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Visitors Among Us: The Cast and Crew of ABC's "V" Face the Press

V fans may want to hold onto their hats (or whatever else is nearby) as ABC announced that the series will now launch on Tuesday, November 3rd at 8 pm ET/PT on ABC rather than in midseason. (The news echoes comments made by executive producer Scott Peters to me at Comic-Con.)

ABC announced the change in scheduling at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour session for V, which featured cast members Elizabeth Mitchell, Morris Chestnut, Joel Gretsch, Lourdes Benedicto, Morena Baccarin, and Scott Wolf and executive producers Scott Peters and Jeffrey Bell. Or rather the cast of the alien invasion drama announced it... in unison, no less.

So what else did the cast and crew have to say about their upcoming first season? Let's discuss.

Executive producer Scott Peters was asked right off the bat about the fact that so many of V's cast members have appeared on a slew of genre series before getting cast in this project and whether that was an intentional, calculated move.

"We're trying to get every single, science fiction fan who's ever lived to come and watch our show," joked Peters. "No, we obviously went for the best actors we could possibly find, and as we went through this, we're, like, "Oh, hey, somebody from The 4400 and Serenity and Lost. Listen, we love our cast. They're wonderful. They're really not very attractive people, as you can see. (Laughs.) But it's a nice bonus that a lot of folks have appeared in genre shows in the past, but it was not designed that way."

So how different is this incarnation of V from the one that came before?

"None of us would be here without Ken Johnson, who did the original V miniseries, which was obviously a phenomenal success," responded Peters. "So we owe a lot to him. In that vein, we wanted to make sure as we moved forward that we made sure that we honored and respected the characters and the themes that that show envisioned and tried not to step on those and introduced brand new characters and brand new themes that would make sense in a post-9/11 world. So it's really an honor to be able to take the story forward. We're hoping to bring a whole new set of fans as well as the folks who watched it originally."

One of the major changes to the new V series is that the reveal that the aliens are actually scaly-faced reptilian creatures underneath the human-looking skin comes quite early and is handled with a minimum of a-ha trickery. Which was the intent, said Peters.

"I think there was an obvious huge awareness of the original," he said. "There are a lot of people who haven't seen it, but by the time we get to air, we feel like this is not the big surprise that everyone is going to gasp over. We really want to contain [telling] that story that is sort of already known out there so that we can leap forward in very quick manner so that we don't sort of build and build and build to something that people already know. Hopefully, we do it in an artful way and in a twist-filled way that will make folks who haven't seen the show before jump a little bit. Our cast jumped, which was awesome. (Laughs) And really try to bring a new audience to it as well."

Elizabeth Mitchell said that she watched the original series on television when she was a child. "I did watch the show when I was a kid," she said. "I think I was about 13. I was allowed to watch an hour of television with my parents. I really liked it. I liked the escape of it, and I liked the entertainment of it. It was a fun night for me. We kind of made a celebration of it, and I hope that other teenagers will do that with their parents. It's something that kids don't do as much anymore. Oh, my God, I sound like I'm 80. (Laughs.) But, yes, I did watch it back in the day."

Morena Baccarin was asked about her performance as Anna, the face of the Visitors, which one critic described as "every kind of a sweet-faced PR person for a seedy cigarette company."

"I have big shoes to fill as being, I guess, the face of what people want to see, and there's kind of no way to prepare on how to play an alien," said Baccarin. "I did some research, but there's not a lot out there. So, you know, I think I just am trying my best to be as trustworthy as I can be and to be what I would like somebody to be like if they were to come down to Earth, and I think there's an aspect of politicians in that because you need to embody what everybody of every nationality and need wants to see and at the same time you have your own agenda."

Scott Wolf, who plays ambitious journalist Chad Decker, said that he appreciated that critics saw a shading of a legitmate journalist in his performance.

"I appreciate you seeing the legitimate journalist in him; I see that as well," said Wolf. "I think he's a guy who's had success doing what he's doing, but he sees himself a lot further along than he's been able to get thus far. But amongst all the different themes that our producers and writers are dealing with, one of them is integrity versus ambition, and this guy's an incredibly ambitious guy, but there's also a sense of wanting to be a great journalist and be a voice for people so that when spaceships descend over the major cities of the world, he wants people to think, "What is Chad Decker saying about this?" So I think part of the fun of seeing how the character develops will be that relationship between his ambition and his journalistic integrity and which one wins out."

Jeffrey Bell said that the shadow of 9/11 definitely casts its spell over V and was a major influence on the tone of the revival, which is very different from the original.

"I think it's quite a bit different, and in terms re-imagining the original series," said Bell. "The original series, to me, felt very much like a military show almost. It was a resistance and gun fights, and there was a very clear and present enemy. They wore uniforms, and it was the Cold War. It was the Nazis, whoever it was. And post-9/11, that's not who our enemy is anymore. There is no other single threat. It's terrorists, and it's the guy across the street or the woman next door, and who do you trust? And I think one of the things we're trying to do is we have humans who are traitors, and we have Visitors who have a nefarious agenda, and we have Visitors who are heroes."

"And so not knowing who or what someone is and playing the paranoia that we all experience living in a world where we wake up every day and everything is at an orange alert," he continued, "I think the way we're trying to do it is, first off, not be a military show in terms [that] we're not a country at war the way we have [been] in the past, but we are a country very much fractured and struggling with all these issues. I think we've tried to tell stories that regular people -- moms and FBI agents and teenagers -- keeping them in their lives, have to figure out what they're supposed to do.

"Honestly, I'm fascinated by stories that there's a huge over-arching event," said Peters, "that there's a huge universal something that has touched everybody, and how does that affect a priest and an FBI agent and a teenager and a financier and this common thread that runs through all these very different stories. And they all start with very different storylines, which gives us the chance to allow these characters to cross in really unexpected ways and come together, pull apart, and those are just really interesting stories to tell, I think."

So, will Morena Baccarin's Anna eat a rat as the original's Diana did so memorably?

"Whenever we talk to people who saw the original and they [say], 'Oh, my God. I love the original," we go, "What do you love?" And they mention about four or five things, and the rat, guinea pig, bunny, mouse [is up there]," said Bell. "We get a lot of takes on it, but that's one of the things that everyone mentions, and we would be morons if we didn't find a way in the series to pay homage [to it.]"

"You found like the prettiest girl you could possibly find," Mitchell chimed in, "and you're going to make her eat a rodent!"

"We asked her if she had any problems with rodents," said Peters, "and she said, "No." That was her fault."

"I don't mind holding them," joked Baccarin.

"That was before she got the part," joked Morris Chestnut. "Now she cares about it."

"Actors getting a part will say anything," joked Mitchell.

"We're going to say, we want to find a way to do it, but if we just had her do exactly what happened in the original," said Bell in all seriousness, "been there, done that."

"There are other iconic moments certainly within the original that we will find our way of paying homage to," added Peters.

As for Alan Tudyk, who guest stars in the pilot as the partner of FBI Agent Erica Evans (Mitchell), the producers said that he'll be back on the series in some capacity. (Mitchell herself said of Tudyk: "I love him. I want him, love him.)

As for the Visitors' motives in the revival series, don't expect it to be the same as the one in the original, which was basically: steal our water and eat us for dinner.

"It would not be the same as what it was because, again, that's been done," said Bell.

Still, if producers get their wish, actors from the original V could turn up in the revival series, much in the same way that Richard Hatch joined the cast of Battlestar Galactica as a new character.

"I personally like that idea," said Peters. "We talk about it a little bit in the writers' room and we'll obviously develop that as we go forward. But I think it's fun for the fans. I think it's fun just to see those actors show up... It wouldn't be in the same roles, but it would be sort of at an unexpected moment in, perhaps, an unexpected role that would be a little bit of a tip of the hat to the old fans. You know, I think everybody is fair game, but we'll certainly develop that as we move forward. I love the idea, personally."

Peters and Bell said that they have firm plans for the series in terms of overarching storylines and plots.

"The original [V] was conceived as a miniseries," said Bell. "So it was built that way. And knowing that we are built for longer, we've structured the end that way. We've set up the first season so, by the end of the first season, you know what the Visitors' agenda is and sort of where characters end up, on which side of the line they will be by the end of first season."

"That would be our first chunk," he continued. "And then the second season, beginning there, we have a whole different arc again, but we are very much interested in keeping our characters in their own lives. He's going to stay at the church. She's going to stay with the FBI. Chad is going to be a journalist. Ryan is going to be the finance guy he is. And Val is a therapist. Everybody is going to stay in their lives because we think it's more interesting for people watching the show to see someone more like themselves versus 'we are now on the run from an invading army,' and I think we are different that way as well."

Some of the themes of the V pilot--such as the emphasis on universal health care might seem, as Peters put it "freakishly prescient," but Peters said that the series has been in development for quite some time now.

"Because of the Writers' Guild strike, this show has been in development for a long time," he said. "We are not looking to put any sort of agenda onto the table, but I wake up in the morning and you look at the news, and you see there's wars, there's new diseases being discovered, there's old diseases that we are dealing with. The economy is in the toilet. There are people losing their homes. Wouldn't it be awesome if 29 ships showed up and they all said, 'We've got this. We'll take care of you. Don't worry about it'? Wouldn't this be great? And so, I mean, that's really where hope and change came from. Joel [Gretsch] has a line in the pilot that says, "The world is in bad shape, Father. Who wouldn't welcome a savior?" And I think that's a pretty interesting thesis statement. So that's kind of where this whole thing sort of came from. And, listen, I think that shows are open to interpretation. People bring subjective thoughts to it. And if you want to ascribe those words to the Visitors or to whatever is going on in our society, that's sort of up to the viewer, but there's no particular agenda to hone in on those specific things."

Asked to clarify Bell's statement, Peters later said: "I think that if you are bringing something to a show and watching it, looking for something in it, you can find it whether you are on one side of the political spectrum or the other. The main theme of the show is dealing with blind devotion, and I think that you can sort of look at that in two different ways. People will bring to it what they bring to it, and I think it's our job as storytellers to put some provocative things out there and leave things open to interpretation to really bring an audience to it and really be compelled by it. And if one group wants to claim it as their show and another group wants to claim it as their show, that's their prerogative."

"Look, there are always going to be people who will look for agendas in everything," countered Bell. "This show was conceived during the Bush administration. It got executed in an Obama administration. There are people on either sides of the aisle who can find things. You can say, 'Yeah, look how stupid these people are for following blindly and believing everything the government is saying,' and you can have people who are upset about that. And you can have other people saying, 'Look at these people who are promising everything at no cost, and look, they are leading them to their own doom.' And so, for us, both sides have strengths and weaknesses. Let's get people to
show up and watch it and talk about it. But to try to tie it to the birthers or anything is kind of ridiculous."

However, the emphasis this time around is certainly not on a metaphor for the rise of Fascism as in the original, said producers.

"The fear at the time was Fascism," explained Bell. "It was Communism. That was the fear, and that's not the fear now. And we are talking about the metaphors and allegories here, and at a certain level, I just want to remind people it's a show about spaceships on ABC at 8 pm.. And I mean that seriously in that there's this wish fulfillment element of it. And so if everything came true, you would be really excited, and then if it started to turn or you were one of the two or three people who seemed crazy because you knew more about it than anybody else or you didn't believe it, we are really interested on almost a personal level. What does a mom do? What does a priest do? What does a kid do? And how this works politically is fun for people to talk about, but as we are breaking the stories, we are really looking to tell really exciting, entertaining, emotional stories that these guys can do what they do with."

"When we originally conceived the show, I opened up and broadened the theme to be about blind devotion," Peters chimed in. "What happens when you don't ask questions about the things you believe in? And I think that can be applied across the board whether you are talking about a political issue or a religious issue or a relationship issue, any number of things. And so, to me, that was what was really an interesting place to look into to deal with themes across many different storylines."

Do the producers feel any pressure to make V overloaded with the sort of mythology-based mysteries and complexities of fellow ABC drama Lost?

"Sure," admitted Bell. "I think what's different about telling this story now is there are people are live-blogging and die-hard fans who are freezing frames and TiVo-ing and finding Easter eggs to see what happened on Lost or Battlestar or any other awesome shows out there, and so it's our job to build those in for those people but to keep the story simple and clean enough that people who just show up at 8 pm can just enjoy watching the show. But we are aware of both, and we are doing our best to balance that."

Back in May at the Upfronts, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said that V is being conceived as series with a four-year storyline. Is that still valid?

"We're looking at this first chunk as we've got it all mapped out," said Peters. "In fact, before the show was sold, there was a pretty solid direction to everything. And so Jeff came aboard, and we talked more about it. And as things developed, we certainly know where we are going the first season. We know where we are going the second season. We have a pretty solid plan all the way through. I did a show previous to this that was very serialized, and it helped a lot to know exactly where you were going so that you weren't making it up as you were going along because that just is too painful, and we spent time too many nights staying up."

"We know what the end is," added Bell. "We know where we are going. And whether that's three years or four years or beyond that, you know, look, it's gravy. But there is a plan, and we will stick to that."

So what does V's original creator, Kenneth Johnson, think about this new incarnation?

"I had a meeting with Ken at the very beginning," said Peters. "We sat down and got a chance to meet him. I was very happy to meet him. And one of the other executive producers, Jace Hall, has been in close contact with him throughout this project, and he wishes us well, which is great. This is, as I was saying earlier, a brand-new take on the show. As I said, we want to pay lots of honor and salute to him for starting this whole thing. And so he wishes us well, and we thank him for that."

Still, the notion of propaganda as an invasion tool seems to apply to both versions of V.

"Yeah," said Bell. "And in a sense, the interesting thing to us is propaganda has just become advertising, and everything is branded, and everything is turned into a product. And so the V's are going to do that. The V's are going to brand themselves. The V's are going to advertise and promote, and we are all going to want to love the V's."

For Mitchell, V is the opportunity to play a character very different than the ones she's played thus far in her career.

"I'm always surprised, always grateful, and always giggling a little bit," said Mitchell about getting to play a full-out hero. "So I hope to continue to feel that way. I loved my role on Lost. I thought it was incredibly rich, and I enjoyed every minute of playing it. And I really thought I was going to take a break in between doing that and doing this and doing the bit of Lost that I had left. And I have to say that my manager called and said that Morris [Chestnut] had read the V script and that he really liked it. So I thought, 'Well, if he liked it, then I should read it.' So I read it, and I really did fall in love with the character. And I called over one of my best friends, and I had her read it, and she also fell in love with the character."

"I like playing a traditional hero," continued Mitchell. "I don't think I've ever done it before, and I think it's big shoes to fill because we've had some amazing heroes. I did a panel with Sigourney Weaver, and she said she always chooses male roles because she felt like they are meatier. But this indeed started out as a woman in this incarnation, and then, in the previous one, I believe it was a man. So I'm incredibly excited, and I do feel like it's a lot, and I'm hoping to step up to it. "

V is working with special effect house Zoic--who provided special effects for Firefly--and producers said that they will be keeping up the same level of technical wizardry seen in the pilot episode.

"We were very, very conscious of this as we moved forward," said Peters. "We didn't want to be able to sort of promise something we couldn't deliver every week. And we are sort of on the cutting edge of some really interesting technology in terms of how we present the entry of the spaceship, for instance. We are able to actually shoot all of that on a green screen. And the spaceship is built in a virtual world, and it allows us to collect assets. In other words, we can build these enormous-looking sets in a computer. We can go back to them. We can reconfigure them. We can pop a camera into the virtual set and turn it a different direction and see something that looks like a very different place that we've never seen before. So that gives us the creative ability to really expand upon that so that we aren't leaving everybody in the dark in terms of really wowing everyone on a weekly basis, and that's really what we are striving for. But, obviously, first it's a character-driven show, and we need to deliver that first and foremost. The visual effects and all of the fun eye candy is frosting on the cake but really important frosting."

"We are visiting the ship every episode," he continued. "We are seeing ships in the sky every episode. We shoot in Vancouver, so we have to make Vancouver look like New York. So things that don't look like visual-effect shots are actually visual-effect shots. We are well-stocked and well aware of what we have to accomplish every week.

V premieres November 3rd at 8 pm on ABC


Anonymous said…
V Premiere's November 3!
Eric said…
I am beyond excited about this! And I'm happy that ABC has bumped up the premier to the FALL! November 3rd! November 3rd!

Thanks Jace for covering this panel with such depth and for all of your Twittering at TCA.
AllenJ said…
Wow. Thanks for the in depth review. The fact that they've moved the date up to November 3rd bodes well. I have very high expectations for this show and can't wait to see it.

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