Mrs. Davis Co-Creator Tara Hernandez On Crafting Peacock's Wild New Sci-Fi Series [Exclusive Interview]

One might not imagine that one of the writers of "The Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon" would be behind one of 2023's most anticipated, high-concept sci-fi shows, but that's exactly the situation we find ourselves in. Hailing from Tara Hernandez, "Mrs. Davis" debuts on Peacock later this month, with Damon Lindelof, of "Lost" and "The Leftovers" fame, serving as co-creator on the series alongside her. Based on the reception coming out of this year's SXSW, it promises to be a wild ride.

The show stars Betty Gilpin ("The Hunt") and focuses on a nun who is making it her mission to destroy the most powerful artificial intelligence in the world. Having seen a couple of episodes, that hardly scratches the surface of just how wild this show is. That scope and ambition on display is probably why the first four episodes are going to debut all at once.

I had the very good fortune of speaking with both Lindelof and Hernandez in honor of the show's forthcoming release. You can read my interview with Lindelof here. As for my chat with Hernandez, we spoke about how she cooked up the idea for the show, how she got paired with Lindelof just before the pandemic, how tough it is to break through the noise in the streaming era, how long they envision the show running, and much more.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'The next day, the pandemic hit'

Hi there, how are you doing?

I'm actually so excited to talk to you because actually I'm very hopeful /Film will embrace the show or else my husband won't like it, because he pretty much likes whatever [/Film] does.

You're kidding.

He's a big fan.

We love your husband.

He's a big fan. But his, I would say, tastes are very much in line with a lot of your tastes.

Let's talk about how you are primarily known for "Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon." "Mrs. Davis" is not that.

No, not at all. It is quite the departure. I think that it's a happy, creative marriage of myself and Damon, but also, I think, this is the most in line for the stories I've always wanted to tell, the things that I watch and enjoy myself and what's on in our house. So this is probably just as close to my personal identity. If they're going to give you a show, you're like, "Make a thing that you're going to watch." I am a student of [Steven] Spielberg, "Indiana Jones," and [Quentin] Tarantino, and all those classics. It was like, "How do we distill that down into a TV show and have a really good time doing it?"

You mentioned "if" you get to make a TV show, because that's a huge thing on its own.


But if you could, explain to me the pyramid of — do you come to Damon? Does Damon come to you? How do you end up at Peacock? How did this come together?

Warner Bros. produced "Big Bang Theory." I'm on an overall deal there, I was working for them. Damon as well. "Big Bang" was ending and I knew in advance it was going to end. I'm looking for the next step. Also just grappling with my own — the conclusion of a nine-year creative journey. I was on that show for nine years. So I wrote a script that reflected just how I was feeling about ending at the time. It was a pretty dark, pretty dystopian world, very Damon Lindelof.

You don't say.

It's a joke between us now that I've never seen "The Leftovers" and that I would pitch stories for "Mrs. Davis," and he'd be like, "Oh, we did that on 'The Leftovers.'" Like, "I've never seen 'The Leftovers.'" I actually stopped watching it because I felt that my writing was too similar and I was afraid that I was going to just copy. So I said, "I need to put a pause on this." That's the real story. So I wrote this script. The studio puts it on Damon's desk. He is just finishing "Watchmen." He's looking for his next project. He's reading new writers and he reads my script. We meet up, "Watchmen" is the biggest show. It is just culturally explosive.

And an absolute miracle. It felt like tempting fate and then, lo and behold, they pulled it off.

I know. It did so many things, but it was such a critical darling and a personal favorite of mine. So when they say, "Do you want meet with David Lindelof?" I'm like, "Who's joking?" I'm literally sitting on a swing set on the "Young Sheldon" set.

What a weird juxtaposition that is.

It is so weird.

Can you imagine saying no? "No, I'm good."

Yeah. I'm like, "Who? I've never heard of this 'Leftovers' thing" [laughs]. So we have our initial meet and, Damon, obviously he's a writer that I've long respected, but just his taste, and when you go into his office and you see what he likes. He's got Pee-wee Herman's bike.

Wait, does he really?

He has a replica.

Okay. I was like, "Oh my God, that's amazing."

That was my initial reaction, I was like, "Let's talk about this."

You're like, "Can we ride it?"

"You stole it." [laughs] So we instantly got on about things that we like in addition to the work. It was left a little open-ended. Then the next day the pandemic hit.

Excellent timing.

It was perfect. I was like, "I think I'm going to go to the grocery store after this and maybe get some pasta."

'I like to use the word 'adventure''

Everybody was panic-buying toilet paper.

Toilet paper, huge panic-buying toilet paper. I still have bags of rice as if I was a contestant on "Survivor" and that's what I was sustained on. But it was such a weird time. Then we reconnected two weeks into a California shutdown. I think we were both just looking for an escape for ourselves from that time. He was like, "I'm around." It's like, "I am, too." So we would just get on these phone calls and we just started talking. He talked a lot about the script that I had wrote, which had nuns as the lead characters. He felt, and I agreed with him, that script was too dark. We were living through some really dark, really scary times. He's like, "I don't want to do dark again, but I do like your writing. What can we do?" So we liked the nuns. We liked this kind of "five minutes in the future"-set world.

Inevitably, we would just devolve to talking about, "Did you buy toilet paper?" He had some weird glove thing that he would use to open doors at the time. "Are you using your gloves?" We didn't touch door handles. It would also become this, "What do you know? What information do you have? Who are your doctor friends? What are they saying?" We craved information. Craved answers. Craved for someone to tell us what to do.

It's interesting having seen the first episode now, I wouldn't have thought of it as a pandemic show, but now I'm sort of seeing that. It's very difficult to describe.

It is. Good luck.

How would you describe the show in your own words to people that have no idea what they're getting into?

I like to include the word "adventure." For me, it has a connotation that I think puts it in a different category. Because when you're just faith versus technology, that can be "The Terminator." That can be "The Matrix." It can be anything really heavy. I think I like to use a nun goes on an epic adventure to find the Holy Grail to destroy an all powerful A.I. If you can throw all those things in there, that does the job for me.

'I can't stop thinking about this show'

You mentioned Warner Bros. is behind this. You started this journey in the pandemic. As we know, Discovery bought Warner Media. During that time. Did you experience any tumultuousness with the show as a result of that merger?

It definitely didn't directly affect [the show]. I think more than anything, any big upheaval or personnel change can just put tension on the project.


I think anyone who works for a company that is at a point of change will just say it does trickle down into making TV hard, and making TV under conditions of change is even harder. I love Warner Bros. and more than that, I love Peacock. I think the two sorted together were just a perfect marriage for us, because Susan Rovner, who's now the head of Peacock, she was at Warner Bros. at the time. She's actually responsible for putting [Damon and I] together. I'd met with her for my script and she [said], "You have to meet Damon." She was still at Warner Bros. when we first pitched the project, we did like, I'll say, a baby pitch just to like, "This is what we've been thinking of for a couple of months, are you interested for us to continue, or is that garbage?" "Keep going. Not total garbage, but flesh it out."

So then, by the time we really had it together, she had gone over to Peacock. One of her first orders of business there was like, "I can't stop thinking about this show. I love it. I would love to have it. Please consider us." So I credit her being at Warner Bros. with the drive to go to Peacock and this is a perfect show for them because they, I think, are looking for a brand identity coming on the heels of "Poker Face." Being a really auteur-led — I think what Rian [Johnson] and Natasha [Lyonne] did with that show, if that's what they do, is they give it to the creatives and they bring on really strong creatives and then execute a vision? What a freaking awesome place to be.

Well, it does finally feel like in the midst of all this streaming craziness, "Poker Face" was their first real breakout. So it feels almost like the timing is pretty great in the sense that they finally started getting that identity a little bit.

I absolutely agree. Warner Bros., the pressure I would say was not ever more than what you expect from your studio who's giving you a lot of money to make a TV show and wants a great product. You could ask my higher producers if we were insulated from that pressure or not, but it's been a great partnership.

'We all need to put everything on film, put it in a vault and protect it'

I've not seen a ton of the show, admittedly, but this feels like the kind of thing where, especially because I know Damon got into some of this with "Lost" years ago where they just were chasing their tails, so how long would you ideally see this going? Is this a one season show? Is it a four season show? Do you have a rough idea of where you guys would like it to go?

Yeah, I think we really, and just my personal tastes, I really love a great season of television. I love a story that's introduced. I love a nice conclusion on it. I think we had to know where we were ending up. We pitched the show, when we pitched it, it was very important to have the landing place.

That is nice to hear.

Yes. It has a landing place. We had to know what the North Star was, especially in a show that can feel like, "Is this going to go off the rails? Are they just going to be chasing their tails?" Just my personal preference about storytelling, whether that comes from really loving feature films or just loving a hero's journey that's a really closed-loop narrative, I think the world of "Mrs. Davis" is such that it has legs, but I think it is a great eight episodes. If that's what it is, it's just a really nice story. And people will be satisfied.

And it's up to them. They'll let us know. But yeah, I love the world. It's been really fun. I love the people we get to work with. I would love to do more and I think it can sustain more, but I will be very, very proud if it's eight and done.

I remember for years everyone was yelling at me, "Watch 'Game of Thrones.' Come on, you'll love it." I will never forget when that last season aired, the amount of people that just shut up about it. Movies are my thing, so when I get caught up in TV, I'm like, "Is this going somewhere?"

Exactly. Yeah. There were so many threads to tie up in that show. I think for us, it is Simone's story, her arc. Especially when you do a quest for the Holy Grail and a treasure hunt, you're like, "Are we going to be looking for this thing for four seasons? Come on."

Yeah. "Where's the cup?" for four seasons feels a little...

Exactly, if that's what it even is. I think that's the way of streaming now, they're going to get four episodes. So it's a month-long commitment, like a five-week commitment, and by the end of five weeks, the chatter will be like, "Oh, it does have an ending." So it isn't like a season of television with 24 episodes where you have to wait for someone to tell you, "Oh, it does wrap up."

People will know in a good amount of time. I think that's why it was important for us to give critics as much of it as we can. We'll give you all of it, where they can confidently tell their readers, to my husbands of the world, who are like, "What did they think?" You can say it's good.

What we've seen lately is this weird impermanence with streaming where stuff is just now no longer available anywhere, which is wild. But you are making this for a streaming service in an era where streaming is uncertain. Do you have any fear that this may just not one day be able to be watched anywhere? Have you talked to Peacock like, "Can we please get a physical media release?" Is this something you've thought about at all?

God, now I am.

I'm so sorry to put that out there.

I was like, "I saw 'Westworld' just evaporate from society." I had the real privilege of working on a show that is, I was told that "Big Bang" is still one of the top five streaming shows on HBO Max. It has so much permanence. That is — love it or not, it's around.

You're going to get those residuals forever. Don't you worry.

Beautiful. I love this jacket. Thank you, Sheldon.

That's your "Big Bang" jacket.

It is. It's got that comedy vibe. Absolutely. [laughs] That is the nature of what we're doing. I love "Patriot." I love "Servant" on Apple [TV+]. I love these smaller shows that only live in our hearts and in our minds. If I tell someone to watch it, they're like, "I don't know where to see that." It is scary. So we all need to put everything on film, put it in a vault and protect it, or send it into space ... For us, I think the greatest thing is just that it's a part of conversation now. That's all you can really hope for.


There's so much great stuff. There's so much great stuff I intend to watch that I don't get around to, maybe because you guys didn't tell us to watch it. But I feel that the biggest mark of success isn't being evergreen, but being at least people watched it now. At least a couple of your friends are going to be able to talk about this show.

With how much TV there is now, if you can break through, it's nuts.

If three people you know are recommending a show, great. That is a huge success.

It's wild. "Yellowstone" is the biggest show on TV. I know two people that watch it. It's really weird how that happens.

I'm the closest to watching "Yellowstone." I'm like, "This wouldn't have been something on my radar." But I'm angling towards it in a way I never thought I would. I'm not going to watch it, unfortunately, mad respect for everything that Tyler Sheridan does.

He'll have to just live with it in his house made of money.

He's fine. He doesn't need me.

"Mrs. Davis" premieres on April 20, 2023 on Peacock.