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'Outer Banks' co-creators talk Netflix, the UNC-Duke rivalry and the ferry to Chapel Hill

A student watches the Netflix show "Outer Banks" on his computer on Monday, May 18, 2020. This hit show, created by two UNC alumni, was released on April 15 and has since risen to the top of Netflix TV ratings.

Fans of the Netflix show “Outer Banks” may have the Tar Heels' 2017 national championship win to thank for the show. 

Shannon Burke and Josh Pate, the show’s co-creators, attended UNC and were friends for years before 2017. But the Tar Heels' drive to the national championship rekindled this friendship and led to Pate and Burke talking almost every day. 

Those conversations led to the idea for the show “Outer Banks,” Pate said. 

“Outer Banks” first premiered on Netflix on April 15. A few weeks later, it hit number one on the streaming platform. 

If you haven’t already seen it, “Outer Banks” tells the story of teenagers living on the fictional Kildare Island, North Carolina. The show begins with John B., played by Chase Stokes, embarking on a treasure hunt to find the shipwreck of The Royal Merchant along with his group of friends. Add class conflict, star-crossed lovers and plenty of narrow escapes, and you’ve got the hit Netflix series. 

But years before Burke and Pate’s latest success, the two were students at UNC, studying English and enjoying indie music. 

Memories at UNC

Burke, who graduated in 1988, said he remembers his favorite study spot as the lounge of the eighth floor of Davis Library overlooking the Pit. 

“I swear I must have spent — I almost spent more time there than anywhere else,” Burke said. 

On Franklin Street, Pate, class of 1992, said he frequented Pepper's Pizza and Cat’s Cradle before it moved to its current location in Carrboro in 1993. 

“There was such an unbelievable indie rock scene when we were there, like it was exploding,”  Pate said. “It was often called the next Seattle.”

Burke and Pate credited their English and creative writing professors for their support and mentorship. 

“I wouldn’t be a writer if it weren’t for going to Carolina,” Burke said. 

“They were so supportive and cool, and really made you believe that you could do it,” Pate said. 

Pate and Burke both majored in English. Despite receiving an unsatisfying grade on a paper about Nietzsche, Pate said professor Reid Barbour in the English and Comparative Literature department played an important role in his academic career.

Although he has not seen the show, Barbour said he appreciates how the show posits archival work as a part of the adventure. 

“To dedicate yourself to an English major when Josh was an English major was also to dedicate yourself to history, and to digging up history,” Barbour said. 

Creating “Outer Banks”

Pate said a photo of a power outage in the Outer Banks inspired the initial conversation between Burke and himself. 

“There was a photograph of all these darkened mansions at dusk,” Pate said. “It was such an evocative photograph … I had grown up on the Carolina coast, and it kind of just spurred a little creative instinct.” 

Much of the inspiration for the setting stemmed from spending time in Wilmington, North Carolina, Pate said. 

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“Even though the show is called the Outer Banks, and even though the show is not completely realistic, a lot of the way I would imagine scenes had to do with the area around Wrightsville Beach,” Pate said. 

While Burke and Pate were planning on filming in Wilmington, North Carolina, the show was filmed in Charleston, South Carolina, because of a standing policy at Netflix in opposition to the 2016 House Bill 2 and its replacement House Bill 142. 

On set, Burke and Pate agreed — it felt like a constant, chaotic party. 

“As soon as the cameras stopped rolling, people were throwing Frisbees and footballs and joking; it was sort of an ongoing happy vibe that you could see on screen,” Burke said. “That feeling between the actors, who all become friends and good friends, it sort of continued onto the set.”

Connections to Chapel Hill

While the show focuses on life by the coast, Pate and Burke included nods to their alma mater throughout the show. 

In one episode, a character is seen wearing a UNC hat. In episode four, the characters take a trip from the Outer Banks to Chapel Hill to visit the state archives, housed today in Wilson Library. 

And yes, Pate and Burke know you cannot take a ferry from the Outer Banks to Chapel Hill. 

Burke said the characters take the ferry to get from the island to the mainland, then an Uber from the mainland to Chapel Hill. The shot of them getting into the car was cut out, but when the characters arrive, they can be seen getting out of a car. 

“So it’s actually on-screen, and then we were still misunderstood,” Burke said. 

Other criticisms from “geography trolls” have pointed out how the show doesn’t actually resemble the Outer Banks, Pate said. 

“They’re like, ‘It doesn’t look like the Outer Banks,’ or, ‘You can’t take a ferry to Chapel Hill,’” Pate said. “I’m like, ‘It’s fiction, bro.’”

And believe it or not, a love for UNC basketball and a passion for the Tobacco Road rivalry made it into the narrative. Burke later said in an email that the show does acknowledge Duke — subtly. 

“When we were naming our villain, we were having trouble with the last name, and we just decided to name him after the most hated place in (the) universe,” Burke wrote. “His name, if you remember, is Ward Cameron.”

Rise to success 

While creating the show, the team felt confident throughout the process. But Pate and Burke said they did not anticipate just how successful the show would be. 

“The story was dynamic and the kids were doing a great job,” Burke said. “Everybody seemed to be pulling in the right direction. You can tell when something is going wrong — it felt like it was going right.” 

Pate described the show’s success after its original release date as a gradual process. 

“It kept going higher on Netflix, and weird things started happening,” Pate said. “The cast started to text with Drake and stuff — everything that just got weirder and weirder and weirder.” 

Weeks after its release, Burke thought, "Holy shit. This is a hit.”  

Although Netflix has not confirmed a second season, Burke and Pate are already working on the script for season two. They said they feel confident about the show’s return. 

And looking ahead to the UNC men’s basketball, Pate said he hopes that next season will be better than the last.


@DTHCityState |