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Beware Visitors Bearing Gifts: In the Press Room with "V" Executive Producers Scott Peters and Jace Hall

Wondering just what to expect from the revival of V?

I caught up with creator/executive producer Scott Peters--who also created USA's much-missed sci-fi series The 4400--and executive producer Jace Hall in the press room for V last weekend at San Diego Comic-Con.

As for when we can expect to see V hit the small screen (it was originally announced by ABC as a midseason series), Peters had a bit of news that will come as a pleasant surprise for fans eagerly awaiting the launch.

"We're told November," said Peters. "We haven't gotten an exact date yet but what's great for us is that it was originally announced at Upfronts as a January show. I think we're pretty excited by the response that people are giving to it and, for whatever reason, they are pulled it up a few months and made us nervous for a second because, 'we have to go when?!?' But we're fine, we're actually going to start shooting on August 10th."

"I wrote the first one with an old mentor of mine, Sam Egan, and we have an awesome writers' room," said Peters of where the production is right now. "Jeff Bell has come aboard the show and I couldn't be happier. He's a terrific guy and an immense writer. We're breaking [Episode] Three, we're talking about [Episode] Four. The first one's written, the second one's being written. We're moving along."

As for who else has joined the writing staff, Peters and Hall threw out a ton of names, including Jeff Bell, Sam Egan, Cameron Litvack, Diego Gutierrez, Angela Russo-Otstot, Akela Cooper, Christine Roum, and Charles Murray, whom Peters described as a "terrific bunch of people."

Hall had one word for what's coming up thanks to the crack writing team they've assembled: "hotness."

What else did Peters and Hall have to say about the first season of V? Let's take a peek inside the press room at Comic-Con to find out. (WARNING: there are major SPOILERS for the pilot episode and beyond ahead!)

"The main theme that runs through all of the storylines is about blind devotion, whether it's blind devotion to your religion or to your partner in life or to anything, really," explained Peters. "Father Jack's big question at the beginning is how can I reconcile the reality of spaceships outside my window with what I know of the Bible. His faith is shaken a little bit and he's in the business of asking people to devote themselves to religion. He's a guy who used to step outside and look up at the sky where in his mind God would be and now there's a spaceship. Those sorts of themes run across the board."

Still, said Peters, he and Hall looked for ways to update the premise and make it more relevant for a contemporary audience.

"We try to bring new elements to the show that will play for an audience in 2009/2010," he explained. "You heard universal health care get a laugh [at the Comic-Con screening] because those topics are in the news right now, it's particularly topical right now. The media is obviously [playing a huge role]; there's such hugely driven celebrity that goes on in our society. I love that Anna tries to basically rig the election before anything can happen and Chad himself is a guy who's plucked out of obscurity. She didn't pick Tom Brokaw to do it, she picked the guy who wouldn't get up and leave. She's pretty good at manipulating folks."

"All great science fiction, at least in my view, has a real opportunity to make a comment on or look at the human condition in various ways," said Hall in response. "Taking the media as an angle is a really good way to look at... what we're willing to do. We're living in a Facebook/MySpace age and so are the characters that Scott and the team are writing. [We're also looking at] medical/health issues and how we can talk about those elements."

So what can we expect to see during the first season of V?

"We will absolutely be seeing more of Laura Vandervoort," said Peters of the former Smallville star who plays Visitor tour guide Lisa. "She was wonderful. She's joined the cast as a series regular. You can expect to see a lot more with Tyler as things move forward. She has a couple interesting things up her sleeve as well."

Still, despite the presence of genre stars Elizabeth Mitchell, Joel Gretsch, Morena Baccarin, and Alan Tudyk (just to name a few), Peters said that they didn't set out to cast a bunch of actors who had previously starred in sci-fi friendly series.

"The first thing we looked at was the right actor for the right role," explained Peters. "In fact, Father Jack was originally scripted as a much younger, late-20s, early-30s kind of guy. As we started to go through the casting process and we realized that Elizabeth Mitchell was going to be involved, we though maybe we needed to go a little older, a little more man's man. It was bizarre that literally we came back from ABC and we had had that discussion, Joel Gretsch called me and he said, 'Hey, what's happening? What are you doing right now?' And I said, 'It's funny you should call. What are you doing right now?' There was no particular design to go out and look for genre actors. It just so happened that (A) these folks were available, (B) they were perfect for the role, and (C) they had genre shows in the past. It's wonderful for us. We get 4400 fans and Firefly fans and Lost fans and we're hoping to collect all of those fan bases and put them into one ginormous, take-over-the-world fan base."

As for Alan Tudyk, who guest starred in the pilot episode as Erica's FBI partner Dale, Peters and Hall played their cards extremely close to the chest.

"Oooh, that's a hard question, because I don't want to give anything away," said Peters. "We love Alan. Clearly, the audience loves Alan and it would be awesome to find ways to maybe see him again somehow."

"Maybe," countered Hall.

Peters promised that Mitchell's Erica and Gretsch's Father Jack won't be the only characters involved in the underground human resistance force.

"It'll take a little time [for the resistance] to grow," said Peters, "but Georgie [played by David Richmond-Peck] will certainly be back and certainly we introduce some new folks along the way. But, yes, Elizabeth and Joel are not going to be the only ones fighting the war."

The war, of course, won't be the only problem that Erica will be dealing with head-on. She'll also have to contend with her son Tyler, who falls in with the Visitors early on, a development that has Erica rather worried about her wayward son.

"One of the great dynamics that really helps is that Erica is accused by her son of never being there," said Peters of Mitchell's character. "Because she's an FBI agent in the counter-terrorism division. So at 3 o'clock in the morning when the phone rings, she has to go. Or if it's the middle of the afternoon and they were going to do something, she's got to drop it and go. This has affected [Tyler] for how ever many years but now, in addition to that, she needs to be falling into leadership role of the resistance. So she is going to be struggling to find ways to keep her son safe and make sure that everything's okay with him but is going to be pulled in a different direction. So it's going to be a huge struggle for her to try and keep that relationship viable because she can't really tell her son what's going on. That's exactly going to be her issue: 'If I had a hard time fixing [my relationship with him] before, how the hell am I going to fix it now?'"

Should we view the arrival of the Visitors as the metaphor for a minority group?

"The idea is that the Visitors, certainly in the beginning of the pilot, are seen as these terrific people who come from another planet and are bringing all sorts of gifts and everyone is on board very quickly," said Peters. "And the Vistors have a very different agenda in terms of what they're coming to do and that does not bode well for us. Really, we saw in the pilot that not everyone is on board. There are protests about them. People are thinking, wait, everything's happening way too fast... We'll see more and more people dissatisfied and they'll have to find a way to quell all of that. You could look at the Visitors as a new minority that have shown up. You can sort of play to some of those themes, when they want to try to do something that's 'oh, my god, don't let them do that,' they can sort of say, well, we're just bringing you gifts and all these wonderful things, so why wouldn't you want all this."

Are there any plans to bring back cast members from the original series?

"I personally love the idea," said Peters, "I think there's probably a world where that will occur at some point. We still need to figure out in what capacity and there's a lot of decisions that need to be made that are predicated on factors that involve our creative needs--the studio, the network and so forth--but personally I think it's an awesome idea and I'd love to try it."

As for fans of the original V series, Peters and Hall say that they want to try to satisfy them as well as people who have never before watched a single episode of the original franchise.

"We want to engage them and tell a story that has similar themes but is a very different show," said Hall. "As Scott said on the panel, we're not trying to retread what was already done for a specific time frame and what played well during that time. We're in a different period now. Our audience has different expectations. You want to build a show that touches on concepts are individual, like aliens are here, but move the path in a different direction and tell new stories that engage not only the original audience but a new audience and try to widen it out as much as possible."

"The audience that does remember the show, to me, if I had nothing to do with V, I could come just out of curiosity," said Peters, "to see what the new version of this is. You can't please everybody all of the time. There are going to be people who [don't like it]. We can't force anybody to watch the show. The good news for them is that there is still the box set of the DVDs of the old show and they can watch the original as often as they want. We hope though that, before making that decision, they would at least give our show a chance and come and look at it and give it a few episodes."

And there's every indication that Peters and Hall are in it for the long-haul, envisioning a longer, ongoing series rather than a short-form limited run.

"There's a pretty in-depth plan involved as to whether we are doing thirteen episodes or twenty-two episode and we want to cap it at that. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end and we're looking to put game-changers throughout so that if we come back for another season, it changes things dramatically."

"I think that in terms of the mini-series versus series aspect, because we know right away that we're going for the long-term if it's a success, we're not going to go down the road [in the same way that] the old series did and become a war picture, with battles every week with a lot of action and running around," he continued. "We're going things a little differently. There's the feeling that if you stick your neck out, you'll get it chopped off [in this version] because they are so good at blending in and so good at spotting folks that don't belong that the next episode Erica and Jack and everyone need to find a way to not leave their lives and go join some resistance somewhere because, as you'll see in the next episode that comes up, that's the way you identify yourself and get eliminated very quickly."

Still, the new V series won't downplay the sci-fi action, but it will also juxtapose a very character-driven plot onto the action, said Peters.

"We're not going to shy away from an action element, by any means," said Peters. "It's just not going to be the driving force of the show... Yes, it's set against this huge science fiction backdrop, but I can watch spaceships for a couple of minutes and say, 'Yeah, it's cool. Now what have you got?' I can watch an action sequence for a couple of minutes and go, 'That's great. Now what have you got?' Characters have to be the thing that drive the show and that you really invest in, and when you do have the action sequences and you do come to the new technology, it's just icing on the cake. It's super cool."

As for the post-9/11 vibe of the pilot, it's very much intentional.

"9/11 has informed all of my storytelling," said Peters. "4400 was very much in the same vein and that's why I think I gravitated towards V came my way. To me, I just remember sitting, watching television in tears, having never been to New York in my life and not knowing anyone directly involved with what happened. But everyone was affected by the exact same event at the exact same moment and to see all of these different aspects of all of these different stories that people brought to it was incredibly moving to me."

"So for me, I love that type of storytelling: to have a large, ensemble cast that are all affected by one spectacular event--and I don't mean that in a good way--but in a huge event that affects everyone's lives and to see how that trickles down to their existence and their realities," he continued. "In a show like this, what's really fun is to get some unexpected crosses; you'll see characters that will through a very plausible way, cross each other in a very unexpected way. That's what we're discussing in the writers' room every day, 'What if these two crossed?' so I think that's going to be a lot of fun."

Peters and Hall revealed that some elements of the pilot episode will change before its broadcast on ABC, including some reshooting to amp up a particularly brutal battle between Visitors and the human resistance force, seen in the pilot.

"We're doing a little bit of reshooting for the fight, because we feel like we want to make the Visitors even more formidable and even more awesome," said Peters, who advised that the Visitors will also have some deadly weapons, which will make the battle even more savage. "We want to introduce some alien tech."

"The original intent was that they would come in with silent weaponry," Peters said. "They wouldn't be [on Earth] with guns and they wouldn't be with lasers, because if they ever got captured or anything happened, they didn't want a piece of alien technology lying around. They also didn't want to draw attention [to themselves]. So they're very adept at hand-to-hand combat, which all makes logical sense. The feeling was it lessened a little bit their ability to seem as formidable as they are. So we're going to be adjusting that a little bit."

As for said Visitor technology, look for it to play an increasingly visible role as the first season goes on, said Peters.

"We actually do want to introduce a tiny little bit of Visitor tech [each week]," he said. "What we're determined to do is introduce a little bit, a new piece of alien tech, Visitor tech, and try to do it every episode. Certainly, try to give a little bit of culture, peel back the onion of what their mandate is, what's really behind it, what's really going on, and just see the political stuff that goes on aboard the ship, just like we have political stuff underneath the ship."

But, make no mistake, they'll also be exploring what's going on inside the mothership as well.

"Hell yeah! That's also a mandate of ours for ourselves," said Peters. "Yes, it's mostly an earthbound show, but we love the candy of going up and seeing the inside of this place..."

"It absolutely fuels the story," said Hall. "To get back on my sci-fi soapbox, which is that great sci-fi always has this element of discovery. It's important and there's no better place to do it than on the ship."

Lastly, Hall and Peters said that there is a "complex" multi-media and online tie-in element for V but it is "top-secret," according to Hall. "The universe that's being built is being built to support all of these other things [in various media] without interfering with each other." The network and the studio have some very big plans in store, so stay tuned.

V is set to launch later this season on ABC.

Comments

Jo said…
Great interview and information, Jace! I am very excited for V and loved the pilot. You know how I feel about Liz Mitchell; that I did not think about Juliet once during the V pilot speaks volumes about her talent.

Also, fantastic news that we may be treated to the series as early as November!
Barrett said…
This was great! I was a huge fan of The 4400 and am really looking forward to V. And I'm thrilled to hear that it will be airing in November!
piemaker77 said…
The cast for this is amazing and I've heard great things about the pilot. My expectations are high!

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