Rand Ravich’s coups as a showrunner include establishing Damian Lewis’ talents as a television lead (with the 2007-2009 series “Life”) and luring Gillian Anderson back to her first American series regular role since “The X-Files” (with the 2014 drama “Crisis”). One constant of his career: creating TV shows for broadcast networks that fall slightly outside the traditional realm.
His newest show, the Fox sci-fi drama “Second Chance,” gets its primary inspiration from the classic Mary Shelley story (to the point where its original title was “Frankenstein”). But what it’s really about is 75-year-old Jimmy Pritchard (Philip Baker Hall) getting a new young body (played by Robert Kazinsky) thanks to a pair of genius twins (Dilshad Vadsaria and Adhir Kalyan).
Giving the series a bit of a procedural twist is Jimmy’s son Duval (Tim DeKay), who Jimmy ends up helping solve crimes thanks to his new lease on life. But while that might give the show some structure, Ravich promises that things will escalate beyond a crime-of-the-week format by the end of Season 1.
Reached via phone the week before its premiere, Ravich told Indiewire about the importance of picking the right title and why he still likes creating for broadcast television. An edited transcript is below.
So talk to me about your television show that you’ve made.
We’re just shooting our last episode right now for the season finale. So I’m up here in Vancouver, and I’m very happy with the way it’s gone. You think of these characters, and then they take a life of their own.
What was the original idea?
Howard Gordon and I had both differently, at the same time, just been thinking about the Frankenstein myth. We both had been thinking about creator and creation; about science getting ahead of morality; [that] just because you can do something, should you do something? And also, weirdly, because we are men of a certain age, we were thinking about what it’s like to think about eventually your body failing and what would you like to have something newer and younger. I started thinking about all those things. Then I started thinking, “What if the wrong person got the right chance?” The hero of the show didn’t ask for it. [He’s] not the kind of guy that would be normally given a second chance, based on what he’s done– he’s done a lot of bad things, he hasn’t been the best person. Which was very interesting to me: the wrong guy put into the right situation and so all those things started to coalesce into the pitch.
How do you feel it has evolved since then?
I always found myself writing about family, and so it has really grounded itself where the show is at its best in terms of how this science fiction affects family drama and basic family dynamics. When I watch science fiction, what I like about science fiction is when it really highlights a human dynamic, and in this show it is family. It’s Pritchard and his son, it’s twins Otto and Mary, Pritchard and his granddaughter and what it’s like to be a father, what it’s like to be a husband, what it’s like to be a sibling. So it’s gotten deeper and deeper into those family dynamics.
I have to ask about the title changes because it’s gone through, I think, several different permutations.
They didn’t change it again, did they? [laughs] The title has changed quite a bit. It’s interesting. As we have all learned about the show, as we’ve gotten deeper to what the show is– It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a big science fiction show. It’s an action show. Pritchard, the hero, and his son, Duval, who have this very complicated father-son relationship — they work their relationship out on a day-to-day basis in their job as a law enforcement officer. So a big part of the show is a cop show. What did we want the title to reflect? Which element of the show most strongly did we want to sell? That is the only reason behind all the title changes — what part of the show do we really want to call attention to? It ultimately came down to that it’s this guy, Jimmy Pritchard, who amongst all the unlikely people on the planet, he has been given a second chance. That’s the core of the show, so that’s what the final title reflects.
The importance of finding a good title, I imagine, is a huge one for you.
It’s horrible. Trying to find the title that reflects– that gives you not just the fact of the show, but the feeling of the show. Titles and endings are incredibly complicated. What is the best way to present this show to the audience?
When you think about it, the title is essentially the first bit of marketing you ever do.
Yes. It’s the first impression. It’s the first thing. It’s how you first encounter the show. “Am I going to want to watch a show with that title?” Certainly for all of us, from grade school on, you walk off the playground and you wished you said that. Or in a relationship when you wished you’d done that, or when you talk to your child — “I wish I would have done that.” The opportunity to be given a second chance — especially when you don’t ask for it — to be brought back unintentionally, that was the strongest, that was the most powerful and the part of the show that should be titled.
You bring up the fact that this isn’t something that he actively seeks. From a writing standpoint, how does that change the protagonist?
It makes it much more interesting to me. I like people who are struggling against their inner demons or who want something and fail or who know what they should be but can’t get there. The constant struggle between what I oughta do and what I want to do, between the desire to do right and to fulfill your desires. A guy is given a second chance [by] force. A guy by his holy mission will tell you he is the least introspective person on the planet and that is the most introspective he’ll ever be, to confess. But for someone who lives an unexamined inner life, to be forced into looking at himself against his will, just makes him much more dynamic to write for than someone who sets out to do better on his own and has a clear purpose, as opposed to someone who struggles with it. That inner conflict makes the writing much more enjoyable.
Looking back at your career, you’ve done a lot of work in broadcast. Especially given how many opportunities there are elsewhere, I’m curious as to why you’ve stuck there.
I like watching broadcast TV. It is a golden age of television. There is a lot of beautiful TV being made in the cable stations and in the broadcast stations. I will say that first and foremost, it’s about relationships. I’ve developed great relationships with people at Fox, with the studio and the network and, more, I would say as a writer than as a producer, to have a safe environment especially in a very high-pressure business like network television, to be with people who support you and protect you, to allow you to write — for me, I think, it really is about the relationship and the opportunity to grab a larger audience in the networks. It’s still very exciting.
Would there be a project you would like to create for cable, or are you very happy with broadcast?
I could see myself working in cable. The shows I love, like “American Crime”– I feel like that could be cable but it’s not. What’s happening these days is that the boundary is becoming blurred between network and cable. But I think you could probably do the smaller, weirder things on cable, and small and weird is always interesting.
And with “Life” and “Crisis,” you’ve done these shows that are on broadcast, but don’t quite fit into a broadcast mode.
I know, I know! And again, to Fox’s credit, they are letting me try to do something more idiosyncratic and quirky or personal in a brutal broadcast space. I do think there’s definitely an opportunity to do unique television in the broadcast space. That’s primarily because the viewers are much more educated than they ever have been. Their expectations are so much higher across the board, from what my kids watch online, to watching network, cable. My kids don’t have any idea what a network or cable is, they just watch what comes before them. They have high expectations for everything. So I think if you have a good story, a personal story– The opportunity for profanity is certainly much more realistic, but is not really the core of really interesting storytelling.
With the violence, profanity and nudity, do you feel like you miss them at all?
In my personal life or on television? [laughs]
You know, I think it allows both the freedom and also it can become a crutch because they satisfy quick desires so easily, those categories. I think you can tell good stories with or without them. You know, thinking about “Hill Street Blues,” this seminal television in a much more prurient time, we were able to survive without any of that. I think you can tell a good story either way.
Was there ever a version of the show where it didn’t include what would be considered a loose police procedural element?
The loose procedural is generated by the fact Pritchard and his son do work out their issues over the course of their job. They’re American men who can’t talk about their feelings. So, American men who can’t talk about their feelings go to their jobs, go to work. It is certainly a great motor for the show because it allows the show to roll forward. And to answer your question, as the season has progressed, this show has become much more serialized in the final third of the first season. It really takes off and becomes one long story and allows the characters to really breathe structurally in a more serialized fashion.
But, because the show, hopefully, is both recognizable and different, having a loose procedural the first half, would not stop me from watching it if you missed the first one. I can still come in and I can hold onto enough to embrace the show without being excluded because of what’s come before. Honestly, those serialized elements are fun to write. That’s the beautiful thing about television as opposed to features because it’s just character. It’s 11 episodes in an 11-hour movie. What you get to do with characters over the course of these episodes, these characters are the main story. If they get to breathe life in the last third of the season then the characters can really grow. That’s very fulfilling, I think from both a writing point-of-view and from an audience point-of-view.
I have a hard time thinking about the show as a science fiction show because while I know there are sci-fi elements, it is so grounded. Is that something that picks up?
Yes. I do like these space operas and everything, but that’s my favorite kind of science fiction — where you almost forget about it, it becomes the world of the show. To me it is mostly about the family, it is about these relationships. What the science fiction does for me, it’s about the unintended consequences of the science fiction: that you bring back this person, to a specific legion to cure you, to help you. It’s a person you’ve unleashed in the world, when you’ve done something that previously had only been accomplished by God or by Darwin or by nature and now you have overturned the natural order of things.
And even though there’s not hovercrafts and time machines in every episode, the living breathing example of the science fiction of the pandora’s box is walking around and those consequences will continue to roll out. It’s important to us, the writers, we always need to remember that we can’t forget that he should not be here, you can’t forget that he is unnatural, that there are always going to be unintended consequences when you mess around with nature like that. When you look around, the way of the internet, the way of medicine, when new technology gets ahead of morality, we haven’t thought deeply of what’s going to happen with the science of at our fingertips. Because that’s the character of Pritchard as well.
You’re almost done with Season 1. Did you put it all out on the floor, or do you have stuff saved for Season 2 in your head?
You never know what’s going to happen, and we went all the way at the end of the first season. It is no holds barred. Everything goes. But everything goes in a way that the characters have a desperate need at the end to come back in the second season and to come back together. There is a really clear-cut vision for all the main characters at the end of what they’ve been through and how they have been changed and how only they understand each other and how they will need to come back together. I think in a very satisfying way, you don’t feel like you get to the end of the episode and Episode 1, Season 2, is business as usual. They’ve grown so much that there will be a lot of work to do once they come back together, in a good way.
“Second Chance” airs Wednesdays on Fox.