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The 'Frankenstein, M.D.' team on resurrecting a classic

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Can a female Frankenstein captivate young YouTube audiences with a mix of literature and science? That’s the gamble PBS Digital Studios and Pemberley Digital are taking with their new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The team announced the schedule and cast for the new venture, Frankeinstein, M.D., at PBS’s 2014 Television Critics Association presentation on Wednesday, showing a clip of the series that will formally premiere Aug. 19.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” explained Bernie Su, executive producer and writer at Pemberley Digital. “We at Pemberley do a lot of things really well, and there a lot of things we haven’t developed out yet because we’re so new. Having PBS aboard has really given us this great boost.”

One area he pointed out to the Daily Dot as a challenge is the accuracy of the science, something the team hadn’t dealt with before for its adaptations of Jane Austen novels into smash hits like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved. That’s where PBS’s expertise came to the rescue, making sure their science was on-point and in line with the plot. Su says the iconic monster will appear in their run, but decisions around that, including the monster’s gender, have not been locked down.

“We’ll cover elements of what you’d do in modern day to resurrect someone,” said Su, stressing that the science involved will be as accurate as possible. 

Matthew Graham, senior director at PBS Digital Studios told the Daily Dot that after his team's extensive YouTube research for partners that make sense for their channel, a deal with Pemberley was inevitable.

“When we discovered [Pemberley], it was such a no brainer: literary-minded audience, respectful community, very engaged,” he said. “We want to keep doing fresh, exciting shows. We want to keep playing with format and genre, and we love reaching these young audiences. We want to do content with diverse cast and reach diverse audiences—always really high-quality stuff.”

Frankenstein, M.D. marks a few transitions for both PBS Digital Studios and Pemberley Digital. For PBS, it’s the first foray into fictional narrative, after marked success in documentary and educational-style programming that includes Idea Channel and Blank on Blank. For Pemberley, Frankenstein will be its first non-Jane Austen endeavor, and incidentally the first Pemberley project without a marked romantic plotline.

“There will be far less romance than the other two,” joked Su. “It’s been really refreshing. We certainly could have just kept doing Austen novels; we’re pretty good at it. It’s nice to change the game a little bit, showcase that we can do a different genre and take on another author and give it a fresh, exciting spin.”

Thanks to its penchant for Austen, Pemberley Digital is no stranger to female-fronted video projects, but Frankenstein, M.D. is its first venture into gender-bending a title character. Frankenstein’s struggles as a woman in the science space parallels the gender issues many of the platform's young female fans face daily. Pemberley has toyed with the idea of male-fronted series before, but Su says it’s always come down to the question, “is it better as a female lead?” He says the company will probably always have more female leads than male leads, in line with its fanbase. 

"Our company is built on a female audience. A literary, young, vocal female audience. A passionate one," Su explained. "In the back of your head, you always think about going that way. I don't think there's any problem with that. I look at the gender-bending of this and I go, 'If you take PBS out of it, you take Pemberley out of it, the concept of a female Frankenstein is more intriguing than a male one.' It's never been done, as far as we know. It's not just taking away organs; it's completely changing how that person was living and brought up as a woman in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] than a man in STEM in modern day. That's countless layers of the show. It's way more exciting."

Anna Lore, who will play the role of Victoria Frankenstein, says she was a casual Pemberley fan before securing the role, but she has done her research since. After the announcement, Lore found her phone in the green room “blowing up” with tweets and texts. She says she hasn’t spoken to the other Pemberley leads in depth about the life-changing fandom that surrounds their roles.

“When we were actually filming and in the throes of it, I did talk to Jo [Joanna Sotomura who plays Emma on Emma Approved] a little bit,” she said. “I’m just so excited for other people to be excited about this.”

Will Pemberley Digital's massive fanbase make the transition from Austen to Shelley and tune in for a science-heavy series? Su and the folks at PBS think it’s a safe bet, but only time will tell.

“I think the macabre will shock [core fans] in a way, just at the beginning,” said Su. “We’ve only seen positive response to the announcement, but also skeptical—like, I’m gonna wait and see. When we announce a show, the intrigue is universal. It becomes about the execution.”

Frankenstein, M.D. premieres Aug. 19 on PBS Digital Studios, airing twice a week and culminating in a Halloween finale episode.

Photo via PBS PressRoom (CC BY SA 2.0)