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'Awake' Showrunner Howard Gordon on Production Shutdown, 'Homeland' Renewal

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 26th 2011 5:45PM
Vulture broke the news today that 'Awake,' NBC's promising mid-season drama about a cop who travels between two different realities, is halting production for four weeks while executive producers Howard Gordon and Kyle Killen figure out how to move forward with the show.

"There's a certain trial and error process with any creative endeavor," Gordon said in an interview with AOL TV on Wednesday. "It's really a math and business decision married to a creative decision. We could have kept going, but we felt we could learn from our mistakes."

Those mistakes, Gordon said, are not major; he said that the studio and network are "happy" with what they've seen so far. But 'Awake,' which stars Jason Isaacs as a cop whose son is dead in one reality and who finds himself a widower in the other, debuts at mid-season and thus has what Gordon called "the luxury of time." The temporary production halt means that Killen and Gordon can spend those weeks fine-tuning their approach well before the show debuts (probably in January, Gordon said).

For those who might be worried that a temporary production shutdown is a bad thing, as writer/producer Shawn Ryan noted on Twitter, shows like 'The Shield' and 'Grey's Anatomy' have benefited from first-season breaks to get a handle on where they are going creatively. When I asked Gordon, who was the longtime showrunner on '24,' what he'd tell those who might be alarmed by the temporary break, he said, "It's obviously better if we get it right the first time, but I would remind people that in season 7 of '24,' we went down the wrong alley and we reversed and changed and got it right."

He also pointed out that on 'Homeland,' the Showtime program from Gordon and Alex Gansa that was renewed Wednesday, a key role was recast (that of Brody's wife) and "we made large adjustments accordingly."

"I think it's an inevitable part of the creative process," he said. "It can mean trouble, but I think here it's a good thing. Of course, you never know, the show may click with people and it may not. But we have the gift of a little extra time, thanks to the largesse of the studio and the network."

As it happens, I spoke to the show's star, Jason Isaacs, a week or two ago, and he had some thoughts on 'Awake's' degree of difficulty. In the four episodes that he had shot by then, 'Awake' didn't follow any set formula, the actor said.

"One of the things that intrigues me is there are no rules," Isaacs said. "We're making the rules up as we go along and making the universe up as we go along, and each [episode] seems to me like a movie. Every episode seems to me like a little movie that could stand up all by itself. There are bunch of very, very smart people holed up in a building on the Fox lot. I go in there occasionally and they all look haunted, because it is stretching them to the limits of their power coming up with interesting stories to take this premise in different directions."

In speaking about 'Awake,' Gordon brought up 'The Good Wife,' a show he said he very much likes and which has many moving parts, as is the case with 'Awake,' where the audience has to buy into the details and character journeys of two different realities.

"With 'The Good Wife,' there are procedural aspects, legal aspects, so many personal stories that they have to decide every week what format they'll do and how they'll fit all that in," Gordon said. 'With 'Awake,' the question we ask ourselves is, why is this an 'Awake' episode? How do you leverage the unique conceit? In some ways, [the premise] flies in the face of storytelling, in which you usually have a beginning, a middle an and end."

In the pilot, Isaacs' character spent equal amounts of time in each world, but Gordon said the show will not always have "insistent symmetry."

"It'll depend on the case," Gordon said. "We want to give it a chance to breathe."

I couldn't resist asking Gordon about what we can expect from the rest of 'Homeland's' first season, but like a trained spy, he didn't give up anything significant (not that I wanted him to; the show is so good that it's best watched without any foreknowledge of what's coming next. And you should be watching it; if you're unfamiliar with the Showtime drama, my review is here).

But he said that the challenges of 'Awake' are not dissimilar from those presented by 'Homeland.'

"When you're telling oblique stories, you can sometimes lose the audience -- you have to think about how you can keep them intrigued but not confused," he noted. The problem is that some mysteries have to be answered and yet viewers have to be compelled to come back for more. As he put it, "You can only keep people disoriented so long."

But things worked out well for 'Homeland': Showtime renewed the show. And for the second season, "we have a couple of options on the table," Gordon said.

As with the fine-tuning of 'Awake,' we'll just have to wait to see what those are. But there's one benefit to working on the spy drama, Gordon said.

"It's about people in just one world," he said with a laugh.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I'm sure that the majority of the reaction to this news will be negative (Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter, for one, has already taken to Twitter to declare that this delay indicates serious trouble). Nevertheless, my personal reaction is to be glad that the creative team behind 'Awake; is exhibiting the foresight, meticulousness, and awareness to recognize the difficulties associated with sustaining this concept long term, and are willing to take the time to tackle and resolve those difficulties in the best way that they can, rather than taking the most expedient path. 'Awake' is far and away the new midseason show that I most looking forward to (on any network, broadcast or cable) and I really want to see them explore the full potential behind Kyle Killen's idea.

I'm well aware that there's a fairly good chance that we won't get to see the fruits of this extra time because it's a serialized (strike 1), high-concept, pseudo-sci-fi drama (strike 2) that will be airing on the last place major network (strike 3) that, despite its support for this show, will likely be devoting the majority of its midseason promotion muscle - such as it is - to Smash. As such, my hopes that viewers will find, appreciate, and stick with the show long enough to keep it on the air for its full 13 episode order (to say nothing of a second season) are not high. But hey, NBC's in enough bad enough shape that they might have no choice but to keep the show on the air until the end of the season, no matter how low it starts and stays (hey, The Cape got to air nine freaking episodes last spring). If that turns out to be the case, then I'm glad we'll get to see the most thoughtful and truthful version of 'Awake' that the creative forces behind it can make.

October 26 2011 at 8:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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