having considered a career as a meth dealer.

It came from a conversation he was having with his friend Tom Schnauz, who he worked with on The X-Files and who became a writer on Breaking Bad, with the two of them talking about how they were struggling to pick up TV or movie jobs.

"We were just joking around on the phone about what we should do next: Should we be greeters at Wal-Mart? Should we put a meth lab in the back of an RV and cook meth and drive around the southwest? And that image… I don't know, it just stuck with me. It jarred something within me. This image that started off as a meaningless joke on the phone turned into this show," Gilligan explained.

"I don't know why that idea sprouted in my mind as it did and so quickly, but in hindsight, the only thing I can think of is that I was a year or two away from turning 40, just dreading the terrible mid-life crisis. I guess that's why I felt like a kindred spirit with Walter White, because he's a man who's having the world's worst mid-life crisis, at least in my mind."

2. Rick and Morty

If Rick and Morty strikes you as being a bit Back to the Future-esque, that's because its origins came in a short that Justin Roiland made for Channel 101, a short film festival that was co-founded by Dan Harmon.

The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti was originally intended as Roiland poking fun at "the idea of getting cease and desist letters" which is why the original short was "so filthy" as he was "just looking to 'troll' a big studio".

Photo credit: Justin Roiland

"They slowly became two of my favourite characters that I've ever voiced. I backed down on the cease and desist bait and changed the spelling of their names and whatever else I could still change," he recalled.

"I mean, it's still ultimately a Back to the Future joke (parody?), but to me all these years later, these two characters have become something of their own. You'll see as you go through this website that these voices pop up in several of my failed pilots."

3. Firefly

Photo credit: Fox

Firefly might have been cancelled after one season, but the fact that it still has a big following means we can call it a hit show and you'll never guess where the idea came from.

Joss Whedon revealed in 2002 that he was inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The novel told the story of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War from both sides of the fight.

"The minutia of the Battle of Gettysburg and the lives of the people in it really made Firefly just pop out of my head. I want to get into people's lives this intimately. I want to do it in the future and show that the future is the past. So I built the structure of the world and the look of the show on the Reconstruction Era. And you know, so there has been a war to unite the planets," he outlined.

"Our captain was fighting for, shall we say, the South. Not for slavery, but because he didn't want to be ruled by one central planetary government. Lost big time. So he's a fairly bitter guy. Bitter but funny. Likeably bitter - like me, only he's likeable - and, you know, everything is very low-tech. We based a lot of things on the Civil War and sort of the 1880s stylistically."

4. Supernatural

Photo credit: The CW

While the long-running smash Supernatural has some typical origins, like creator Eric Kripke being inspired by urban legends and movies like Poltergeist and Evil Dead 2, he took inspiration from elsewhere for sibling heroes Sam and Dean Winchester.

The brothers were named after the characters Sal and Dean from Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road, but Kripke apparently didn't like the idea of a lead character called Sal, so switched it to Sam.

As for the show's other main character, the Impala, he originally thought that the brothers would be heading on their "heroes' quest" in a 1965 Mustang, only for his neighbour to tell him he should use a 1967 Impala for a dark reason.

"My neighbour said it has to be a '67 Impala, because you can put a body in the trunk," Kripke recalled. "He says, 'You want a car that, when people stop next to it at the lights, they lock their doors'."

5. Twin Peaks

Photo credit: Suzanne Tenner - Sky

David Lynch and Mark Frost's seminal dark mystery Twin Peaks has a tragic real-life mystery that inspired it: the still-unsolved murder of a 20-year woman called Hazel Drew in 1908.

Frost explained in a local Sand Lake newspaper that the show spun from the "nightmarish little bedtime story" that his grandmother used to tell him a little boy with her using it as a "cautionary ghost story" for him not to go out alone at night in the woods, based on Hazel's murder.

"Some 20 years later, half-remembered details of this sad tale swam through my sub-conscious during the creation of a similarly doomed character named Laura Palmer," he wrote.

"It was the notion of this girl's body being found on the edge of the water, the mystery remaining unsolved, the multiple suspects, and the kind of cross-cultural and different social classes of people she interacted with," Frost later added. "It really struck my fancy."

6. South Park

Photo credit: Comedy Central

Back in 1992, Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a short film called Jesus vs Frosty and little did they know that it would eventually lead to South Park, set to soon return in September for its 22nd(!) season.

Fox executive Brian Graden saw the short and paid the duo $1,200 to make another festive-themed short that he could use as a Christmas card, leading to Jesus vs Santa which was meant to be just for Graden's friends. It soon went viral after being passed around the industry and the duo were "getting offered multipicture deals from every studio", according to Parker.

Photo credit: Fox

This led to them coming up with the concept of South Park. "That's how we pitched the show when we went around town," he recalled. "There's this whole thing out there about how kids are so innocent and pure. That's bullshit, man. Kids are malicious little f**kers."

The initial problem was that no one thought they could make a TV show like that short film (the two were also known as The Spirit of Christmas) without the swearing. Fortunately, Comedy Central got what they were trying for and the rest is history.

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