Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer is an outlier in an industry of ever-shifting tastes that’s always searching for new power brokers with a hot hand. He has staying power, with a name synonymous for big things — be they on-screen explosions, hero shots, or box office favorites like Bad Boys, Pirates Of The Caribean, Con Air, and I really could go on for a while.
For years, Bruckheimer has also dabbled in television, most notably producing CSI, a show whose concoction of tried and true procedural notes and tech geek visuals doesn’t get enough credit as a game-changing crowdpleaser at the turn of the century (which, incidentally, just launched a comeback on CBS). Now, Bruckheimer is focused on talking about Hightown, a gritty Starz series [whose 2nd season premieres Sunday) about murder, drugs, crime, cops, and betrayal in Cape Cod with Monica Raymund’s Jackie Quiñones at the center of it all. And in this chat with Uproxx, we do exactly that while also discussing the nature of our collective interest in damaged characters and redemption stories, the state of the worldwide box office, why he never made a Marvel movie, and the challenge of trying to reboot or remake ’80s faves like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop.
What can you share that’s sort of changed around [from season one to season two] as we head into the premiere?
Well, I think it’s these characters. These characters are deep, some of them very damaged. Is there redemption for some of these characters? Can they turn it around? Do they go deeper into the hole? We introduce new characters. So you have new characters to follow and follow their arcs. But Rebecca [Cutter, series creator] is such an amazing writer and she does such a fabulous job, and that’s what drew me to the project. I read her script, and I said, “What a fabulous voice.” I haven’t seen this verisimilitude, this reality of these characters. To me, they are so real, and so vibrant, and damaged, and all looking to… some of them [are looking] to do the right thing. But they can’t get out of their own way.
What’s your role in terms of the collaboration? Are you more hanging back and just offering advice when it’s sought? Are you more hands-on?
Well, they really run their shows. What I do is, we have Jonathan [Littman], KristieAnne [Reed] and some of our team are really in the weeds. I’m not in the weeds, but I read every script. I give notes when they’re appropriate, but they [the showrunners] are so good, I rarely have anything to add. And then I watch every episode and we’ll give notes again to them. So of all, I don’t think I’ve missed one of our episodes of all the television that we’ve done.
What is it about redemption stories and damaged characters that keep people coming back for more?
I think they, the audience, always wants the characters that they love and follow to be redeemed. They want it for themselves. They want it for their entertainment. I think you always… you want a satisfying ending. Not always a happy ending, but you want something that’s satisfying. That has a beginning, middle, and end. And with television, with these serialized shows like our show, you want to keep the audience engaged. You want to keep giving them new characters they can follow. And you put up roadblocks for certain characters that they love on our show. You’re always sitting there with a Coke in your hand (or whatever you do at home) and you’re hoping the character makes the right turn and you’re rooting for them.
Hightown isn’t this kind of situation, but you’ve attempted adaptations of some of your projects that have been huge on the big screen before, like for instance, a Beverly Hills Cop TV show. What are some of the challenges of trying to cross the expanse of multiple decades between when something was successful and now in addition to trying to do it within a different medium with a different cast?
It’s a really good question and very hard to do because the audience wants the same experience, but not the same thing. You fight it and sometimes we’re successful at it and sometimes we’re not. You walk a tightrope. You walk a tightrope of trying to give them something that they loved in the past and yet give them something new. And that’s really important. You don’t want to just have a replay of the original.
We just finished… unfortunately [it was] a long time ago, a year ago, Top Gun, which is a sequel, and it’s one of those. I hope you get to see it because it’s, they tell me it’s really good. I love it, but I never talk about stuff until after it comes out. It really walks the line of something that makes you feel nostalgic about what you saw that was 30 years ago, 35 years ago, and it gives you a new story and new characters to follow, and follow the arc of our lead and how he’s changed. But I think at the end of it, you feel the same kind of feeling, at least I did, that I felt after I saw the first Top Gun.
How intently focused are you on the box office performance of films that are coming out now? To see… “Okay, there’s light at the end of this tunnel, things are going to go back.” I mean, do you think things are going to go back to normal with the theatrical experience being somewhat preserved, or are you a little more cynical about it?
Well, I think based on what I’ve seen box office-wise the last few weekends, people are coming back. Definitely coming back. The reason Top Gun isn’t out yet [is] we want the world to come back. I think it’s a worldwide movie. You go to the Far East and other places, they’re not quite there yet, but they’re getting close. I’ve talked to people who’ve, are in Italy and people are back out on the streets. They’re wearing masks, but they’re back. They’re coming back to theaters. I think Bond opened last weekend and did phenomenally [well]. So they’re coming back. Look, everybody wants, loves that communal experience. There’s nothing better than watching a comedy or watching a big action flick in the theater and enjoying the excitement that the audience brings to it. I always use the analogy that, you have a kitchen in your house, right? You eat at home, but yet you still want to go out. You still want to get out of your house and taste something else. It’s the same thing with the theater. There’re certain movies where you really want to have that big-screen experience.
You’ve made very specific kinds of films in your career. Very specific, big-budget, action films, and Marvel movies are this other sort of unique thing. Have you ever been interested in doing one of them?
I admire the people who make them. They’re really enormously talented and… their casting is great, their storytelling is great, their productions are enormous. They do a phenomenal job. I wish I could do something like that. We dabble a little. We have a show called Secret Headquarters with Owen Wilson that’ll come out next Summer. That kind of dabbles in the superhero world. But they are so good at their craft.
Was there ever a time when there was almost a crossover or has there never been an opportunity [to work with Marvel]?
Unfortunately not. Those titles were usually owned by people who either didn’t want to hurt the brand, put it in a big movie, or didn’t want to spend the money that it really needed. Marvel, when they came out, they did it right. They really went out there and with the first Iron Man, they went out and made big entertainment and spent the money on visual effects that you need to do.
‘Hightown’ Season 2 Premieres Sunday At 9PM ET on Starz