ABC’s new series “Big Sky” starts with the abduction of two young girls — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg, according to showrunner David E. Kelly. Based on the book “The Highway” by CJ Box, the series follows a private detective who teams up with an ex-cop, as well as her ex-husband, to figure out what looks to be a string of kidnappings. The thriller will debut on ABC on November 17.
“What resonated was the layering of the characters,” Kelley said on Wednesday during ABC’s virtual upfront presentation on the series. “The authenticity and sense of place that he [Box] brought to Montana” forced Kelley to incorporate all the elements the book did. “It was a great ride, a great journey,” he said.
After working with HBO on the much-heralded “Big Little Lies,” “I was not anxious to get back into the broadcast world,” Kelley said, due to the commercial breaks. But ABC was very open to break their own mold and tell stories more in line with cable and streaming. “This show lends itself to be a great binging show,” he said. “The biggest challenge is commercials, I still hate them,” as it calls on the audience to “break a wall.”
“Big Sky” might be different to some audiences who have enjoyed Kelley’s previous work because it’s not as socially or politically topical, but the question audience should be asking is “What’s going to happen next?” because it’s a thriller.
“We want to compel the audience to come back,” he said. “The structure of this is we’ll do four or five episode arcs.” If someone can only watch the first half of the season, they will get resolution on at least one storyline. “We like that format, as storytellers, because we cultivate and introduce an underlying story” simultaneously while discussing a full story, he said. “We believe in our show and we believe there’s a constituency out there that will support it.”
After years working in television, if Kelley has one secret, it’s to surround himself with as much talent as possible. “I tend to focus on characters and let the characters speak to me,” Kelley said. That’s important, especially as Kelley has become the main showrunner for women-centric television, and “Big Sky” is no different. Six out of 10 directors are female and two are directors of color. “I don’t think of myself…as writing women characters versus men characters. Some of them are women and some of them are men,” he said.
“Big Sky” premieres on ABC on November 17. Watch the trailer below.