While the other big networks have tried to chase cable programming, with little success, CBS has become the top network on the basis of traditional episodic series like "NCIS" and "The Big Bang Theory." But the network has also made the odd foray into more serialized dramas -- like this summer's "Under the Dome," which was renewed for a second season today, and its upcoming series "Hostages," developed and written by Jeffrey Nachmanoff ("Traitor") and starring Toni Collette as a surgeon set to operate on the President whose family is taken hostage by Dylan McDermott. CBS is pushing it heavily as its attempt to get into the serialized drama game, with CEO Leslie Moonves saying earlier today that "it's a new world, every model that we're doing is somewhat different that it was before."
"It's a chance to try and do something a little bit different and outside the model of what we've normally seen on network TV," said Nachmanoff, who arrived at the TCA summer press tour with Collette, McDermott and fellow executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer, Rick Eid and Jonathan Littman. He compared the series to "Breaking Bad" and "Weeds" in terms of it being about a normal person thrust into an extraordinary situation, though "instead of taking it down that dark path... Ellen Sanders (Collette), when asked to choose between becoming a murderer and an assassin versus protecting her family, discovers her inner hero and her ability to rise to that challenge."
The series is set to run for a 15-episode first season, and there was some skepticism in the room about how it would sustain the grittiness and serialized narrative of the premise for that run. "This show is definitely open ended in that one episode leads to the next," said Eid. "We'll see pretty quickly in episode two that the family is back to their 'normal' lives -- it's not a family trapped in a living room for the entire season. The title 'Hostages,' when Jonathan and I first talked about the show, we always would remind people that it's really a metaphor. It's not a show about people held hostage physically the entire time. It's about how these people are held hostage to who they are, to the decisions they've made, to the situation they are in."
He also tried to assure the crowd that "our goal is not to point a bunch of guns we don't fire" with regard to how the pilot ends: "We are not going to shy away from the dilemma we threw out there." "The mission doesn't change," agreed Nachmanoff. "The goal that gets laid out in the pilot doesn't change. It's the journey of getting there." The producers promised high stakes: "At some point in the next few episodes, the family is going to try and escape. And in the process, one of the central characters is going to get shot," said Nachmanoff. "And another character gets killed," continued Eid. "We're not pulling punches."
Having a shorter season allowed Fox's "The Following" to lure Kevin Bacon into a lead role, and that's also the case here, said Bruckheimer: "A lot of actors don't want to commit to doing 22. So you open it much wider a wider range of talent that will become available to you to do 15. They can go on and do films. They can do a lot of other things. And that's kind of a model for cable when they do 13. They certainly get an enormous amount of excellent talent that's available to them that broadens the talent pool." Collette agreed: "It's more appealing to me, absolutely."
"Doing a series is really a marathon," added McDermott. "It's just so hard to continue the entire season and you get fatigued. And you stretch out these stories and they become repetitive. You're just trying to get to 22 or 24, whatever you want to do. This show, what's great about it is it's streamlined and you're getting the best of the best. There's no fat on these episodes."