George Romero on 'Empire of the Dead' series, not being able to sell his horror anthology

Aaron Sagers is a con man and mod man, and he lives a good portion of his professional life on stage at comic conventions. As a hired host and moderator, he's attended about a dozen cons in 2015 alone (and easily two dozen last year) and has led hundreds of panels. These are the highlights from some of his appearances:

Why the h*** can't George Romero get his latest projects off the ground? That was the question lingering in my mind after hosting a talk with the director at last week's St. Louis Wizard World Comic Con. On the panel, which began and concluded with a standing ovation from the audience, Romero revealed that he's been trying to sell a horror anthology television series and has recently written a new treatment for the Stephen King story The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon -- but neither is generating interest.

George A. Romero is an icon. Full stop. Along with John Russo, Romero created the modern flesh-eating ghouls we came to call zombies. Without the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, which he co-wrote and directed, there is no World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, Z Nation or The Walking Dead.

Beyond zombies, Romero made his mark on film with The Crazies, Martin, Knightriders and more. Though not all big hits, they hold up to this day. He also directed the classic horror anthology film Creepshow, based on a screenplay by Stephen King. And currently, he is working on the TV adaptation of his Marvel Comics miniseries Empire of the Dead

Along with the baffling news about the anthology series, below is a rundown of some notable quotes from Romero's talk -- following my admittedly gushing, heartfelt introduction (observe the goofy grin in the photos provided by Review St. Louis) -- where he shares more about Empire, the 30th anniversary of Day of the Dead, his working relationship with King and how he feels he treated Barbra in Night of the Living Dead.

George Romero appears at St. Louis Comic Con 2015 with Aaron Sagers, photo courtesy Review St. Louis

How far along is the development of the Empire of the Dead series, and how involved will you be?

Well, I think I'll hopefully be directing a couple of them. First of all, it has to get made. All we have is a deal to write it and pre-produce it. We don't have a production deal yet, but our fingers are crossed and it looks good. So we'll see. But I hope to direct a couple, and I'm writing the pilot, and probably at least most of the first season if it flies. 

What is compelling about doing television after working so heavily in film?

Nothing! I just sort of took a sabbatical. All of a sudden, there are just too many zombies running around. My zombie films were all sort of satirical, with political messages. So I was doing them inexpensively and quietly off in left field somewhere. All of a sudden, along came Brad Pitt. Now Hollywood thinks you can't make any money on a zombie film unless you spend $200 million to shoot it. So I just took a break and decided to do this Empire of the Dead instead as a comic series. There are zombies in it, but there are zombies and vampires. I've been doing it almost two years, and took a break from film stuff. 

On his famous character Barbra in NOTLD:

I apologize to women for Barbra in the original Night of the Living Dead, a totally ineffective character ... when we were creating Night of the Living Dead, that was the Perils of Pauline [damsel in distress, serial queen melodrama]. She was running around, her heel snaps off, she falls down. She is completely ineffective, then she goes catatonic, and that's about it for her. So I apologize for that. When I wrote the remake Tom Savini directed, I made Barbra strong. 

What is it about Day of the Dead, celebrating its 30th anniversary, that has made it popular now?

I have no idea. These are the mysteries. I don't know. I think what has happened, all along, over the course of the six films, is people want what happened in the last film. Like after Dawn of the Dead, everyone wanted another Dawn of the Dead. Day of the Dead was a little darker, and initially people didn't like that at all. I'm sitting there trying to figure it out. Michael Felsher wrote this article that blasted it, and then, 10 years later or whatever, wrote jacket notes for the DVD release that said, "I'm sorry; I blasted this movie, and now I see what it was meant to be." I guess my stuff needs to grow on people. Too bad! That seems to happen with all of it. Now, with Survival of the Dead, it's the same thing. People are saying, "Oh, I get what you were trying to do." I think it has to do with the TV syndrome. They want a CSI: the same every week. There is something about the sameness people like. And what I've tried to do with all the zombie films is purposely make them different. That may be part of why it takes so long for people to see what it's intended to be.

Horror is having a good moment on television, as are anthologies. Would you ever have an interest in a Creepshow-esque anthology on TV?

I have a partner out right now trying to sell an anthology idea, and everybody is saying, "Forget it, you can't do an anthology." We haven't been able to sell it just because it's an anthology. They say you have to have ongoing characters, and that seems to be the psychology out there in my experience. 

Do you still speak with Stephen King on working on something else?

Occasionally, but it's hard to fit that into the equation. Steve would have to do something he wanted me for. He would have to write something he wanted me for. But we haven't been able to sell The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon to anybody. I have been working on that, and recently wrote another draft of that, but nobody wants to do that. We can't get anyone interested. That and Gerald's Game. Those are the two I was interested in, but we can't get anyone.

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