It was about two years ago that Wood River Valley resident Josh Pate first had the idea for “Outer Banks,” Netflix’s newest hit series.
The show follows a group of teenage friends living in, as the title implies, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In the wake of a hurricane, they discover a shipwreck and the first in a series of clues that may reveal more than they bargained for, including a long-lost treasure.
The real-life Outer Banks of North Carolina have their own storied history, much of which is shrouded in mystery. Most notable is the lost Roanoke colony, which inexplicably vanished in 1587 and has spawned countless myths and urban legends. The coast of the Outer Banks is also notoriously treacherous, and is home to so many shipwrecks that it has been nicknamed the “graveyard of the Atlantic.”
The initial impetus for the show was fairly unassuming—a news article about a power outage in Pate’s native North Carolina, near where he grew up. At the top of the story was a photograph of darkened, empty mansions along the Outer Banks.
Early in the first episode, main character John B (Chase Stokes) describes the Outer Banks as “the sort of place where you either have two jobs or two houses.” While the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic coast may differ scenically, that social dichotomy is one of many elements with which Wood River Valley residents can identify.
“It’s this place of tremendous class divide. Two tribes on one island—the haves and the have nots,” Pate said. “I saw this picture of darkened mansions on the Outer Banks and mentioned it to Shannon. It began as a casual conversation between friends.”
Shannon Burke is a novelist and longtime friend of Pate’s. That casual conversation eventually grew into what is now one of the most popular shows on Netflix. Pate united with his brother, Jonas, and Burke to start writing.
“We fell into a conversation about ‘The Outsiders,’ ‘The Goonies,’ ‘A Separate Peace,’ ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ all these great coming-of-age stories,” Pate said. “Once we zeroed in and realized we had something we wanted to write about, it took about three months to polish the pitch. From there, remarkably, we didn’t really hit any snags.”
The film industry is full of horror stories about projects stuck in development hell and dreams never coming to fruition, but everything more or less fell into place for “Outer Banks.”
“It was a great thing for me, writing it,” Pate said. “A lot of times, I do a spy show or something like that and it’s really not my life. I read spy books and do research. ‘Outer Banks’ I could write from memory, though. I didn’t have to look anything up.
“This is the fourth show I’ve created, but only the first one that worked. You get better as you get older, learn lessons the hard way, keep trying. But this is the best creative team we’ve ever had. Shannon’s the best writing partner I’ve ever had.”
In addition to Burke and the Pate brothers, the showrunner said another major creative voice on the project came from film editor and Sun Valley native Sunny Hodge.
The hard part, according to Pate, was finding the right cast. John B and his cohort are all teens who value having a good time above pretty much everything else, but they are also outdoorsy and adventurous and most come from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks.
“The whole thing hinged on the cast,” Pate said. “We felt all this hard work would fail if we blew the casting. We were really focused on not screwing it up. The casting process was really hard. You get a bunch of theater kids who aren’t outdoorsy. They may be talented, but I don’t believe they’ve ever been cold outside in a tent before.
“We had to find Sun Valley kids, coastal Carolina kids—kids whose lives revolve around doing active stuff. It’s the way I grew up. It’s why I live here and raise my kids here.”
Fortunately, after a truly exhaustive search, the casting process was completed—just in time, too, as Pate reports only finding Chase Stokes a few days before shooting was scheduled to start.
“The chemistry on screen was there in real life,” Pate said of his young cast. “They all became such good friends right away. They’re all quarantining together.”
The timing of the show’s release worked out fortuitously. With beaches closed, vacations canceled and people all over the country locked indoors, Netflix has reported record streaming activity, and a story all about adventure, mystery and friendship in the great outdoors has helped fill a void for many viewers—as evidenced by the fact that for the past month, “Outer Banks” has ranked in Netflix’s Top 10 most-viewed shows and movies, and has claimed the No. 1 spot more than once.
“We definitely caught a tailwind with everyone on lockdown. A story like this is the perfect tonic to being cooped up. But it is so nerve-wracking when it first comes out,” Pate said. “When you’re making a show, you’re like Geppetto making a puppet in the basement. You bring it out and everyone has an opinion about your puppet, and you’re like, ‘I was just making a puppet—I wasn’t bothering anybody.’ But this has just been so incredible and very exciting.”
With its towering streaming rates and consistently trending social media presence, “Outer Banks” seems destined for a second season. Pate is still waiting on the official greenlight from Netflix, but he feels optimistic and said that he and his co-writers were asked to generate a few potential season-two scripts before the show even premiered.
“We feel confident,” he said.
All 10 episodes of “Outer Banks” are available for streaming on Netflix.