KNOXVILLE, Tenn — A group of working-class teens go on a treasure hunt tied to a disappearance. There’s young love and tensions with the upper crust of society.
That is the storyline of “Outer Banks," one of the most-watched Netflix series in 2020. Its co-creator and writer, Shannon Burke, just happens to call Knoxville home.
He said it’s hard to process the show's popularity.
“It’s just so much bigger than anything that’s ever happened," he said.
Burke does much of his writing in bed where he weaves the plots and creates the characters that had America binge-watching during COVID-19 quarantine.
His writing journey began decades before "Outer Banks."
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Burke moved around the country writing fiction. He eventually landed in New Orleans. It’s there that his career path took a turn after he witnessed a shocking crime, a murder in the street.
“I decided to become a paramedic, an EMT first. I just moved to New York to work on an ambulance. I figured it’s a good job,” said Burke.
The first responder continued to write. Burke pulled from his real-life experiences working in the busiest unit in the city and placed them in his books. Hollywood took notice.
A movie director read a draft of Burkes’ first novel and gave him the opportunity to work on the 2002 film “Abandon.” At the same time, his former wife took a job at the University of Tennessee.
“We moved down here and so I just kept writing," he said.
Flash forward to 2017. Burke and a college friend and fellow writer were looking to collaborate on a project. They found inspiration in a picture of the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina after a hurricane.
“It was completely black and we’re looking at it, like 'God, look at how magical that is.' We were thinking maybe we should try to set something to it, so we started thinking of characters and one thing led to another," he said.
They got to writing and pitched their vision to Hollywood executives. Netflix bought it and the Outer Banks story became reality.
It finally hit the writer when he paid a visit to the set in Charleston where the series is shot.
“It’s a gigantic office park and it says Outer Banks on the front. I’m like ‘Oh, my God, look at this place.’ There are hundreds of people walking around and I realized this is real,” said Burke.
Season 1 was a hit. Season 2 will be released on July 30. Season 3 is in the works and a new series is on the horizon called “Blue Ridge."
Burke said it’s a murder mystery at a wilderness therapy school. Netflix bought the pitch, but Burke adds there are no guarantees.
“It’s really hard to get a show, so your chances of failure are always bigger than your chances for success," he said.