In order for The Strain to be as effective as it is, showrunners Carlton Cuse and Chuck Hogan needed to know they had the creative freedom to push the boundaries on what they could show. According to Cuse, FX has for the most part been entirely accepting of their goriest, most violent scenes, but there was one moment they went back and forth on before Cuse and Hogan gave in.
"There were some issues over what we could show when Bolivar's penis falls off," Cuse said, referencing one of the more memorable moments from the show's second season. "There were some issues over how graphically we could depict that actual incident. There was even the question about, 'Well, what's left after?' If your penis falls off, what does the remaining thing look like?
"The absence of a penis can be as disturbing as the actual seeing of a penis on television, apparently."
Aside from conversations over lost appendages, however, Cuse said that coming from spending six years on a network show — one of the most popular network shows in history, Lost — working with FX was an eye-opener. When he and Hogan signed onto the project, he told FX head John Landgraf that they were only going to do five seasons of a show about a team of CDC doctors trying to stop the rampant spread of an infectious, deadly disease in New York City.
"No matter how crazy it seems, FX is always asking us to do more"
Two years after the show premiered, Cuse went back and said they needed to cut the series down from 13 episodes to 10. He was prepared for a fight, but was surprised when Landgraf came back and agreed with little argument.
"We do really crazy shit on the show and FX says, 'Can you make it crazier or even more fucked up?'" Cuse said. "They're always pushing us to make sure we're not censoring ourselves and if that means finishing in five seasons and going from 13 episodes to 10, they're very supportive of that."
Having that kind of support was especially important to Hogan, who co-wrote with Guillermo del Toro the series of books the television show is based on. He said that going into meetings with FX, both he and del Toro stressed the importance of having the creative freedom to explore the themes and events in their shows without having to worry about offending people both at the network and in the audience.
"This type of show wouldn't and couldn't have worked on a regular network," Hogan said. "Guillermo, in particular, has a lot of special effects in mind that he brings to the network and no matter how crazy it seems, FX is always asking us to do more."
This is Hogan's first major foray into television, but for a television icon like Cuse, The Strain is another credit on a long resume. Cuse spoke briefly about the troubles he encountered working on network shows and said that even on a series like Lost, one that he's incredibly proud of and whose legacy he's happy to be a part of, there were some major issues that they had to constantly address.
"They are wildly different experiences," Cuse said. "I spent six years monastically working on Lost and I worked just as hard. 16 hour days, 51 weeks a year. The great thing about cable is the degree of the respect for the creator.
"When I was at a network, there was so much effort placed on what I would call the lowest common denominator audience, where they were trying to get as many people in the tent as possible."
Cuse said that because of the restrictions the network placed on them in order to get the biggest audience as possible, he and his team weren't allowed to be as creative or artistic in their storytelling as they would have liked to be. Cuse said that resulted in battle after battle to try and make the show the way they wanted to and to get it as close to their original vision as possible. Now that he's on cable, Cuse said it's night and day.
"There's no better feeling than having a team of people that support you and want you to make the best possible show you can make without worrying about the audience," Cuse said. "And that's what we get on cable."
As the show heads into its third season, Cuse and Hogan said that they'll remain loyal to the source material, but would be changing a dew things to keep the story progressing. Like their colleagues over at The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, trying to create a different entity than the books they're based on can be difficult, but Hogan said things needed to change so they could span five seasons.
"I feel like I have some authority since I co-wrote the books," Hogan joked. "The show, like always, will appeal to fans of the books and to fans who never read them. But we're going to be doing a lot more this season."
"We're going to be continuing this storyline of what's happening to New York," Cuse said. "The fate of New York is in the balance and it's going to get very intense this season."
The Strain's third season premieres Aug. 28 at 10 p.m ET on FX.