'Awake' Producers Hope Their Interesting New Drama On NBC Will Catch On
February 23rd, 2012 3:00pm EST
NBC's new series Awake has a lot going for it: a bold concept from unique storyteller Kyle Killen and the expertise of Howard Gordon, who knows a lot about ambitious shows. Recently, the two talked with me about putting together the highly anticipated drama.
Awake centers around a detective (played by Brotherhood star Jason Isaacs) who, after being involved in a car accident with his wife and son, begins to experience two realities: one in which his wife survived the tragedy and one in which his son lived. As viewers wonder which is real, the main character simply tries to move on with his life and use his newfound state to make a difference. It makes sense that this show would come from a man who gave us the most misunderstood drama on FOX and be produced by another who knows how to make a different idea into a successful series.
Here's what they had to say about how Awake came to be.
Kyle, this is another very unique premise for a series from you. Can you talk me through how the idea took shape?
Kyle Killen: It had some things in common with the last series, Lone Star. When that ended, some of those questions of duality and trying to make a go of living a life in two spaces [were] still floating around in my head. That was something that was still of interest to me and this seemed like a good vehicle for exploring a lot of that.
And then, the concept of the way your dreams feel real, the way you seem to experience them as something that you don't blink at until something crazy happens that sort of bursts that balloon. I became interested in the question of what if nothing ever popped that balloon. What if you couldn't tell the difference between when you were awake and when you were asleep? I started looking for a way to marry those two ideas up and a few months later we had Awake.
Once you had that idea, how did you start to bring the show together?
Howard Gordon: We started with the lead [character], Michael Britten, since he had to shoulder so much of the story. Actually at the very beginning, we were afraid until we decided we could actually break point of view. It seemed that he might have to be in every scene, which anybody who has ever done hour long television knows that's pretty impossible.
Anyway, there is a very short list of leading men of a certain age, who are substantial. Jason Isaacs was at the very top of that list and we were lucky enough to get him. I had met with him a couple of months before, and I know he was very sketchy about whether he wanted to do television [again]. He was intrigued as I was by Kyle's pilot and he jumped in. From there [we] built out the molecule: who worked with your lead.
Both of you having done serialized television before, was there anything you did knowing that you were going to have that same kind of show that might be more difficult for an audience?
Kyle Killen: I think the risk with a completely serialized show is that your audience is all in or all out. That is a tremendous gamble. We are very interested in the serialized elements of the story but we also recognize that in the fractured landscape of television today it is hard to get everybody to commit [in] week one. What you really want to do is leave the door open so that hopefully the good word filters out and people can come to it without feeling like "Well I'm already hopelessly behind so I give up on that. Or maybe if it goes a second or third year I'll catch up on DVD."
If week six is the first week that you watch, you are going to get a satisfying hour of television that you can completely follow and understand. Hopefully that experience makes you excited about going back and catching up. I just think the trend is towards making sure that your audience has an opportunity even if they are not there [in] week one.
Howard Gordon: Kyle is exactly right and I think, having done 24 and recognizing from inside how nearly it impossible it was, the barrier to entry that it creates...there is a mercenary aspect to it as well which is shows that you can occasionally watch or sporadically watch are more syndicatable. The studio is more incentivized to do shows that have standalone beginnings, middles and ends.
Was it difficult from a production standpoint to keep track of what's essentially two parallel universes?
Kyle Killen: That absolutely was one of the trickier elements of getting started. We found that we would get confused when discussing what someone was pitching or talking about.
One world is the green world. That's the world in which he has his son and his partner is Bird and his therapist is Dr. Evans and that matches his green rubber band. When we are talking about it we write in green marker and we use green notecards. The other world, the one with his wife and Vega is his partner and Dr. Lee, that's always red. Our outlines are written in green and red ink. Anything to make it crystal clear.
That is reflected in the final product with the way that the show itself is shot and color timed. The two worlds have a different feel. David Slade, our pilot director developed that language for separating [them]. So the things that are initially confusing to us when we are just trying to break story, I think by the time they reach an audience, so much attention has been paid to how to make it clear where you are that all of the little tricks that we needed sort of go away. Hopefully, when you see it on the screen, you are pretty instantly oriented as to which world you are in.
The burning question on a lot of people's minds as they decide whether or not to tune in is undoubtedly if we're going to get a concrete answer as to which one of these universes is real.
Kyle Killen: It's an inherent question at all times. There are people and events that take place in the show, on a weekly basis. [that] seem to reflect on the nature of what is real and what is manufactured. Sometimes those questions are important to the case that [Michael] is on or understanding his own story as he looks back at the events that happened to him that caused the situation that got him here.
But I think long term, the show isn't built around answering a single question. The show is really about a man who has decided and desperately wants to live in both of these worlds. Who refuses to acknowledge which is real and which isn't. And as you try to live two lives in parallel and you see them start to go in dramatically different directions. I think the idea is that hopefully the audience, like the character, becomes invested in not wanting to let either of those go.
Howard Gordon: Obviously, that question will ebb and flow over the course of this first season, but there is also a big question that is answered and that we drive toward at the end of this season, which is, what exactly did happen that night? That is a question that will be answered and should give people a pretty strong sense of closure.
My thanks to Kyle Killen and Howard Gordon for taking the time for this interview! Awake premieres on NBC Thursday, March 1 at 9 PM ET/PT.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: NBC