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“Salem”: A Chat with Brannon Braga

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 19 hours ago

Television teaches us that good witches are a great asset to any neighborhood. As for bad witches, hell hath no fury like Jessica Lange when she’s out for blood. From “Bewitched“  to “Charmed” to “American Horror Story: Coven”, numerous interpretations of witches and witchcraft have been brewed up for the small screen over the years.

Would we ever want to go back? As in, all the way back to the Puritans? As WGN America’s new series “Salem” proves, absolutely.

Premiering at 10pm Sunday, “Salem” is WGN America’s first original, and the channel is not gingerly stepping into basic cable’s scripted arena. Sinister, sexed-up and at times downright freaky, this is a show that turns any dry ideas of the Puritan era on its head and shows us a Salem that may be wound up tightly by oppressive laws and practices but, behind closed doors, really does house an occult threat that affords its participants a measure of power and pleasure, at a price.

At the center of the story are Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) and John Alden (Shane West), lovers torn apart by Alden’s duties as a soldier and the disapproval of Salem’s leaders. Alden heads off to fight in the French and Indian War, and returns to a greatly changed Salem, and a very different Mary.

Co-starring with West and Montgomery are Seth Gabel, Xander Berkeley and Ashley Madekwe, who plays Tituba, one of several names anyone with a passing familiarity with Salem’s real history will recognize.

That said, a historical drama this is not. Making viewers jump with fright is the main goal here, and creators Adam Simon and Brannon Braga kick off the action with the tragic case of poor Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle), a possessed girl who becomes a pawn in Salem’s hunt to ferret out witches – and the witches’ quest to turn the townsfolk upon one another.

We recently spoke with Braga about what inspired “Salem”, and whether TV’s current spate of witch-related series is a blessing or a curse.

IMDbTV: One of the major observations that Adam made at press to tour is that the history at work in the series is fantasy, but the magic portrayed is real… How much historical fact did you use to develop this story?

Brannon Braga: We drew upon history quite liberally, both in terms of characters and events and even the magic we depict, because this time and place and these events are virtually uncharted territory dramatically. Countless books have been written about Salem, but when it comes to movies and television, there’s basically just ’The Crucible’.

These witch trials were transcribed in meticulous detail, all of them. They’re fascinating to read, what people thought was happening. A lot of the characters are based on people who really lived. We’ve altered those characters. We’ve taken the attributes historically that we wanted to use and then we change them in other ways. In certain incidents, like in the pilot, a man really was pressed to death. In fact, that is where the phrase “pressed for an answer” comes from. The Fifth Amendment… that case was pointed to by the founding fathers as the reason why we should have the right to remain silent.

…So there’s stuff in the show, even the magic – like the suckling of a toad on [a woman’s] thigh, and using it to put her husband into a coma, that’s stuff that was described in detail in the actual witch trial journals. There’s just an abundance of material that’s weirder than any of the stuff you might see in a modern-day horror movie.

IMDbTV: Those were the details that I saw that seemed incredibly period specific, but I had to wonder where you got the idea for them. You say there were so many transcripts available, but our culture’s idea of what a witch is seems to be descended from something between modern Wicca and “Bewitched”.

Braga: Yeah. …Puritans were at two with nature – famous Woody Allen line. They did not like it. They did not like the woods. They were ashamed of their bodies. They were terrified of the Indians that were slaughtering them on a daily basis. And this fear, and this oppression, manifests itself in some horrific imagery… So it’s really tantalizing, these images. Some of them we make up, but a lot of them we’re getting from the transcripts.

IMDbTV: One imagines you were developing these scripts at the same time that “American Horror Story’s” latest season was on. Did you ever check it out and see its presentation of witches?

Braga: No, I consciously avoided it. I didn’t want to – I’m a big Ryan Murphy fan. I love “American Horror Story,” and I just wanted to be careful that nothing was subconsciously absorbed. I wanted to stick to my hermetically sealed, imagined reality. But I actually did watch the show once I was deep enough into [this project]. They’re very different tonally. I was relieved to see that.

IMDbTV: Yes, they are quite different.

Braga: And I loved it, I thought it was awesome. But it’s a very different tone, I think, and I hope there won’t be too many comparisons. I think they each stand on their own.

IMDbTV: It does make me wonder, though… there’s always a time that writers and pop culture consumers look at different waves of popularity in horror and genre. People have said, “Vampires are over, now it’s all about zombies.” Now we’re seeing lots of witches – we just talked about “Coven,” and witches play a significant role on “The Originals”…Is there any concern as to whether this trend could saturate the TV landscape?

Braga: Well, when we started developing this show there weren’t a whole lot of witches around. Then all of a sudden, they flew in on their broomsticks like crazy. I can’t really say. It remind me of… I did this alien invasion show for CBS many years ago, and a whole bunch of alien invasion shows came on that year. They all didn’t do well.

IMDbTV: Are you talking about “Threshold”?

Braga: Yeah. …I think there’s much more room now on the TV landscape for multiple witch series, and I think there’s much more acceptance of genre. If you said to me, “Go pitch a period show about witches” ten years ago… No way! Most executives would have said, “People don’t like period.” So things have changed so much, and there just seems to be a hunger at the moment for these types of shows. Why, I don’t know. I’m not worried about it, because at the end of the day, like any show as you know … really it’s, do you like the characters? Do you enjoy watching it? It really shouldn’t matter, in a way, whether it’s a witch or a vampire.

IMDbTV: One of the things you also said in a previous presentation is that the central story is actually the romance. How do you maintain a balance between the romance and the supernatural in these episodes?

Braga: It seems to fit in with the time period. I think the key to it is just saying, how did people think back then? Keeping it true to the time, and knowing that we cast the roles with the right chemistry. A lot of things had to work for that romance to work. I’ve said before, it’s an old quote, that it’s Wuthering Heights meets The Exorcist.

…The balancing of horror and romance on this show is not an issue. The issue is sustaining the tension of these two characters who have no idea that they’re still in love, and they have no idea that they’re on a collision course – they’re either going to destroy each other or they’re going to run away together.

That kind of exquisite agony that these two characters are going through every week is the trickiest thing to sustain, because you kind of want to set that coin on its edge just so, and keep it from falling over the whole time, because that’s what works about it. And so far, so good.

IMDbTV: You’ve also said that the witches are not the only supernatural beings to be part of this world. How often are we going to see the other things in the woods that are threatening Salem? Are those going to be part of close-ended story each week or are we looking at arcs?

Braga: …There are close-ended aspects to each episode, for sure, and yet there are threads that will continue to run through all of them and culminate at the end of the season into hopefully something great.

You asked about other supernatural beings…you aren’t going to be seeing werewolves or anything like that. But there are terrors in the worlds that scared the citizens of Salem just as much as the witches. Like the Indians, and the French — the French and Indian War was going on. We’re going to get some tastes of that. People felt going into those woods was certain death. You were either going to be killed by an Indian, a French soldier, an animal or, in their minds, a demon. You’re going to be seeing all of that.

IMDbTV: You’ve also said that the witches are going to be the witch hunters. Can you explain that a little bit more?

Braga: Of course you’re going to find out a lot more as things go on…If you don’t say “witches are real and they’re running the trials,” that’s the hook. Saying “witches are real” isn’t quite enough. If we say that they’re running the trials, what does that mean? Why? That’s what you’ll learn as the series goes on.

IMDbTV: When you were developing this series, was there are particular piece of cinema, television or even literature that you drew upon — besides the transcripts — to inform the tone of this series?

Braga: You’re the only person who asked me that, and it’s an important question, because tone is everything, isn’t it? If there’s one style of filmmaking that I can point to, in talking with Richard Shepard , our director on the pilot, I’d say Roman Polanski, probably. Controversial figure, but still a brilliant filmmaker. I look to the directing in Rosemary’s Baby, it’s just utterly timeless and simple and really, really scary and psychological. I’d put The Exorcist up there, in terms of a raw, ominous tones. Hopefully people will be drawn to the romantic aspects of the show, but also that feeling of dread that the show can evoke. We want to scare people.

Those would be the two movies that we talked about. But a lot of stuff also is just coming from the time, because as I said, this is just so unexplored, this whole world. You read these transcripts of the witch trials and you’re just like, “Holy cow, we’ve got to use that.” I was reading one the other day – at one point, they put a pig on trial. They thought at one point that a pig was a witch and they had evidence as to why the pig was a witch!… It’s just insane, what was happening. And so a lot of this, I can’t really point to anything. It’s kind of its own weird thing.

IMDbTV: This makes me wonder, a) how did the pig testify on its own behalf? And b), did they eat the pig afterward? I’m guessing that was not part of the transcript.

Braga: (laughs) Yeah…I don’t know the answer to that.

Salem premieres at 10pm Sunday, April 20, on WGN America.


“Fargo”: A Chat with Martin Freeman

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 4 April 2014 1:00 AM, PDT

 There’s a sense that “Fargo” star Martin Freeman is one of us. Not just a movie and TV star, but an easy-going guy who we’d love to get a drink with. Or, sure, he’ll hang out on your couch with you. Wanna stay for dinner, Martin? Why not.

This overwhelming likability is just part of the reason that when Freeman was cast in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, his name quickly surged to the top of STARmeter to clinch the number one spot. It’s not as if he was a total unknown at the time; Freeman already had gained acclaim thanks to his TV roles in “Sherlock” and the original UK version of “The Office”. Genre fans enjoyed him as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well. But that made it quite clear that the actor had lots of fans.

“Those were proud days,” Freeman joked during a recent interview. “Proud days indeed! Then I went back down to number 5004.”

For the record, at the time of this post’s writing, he’s ranked at 393. But don’t be surprised if Freeman’s name climbs the chart again closer to the premiere of FX’s true crime series “Fargo,” debuting April 15 at 10pm.

The flavor of The Coen Brothers‘s classic “homespun murder mystery” is deeply infused into this 10-episode limited series, which follows a new cast of characters trudging through a completely fresh tale. It begins with a botched hit, becoming increasingly bizarre from there thanks to a crime of passion that has unforeseen connections and complications.

Though the bulk of the action is set in the town of Bemidji, Minnesota, “Fargo” was shot in Calgary, in the deep, frigid mid-winter. Consider this when you watch Freeman’s portrayal of Lester Nygaard, a meek, frequently-abused insurance salesman whose life takes a remarkable turn for the worse when he meets a hilariously amoral man named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). Not only is Freeman convincingly speaking in a regional accent that’s difficult for most Americans to imitate, he’s doing it as part of a shocking, thoroughly entertaining performance, all while appearing to be perfectly comfortable in weather that would make an ice cube say, “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

We sat down with Freeman during a recent press event to talk about “Fargo” and the challenge of being perceived as an Everyman, for better or worse.

IMDBTV: You’ve had a very busy time since The Hobbit: First, jumping from that into “Sherlock,” then coming into “Fargo”. What made you decide to take on another TV project?

Martin Freeman: Various things. It was the slight difference of it, the different nature of it. I get fewer offers from the States for television than I do for other things. There aren’t as many just straight offers, because I’m less known here than I am in the U.K.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll do something, because you’re flattered into it. But, well, it’s a vote of confidence. They trust I can play this part, and this is not a part that people often associate me with. The whole arc of what goes on with Lester Nygaard is pretty broad, and it covers ground that I don’t think a lot of people would be familiar with associating with me… It’s a fantastically written script. I read the next one, and that was fantastic. And I thought, well, Billy Bob’s in it, so yeah. I’d be silly not to do it.

IMDBTV: Maybe I’m wrong, and admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve seen [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy], but I saw a little bit of, “What if Arthur Dent loses it?” in Lester Nygaard. Just the aspect of this Everyman who is pushed, and pushed…

Freeman: Yeah, I suppose so. If he had a hammer nearby, maybe… I don’t know how Dent-y Lester is.  I don’t think you would think that was Arthur Dent if it was someone else playing the part.

IMDBTV: I don’t mean that part, specifically. It’s the Everyman aspect of the role.

Freeman: But you know what? I think people see “Everyman” in relationship to me, because of me. Every show has an Everyman at some point, if you know what I mean… I’ve been called an Everyman a lot since “The Office”. I spent, like, twelve years as an Everyman, you know. I don’t know what I’m doing to call that, other than acting in a way that is sort of natural and believable…empathetic, I suppose.

IMDBTV: I would say that you’re the person, in your roles, that leads people into these worlds of oddity and still seems to maintain his distinct sense of self.

Freeman: Well…Arthur Dent is kind of a distant relation to Bilbo Baggins, in that kind of just being ripped out of a cozy situation into an insane situation. Douglas Adams probably owed something to Tolkien, in that archetype of a character. Beyond that, in all honestly, I don’t really see it in the playing of it, when I’m doing it. But unless I’m playing a French Senegalese lesbian with a limp, I don’t really know what else I can do.

IMDBTV: Of course, the charm in Fargo, the film, is in all of these characters who are so genuine but seem foreign and heightened, in a way. What is it that attracted you to playing Lester, this man who just gets pushed too far?

Freeman: To me, it wasn’t because it was “Fargo”. It could have been riding on the coattails of a very good film and be shoddy. It has to stand up on its own as a script, and I thought it did that very well… Technically, what comes out of his mouth is in an accent that I’ve never covered before and most people can’t do…All the things that we think we know about that accent, and we think we know about that culture, is basically disseminated through the movie. Most people haven’t heard that accent before. Certainly most people outside of the States haven’t.

IMDBTV: Some Minnesotans would say that’s a heightened version of how they sound as well.

Freeman: Absolutely. And A, that’s true. But B, none of us want to think we have an accent either. Most of us want to think we’re neutral and we don’t realize we have an accent. All of us do.

Also, we’re making something like a 10-hour movie. If all 10 hours were as, if you like, as heightened as that accent in that film was, the feeling was that by hour three people would begin to think that’s too brutal. So there’s been a slight evening out of that…if it were a sketch, you’d know where you are. We’re easing back on that a little bit, the sort of comedic value of that, to make it more character based, more situation based.

…Every stereotype, there is a kernel of truth in it. Otherwise they don’t get to be stereotypes. I’ve been on the Internet and seen enough footage of Minnesotans to know what they sound like.

IMDBTV: Were you prepared for the cold?

Freeman: I was prepared mentally. But I’ve never lived in a place like that, where it’s cold all the time. This is a different ballgame in Calgary, where it gets minus 30, minus 35 not that infrequently. In England, if things got to minus 35, everything would stop working. It would be on the news. So I’m not used to being that cold. We’re not used to having snow on the ground for that long, either…Here [in Calgary], it’s just this lovely virginal snow everywhere. It’s a different ballgame. You have to wrap up.

IMDBTV: Have you found that to be an advantage in terms of just being recognized on the street?

Freeman: Yes, I have actually. Because you are just bundled up. The novelty value of being recognized, it wears off for me. It wore off a while ago, because you want to go about your business. And a lot of the time, you actually can’t. I’m a big believer in trying to live the life that you demand, that you want to live. There are ways of not creating madness around yourself. If you don’t want to be super famous, you can kind of get away with it. You try and stay, to some extent, the person you were when you were 19. If you carry that around with you, then you can manage it. But if that person has got 12 people around them, then of course you’re going to f—king notice that person coming in the room.

IMDBTV: I imagine that with “Sherlock” those instances of being recognized must have hit a new height for you.

Freeman: It did. And the fact that it came as the same period as The Hobbit, those things converging at the same time. That went up a notch.

It’s different as well here, because [“Sherlock”] is not as known, it’s not as watched. So it’s not as visible here. But it’s easier to go a bit under the radar here.

IMDBTV: That must be a relief.

Freeman: It is.

IMDBTV: In preparation for this role, did you re-watch Fargo?

Freeman: I did not. Absolutely not. 100 percent no. I want no part of it in my head. It doesn’t help me. It might help other departments…I’m sure as far as the look, other tonal elements of it might help. Doesn’t help me. The nearest thing to me, in that film, is Bill Macy. He’s really good and he’s an amazing actor who I thoroughly admire. I don’t need him in my head.

IMDBTV: You can do a palate cleanser and see him in this season of “Shameless,” so there’s that. But what are some of the other films and TV series that you’ve been amazed by in the past few years?

Freeman:  “Breaking Bad,” of course. I’m slightly late to that. My missus kind of caught on to that before I did and said, ‘You’ve got to watch.’ And you know what it’s like – you hear enough people say you’ve got to watch something and you resist it.

IMDBTV: And your character in “Fargo,” by the way, will bring some comparisons to Walter White.

Freeman: Absolutely. And I understand why. That’s one of the great modern characters, so I’m OK with that.


Wil Wheaton Announces “The Wil Wheaton Project”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 2 April 2014 11:55 AM, PDT

Claiming to be a geek or a nerd is fashionable these days… although as real-life nerds will tell you, life as a nerd is not as crazy-sexy-cool as pop culture leads the world to believe.

The vast gulf between perception and reality notwithstanding, if there’s social currency in being a geek, that’s partly because the cause has some pretty cool advocates. We’ve got people like Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt, “Talking Dead” host Chris Hardwick and Wil Wheaton in our corner. Shiny.

Hardwick, in particular, has built an empire out of geekery. He grew his Nerdist podcast in a powerful brand, and now he even has comedy panel/faux game show on Comedy Central, “@midnight”. But though we’re mentioning Hardwick for a reason, this post is not about him.

No, today we praise Wil Wheaton, the actor still known to many for his portrayal of Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, and as Sheldon’s former nemesis on “The Big Bang Theory“. Geek & Sundry visitors also are quite familiar with Wheaton himself, and his winning personality as the host of “TableTop,” a celebration of board game fun with celebrity guests. He also won the Internet this week when this touching YouTube video posted in June 2013 made the rounds.

But it was a recent episode of “@midnight” where it became stunningly clear to me that Wheaton should have his own honest-to-goodness TV show. Flanked by a pair of professional comedians and challenged to craft funny one-liners on the fly, Wheaton didn’t just hold his own. Wesley crushed it, y’all. It was a beautiful sight, one that made me hope we’d see more of his quick wit and wry humor in action.

Wish granted! This morning, Wheaton announced on Twitter that he has a new series, currently known as “The Wil Wheaton Project”, premiering at 10pm Tuesday, May 27 on Syfy. The channel has ordered 12 episodes, scheduled to run through the summer.

“The ‘Wil Wheaton Project’ is a weekly roundup of the things I love on television and on the Internet, with commentary and jokes, and the occasional visit from interesting people who make those things happen,” Wheaton explained in a blog post he tweeted out to his followers.  “It’s sort of like Talk Soup for geeks, with a heavy focus on those hilariously bad paranormal reality shows.”

We can’t wait.

To read Wheaton’s full blog post, in which he explains the process of how his “Project” came to fruition, click here.


Amazon Studios Officially Picks Up Six Pilots to Series

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 31 March 2014 5:45 AM, PDT

 

Look at what you did.

Many of you watched the latest original pilots released by Amazon Studios in early February. Afterward, you thoughtfully and passionately weighed in on them. Informed by your feedback, today Amazon Studios officially confirms that “Transparent”, “Mozart in the Jungle”, “Bosch” and “The After” have received full series orders.

Amazon also is moving two of its children’s pilots to series, “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” and “Wishenpoof!

That means four out of the five comedy and drama pilots Amazon showcased earlier this year will become series – a significant commitment, considering that Studios picked up only two titles from its first pilot season round, granting a second season to just one of them so far, “Alpha House”.

These series orders aren’t merely a matter of Amazon Studios beefing up its stable of originals, all of which will available exclusively on Prime Instant Video. Picking up “Transparent”, “Mozart in the Jungle”, “Bosch” and “The After”  also makes sense from a business point of view.

“Bosch”, which follows an LAPD homicide detective working a murder case while standing trial for shooting a serial murderer, has a hardcore literary fanbase already built in. Readers who love Michael Connelly ’s Harry Bosch novels could evangelize on the show’s behalf, if it passes muster.

That’s a valuable asset for any new series to possess. As a person unfamiliar with Connelly’s books, the pilot felt like a typical cop show to me. Granted, the fact that “Bosch” is a police drama will be a selling point for many; lots of people love shows set within that world. But with certain notable exceptions such as “The Shield”,“The Wire” and “True Detective”, which were character studies more than procedurals, I am not one of those people. However, reading a few assessments of the pilot by fans of the novels, as well as Titus Welliver being cast in the title role, is enough to buy “Bosch” more rope with me.

“The After” represents a return to the serialized content game for Chris Carter, the man who gave us “The X-Files”. That legacy in itself has stoked excitement in those still entranced by that seminal series and the universe of weirdness Carter and his writers created. The fact that Carter has been away from the TV realm for such a long time adds an extra mystique to “The After,” which already starts with an incredibly odd if familiar story. It also helps that the pilot’s cliffhanger reveal demands explanation, regardless of what one thinks of the 50 minutes that preceded it.

One also has high hopes for what “The After” can do to raise the profile of Aldis Hodge (“Leverage”) whose performance in the pilot proves he has the chops to carry a series.

Series that invite critical and intellectual dissection also are great for any production house’s profile, which is where “Mozart” and “Transparent” come in.

Between these two comedies, one suspects “Mozart” has the potential to earn a broader fan base. It’s glamorous, grants sex appeal to the classical music world  — a setting that the average person may see as stuffy — and boasts an impressive cast including  Saffron Burrows, Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters, Gael García Bernal, and Lola Kirke. “Mozart” also trades in arch (if accessible) humor, and teased us with a nice exploration of the various social strata existing within the fine arts realm. From the up-and-comers living bohemian lives as they chase their dreams, to the stars hatching political schemes in the backseats of limos, there’s a lot of story to explore here.

“Transparent”, which received a series order of at least nine additional episodes, is daring in a different way — a thought-provoking meditation on identity, loyalty and the fine line between self-realization and behaving selfishly, all told through the prism of family dramedy. Jill Soloway, a producer on “Six Feet Under”, employs a style of storytelling which imbues every scene with gently simmering emotion, and its stars Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker and Jeffrey Tambor, have tremendous chemistry.

Are these comedies critic bait? Sure. They’re also “social” bait: Not only is it conceivable that people will be talking about “Transparent” and “Mozart,” but the content of both shows sounds intriguing enough to persuade newcomers to watch in order to join the conversation.

Amazon Studios’ announcement also includes a Cinderella story: the pick-up of “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street”, a live-action children’s show about a boy named Gortimer who enjoys adventures with his friends in a suburban neighborhood. It was created by pre-school teacher and first-time writer David Anaxagoras, who submitted the pilot through Amazon Studios’ open-door submission process.

Meanwhile, “Wishenpoof!” is the second Amazon Original from Angela Santomero, creator of “Super Why!” and a co-creator of “Blue’s Clues”. It revolves around Bianca, a girl who uses “Wish Magic” to help others and learns to solve life’s problems creatively. Santomero’s other Amazon Original series “Creative Galaxy” premieres on Prime Instant Video this summer, along with previously announced children’s series pick-ups “TumbLeaf” and “Annebots”.  Premiere dates for the latest slate Amazon Originals were not included in today’s announcement.

Unfortunately, today’s announcement also means sad news for “The Rebels”, the story of a hard-partying, gun-toting monkey and the down-and-out football team that loved him.

Poor little fella. While the rest of “The Rebels” cast, including Natalie Zea, Hayes MacArthur, Affion Crockett and Billy Dee Williams will likely continue to pop up on screens large and small (Zea is back on “The Following,” and Williams is participating in this round of “Dancing with the Stars”), that monkey must return to the relentless grind of auditions and call-backs. Bananas may grow on trees, but they ain’t free.


“Mad Men”: A Chat with Matthew Weiner

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 24 March 2014 5:05 PM, PDT

Every new season of “Mad Men” begins with the audience re-joining the lives of Don Draper and the rest of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Advertising Agency staff midflight. Where they are in the voyage, where they’ll land by season’s end, how rough that touchdown will be  – all of that is part of the mystery surrounding each new chapter of the story, which is by the design of its creator Matthew Weiner.

As “Mad Men” heads into its final 14 episode season at 10pm Sunday, April 13, there isn’t much that those of us who have seen the premiere can tell you. No, really – Weiner sends out a note at the beginning of every season indicating which of the key storylines left dangling in the previous season’s finale he’d like to be kept a secret.  Spoiler alert: It’s pretty much all of them.

What we can tell you is that Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) are all as fascinating to watch as ever. At the end of season six Don, Peggy and Pete were each at their own interesting crossroads, as Joan came to embrace a new paradigm that comes with having gained a certain amount of power in the work place. Meanwhile Roger, in particular, has taken a very interesting turn in life that… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself to believe it.

In a phone conversation with reporters, Weiner revealed that he has finished writing the first nine scripts of “Mad Men’s” two-part swan song season, but emphasized that many of them are just drafts. He and his writers are working from a clear roadmap as they head toward the finale, but they’re still breaking stories, even now.

“I didn’t make this up, but drama is made out of conflict,” Weiner said. “People’s lives being good is never good drama. So we’re always looking for more problems for these people.”

Here are the highlights of Weiner’s more than hour-long conversation on Monday afternoon.

On the final season’s main theme:

It’s really a theme that goes for the entire last season… which is about the consequences in life, and if change is possible. … When your needs are met, you start thinking about other things. There’s a real growth, over the course of this last season, from what are the material concerns of your life to the immaterial concerns of your life. That’s really what the end of the show is about: What are the material things in your life, versus the immaterial things in your life?

On the marked change in Don and Megan’s relationship:

I think Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) is a classic second wife, where Don is finding that he has an opportunity to be seen the way he wants to be seen. The power has shifted as Megan has matured. The story of season five was about Don’s romantic fantasy being destroyed by her having a will of her own, or her own dreams.

I don’t know what a power relationship is in a romantic relationship, I guess. Is it who loves who more? It’s given us a lot of fodder and a lot of story, especially because Don’s concept of what a woman can do for him … You see a guy who has a really hard time with where romance fits in his life, and love. There’s conflict in it, which I love, but I don’t really think that [Megan] is a symbol of anything other than a fresh start for him.

And it really didn’t turn out that way. He re-committed to her in the finale last year, because he had finished with his affair and he had hit bottom in his drinking, and he had to renege on his “re-proposal” to her to go to California. It really felt like he was asking her to marry him again. But he just couldn’t follow through on it.

Are there repercussions for that? Yes. That is the story of the season for me.  I think he really loves her, but for whatever reason — guilt, shame, the desire for love, the desire to restore that love –she is in a slightly more powerful position, in the way somebody who can bestow forgiveness always has more power than the person who’s apologizing.

On the character who has changed the most, in his point of view:

It’s a weird thing, because somehow they haven’t changed at all, right? I think Don, Don has changed the most. …When you talk about a guy who couldn’t even consider continuing on in advertising because he didn’t want his name on a building, to someone who is forced to be open with his past to his daughter. He was forced to do that. And that change in that man is a huge thing.

But they’ve all changed. Pete showed a lot of growth last year. Just in his interaction with Bob Benson (James Wolk) alone. When Bob Benson was revealed to be similar to Don as someone who had made up his past, and Pete realized that he shouldn’t tangle with him? To me that’s, like, some of the only growth that we’ve seen on this show. It didn’t last long, as soon as he thought Bob killed his mother.

And Betty has changed a lot. But let’s be honest, the person who’s changed the most is Kiernan (Shipka), is Sally. We’ve had the character and the actress mature right in front of us. Changing her attitudes, from precocious child, to adolescent, to someone who really grew up in a hurry, lost her innocence in terms of her father.

On the Peggy’s evolution through “Mad Men’s” prior six seasons, and the 1960s:

It’s interesting to see that Peggy is still earnest and naïve about certain things, but what a powerful person she’s become in terms of knowing her gifts and making decisions. I think she would probably still say that she’s not a political person, but everything she does is pioneering. To see her sort of, you know, ending up stabbing her boyfriend and having an affair with her boss the same year that she is clearly excelling, creatively and in status…I think the story of the time, for last season, is that she didn’t have any decisions to make.  Hopefully she’s reaching a point in her life where she going to start to actually have some choices.

On Joan’s evolution through the series:

Joan has definitely changed a lot. We’ve seen Joan going from the person who was watching Peggy with almost pity… but this young woman has a different endgame. And then we see her choosing to have a child, having the strength to get out of her marriage, which was never good but was a fantasy marriage. I think the thing that happened to Joan is that she stopped caring – and what a freedom in life! — she stopped caring a little bit about how things look. Women of that generation, and maybe today too, men as well, they were really raised that that was the most important thing. And so, how does Betty Draper marry Don Draper? You check off a bunch of boxes, right? All of the flaws are ignored.

Joan, we see expressing her desire to take advantage of the bad things that have happened and make the best of them, and also to be a little bit more of her own person. She started the show with a very clear philosophy, which is have a lot of fun, and we’ve all loved her sexual confidence…and then find a husband,  then get married and have children and move to the country. We see now that her interests are very different than that now.

On the evolution of Roger Sterling from the face of the old establishment at the agency to a guy who drops acid:

I always felt that Roger has a lot of things Don doesn’t have. He was born with privilege and position. He’s a patrician person anyway. But he also has been indulged, so he’s got a kind of childlike attitude towards things. The fact that he took LSD and was able to learn something that most of us already know – that was his enlightenment, that other people have thoughts that he doesn’t know about, or aren’t the same as him – it sounds really silly, but he’s undergone a bit of an education. And I think what we found when we got to the beginning of last year is that he, even despite searching, is starting to have a bit of an existential crisis. Even Roger Sterling is starting to see a little darkness in the repetitive nature of hedonism. And I think that’s been the biggest change, is that he’s been open to everything. You know, everyone at the beginning of the show, they’re like, “Are we going to Don in love beads and a Nehru jacket?” And I was like, “No, but Roger will probably get there.”

On whether there are aspects of the story that they’re not going to be able to do within the remaining 14 episodes:

Yes. There are things we will not be able to do, and you know… I think that because I am surrounded by such talented writers, I think that everything that is really good, or that I really had faith in, we’ll get through, and that everything that we have to say as a group will get through. But… I don’t know. It’s such a mysterious process. When I heard people’s theories about Bob Benson last year I was like, “Wow. Maybe we didn’t work hard enough to make that more interesting.”

On how we’ll see the relationship between Sally and Don evolve in the final season:

We made a concerted effort – also with Mason, who plays Bobby – to show that in this world for Don…to be pushed toward those children as a chance to be more the way he wants to be, and then at least in Sally’s case, ruin that, it’s made everyone accountable. There’s only so much lying that you can do. And once somebody knows that about you, you still have to be the parent, I suppose. But Sally is a person who knows him in a very special way that is really not very positive. Part of it is just, what is the relationship between a father and a child? As you get older, you start to see them more as a person. I don’t think she’s old enough to be magnanimous about it. It continues to be an essential part of the show.

On whether Don can possibly achieve true change in his life:

Honestly, that is the question. The great thing about this show is that I have these incredibly talented writers with me, where we get to investigate that question. Is making an effort enough? Announcing to the world that you’ve changed, that changes you. Does it do anything else? I think that what you’re really seeing is a turning inward for Don at the end of [last] season. I mean, it’s a turning outward to share his life with his daughter, and to come clean in a Hershey meeting, but it’s a turning inward to say, ‘Oh, I’ve been acting impulsively and trying not to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing.’ It said in the premiere last year that people will do anything to alleviate their anxiety. Don definitely changed last year. It was not the same old behavior. It was amplified, by a lot. And his failure resulted in…some kind of reconciliation, no matter how small.

…That, to me, is one of the most interesting questions that I face in my life, and that everyone faces… You do something bad. You want to be different. You are different. Does anybody else care?

On whether the late ‘60s era is more challenging to portray:

A lot of reasons that I started the show in 1960 was because it was so much the height of the ‘50s. I felt that there was a sort of constricted social environment based on manners that we’ve watched disintegrate and erode throughout the decade. The weirdest thing about getting to the late ‘60s is that it feels more like today. Other than saying “groovy” once in a while…there is not, in either watching the movies, or reading books, or reading interviews, or watching the news, it does not feel even slightly anachronistic. There is nothing to laugh at by the time you’re in the late ‘60s. It is very similar to right now, with the exception of technology.

The other thing is, 1968 in particular was the climax for me of the intersection of national and world events in the private lives of the characters. …1968 was a chance when I felt, OK, people are reading the paper, it was 9/11 for an entire year, of just being inundated with a social catastrophe. And I felt that by the end of it, Richard Nixon’s election and a kind of return to… a state of normalcy…It really feels like all of the radicalization of that period just retracted all the way through until we get to my childhood, which was in the ‘80s.

…The very first season someone said, ‘What’s Don Draper gonna think about Woodstock?’…Don Draper grew up in rural poverty during the Great Depression. I don’t know that this is going to be a particularly impressive event for him. He’s going to be happy that the music’s good, maybe.

On breaking the season into two parts and how he likes having a split final season:

First of all it was not my idea, but there seems to be a problem with saying that without sounding critical of it. Honestly, 92 episodes into the show, anything that … gives me a challenge is very exciting. Not that it’s not challenging enough to end the show, I’ve never said that before!

The other thing is that they [AMC] had success doing this with “Breaking Bad”.  I don’t even know if they did that willingly with “Breaking Bad,” I think they had to because of the schedule. But it was so good for the growth of the show and for the way that the ending was received. So I wasn’t going to argue with that… It’s been a challenge. We did not have a big break in between. I’m writing and shooting them straight through. It’s something new. I’m not someone who’s afraid of that.

On how “Mad Men’s” expanded bi-coastal presence affects the show’s tone:

For Don in particular, he is a different kind of person when he’s in California. We know that. It started off being the place where he could be himself. For me, that has always been the story of moving Westward.

…Place is one of your tools as a writer. So when you talk about someone going any place new, especially West in the United States, you’re talking about the frontier. You’re talking about an opportunity to reinvent yourself, you’re talking about better weather. You’re talking about opportunity. That was kind of where we left off in the finale last year. The challenge is to say, who does that work for, who doesn’t it work for?…It doesn’t always work out, the fantasy versus the reality. For me, it’s just interesting because it means one thing to Don and I don’t know if it means everything to the country. But it did at that time. It was what New York was in 1960, it was the number one destination in the imaginations of Americans as a place desirable to live that was filled with glamour and opportunity. That’s part of the story we’re telling.

On how setting “Mad Men” in the advertising world ultimately shaped the show’s central themes:

It’s been a great environment. It’s been great to sort of investigate all of the personalities of the workplace, because they’re all there in an advertising…It yielded more fruit than I thought it would. It’s the kind of thing where, literally, every time I would think about something that was going on, either in my own life, or in the writers’ lives, that we wanted to tell a story about, we would be able to find something in the advertising world that could support that story.

I didn’t set out to make a show about advertising — and on some level, it really isn’t — but as an environment to tell the story, just the idea of how important buying things is, and selling things, as an American pastime. An identity. Living through the last eight years of what’s happened economically in this country, what a great chance to talk about just the forensics of American business.  I was very lucky to find it and to bond with it in some way and find people who understood it, and to use it as an environment to tell the story.  And apparently, traditionally it doesn’t work that often, so that was even more of a miracle.

On which characters he will be the saddest to leave behind:

All of them.  I’m going to miss all of them. That’s the greatest gift about this show, is that they’re so different from each other and they are so many different voices, and when you are in the mood, whatever mood you’re in, you have every flavor there is. It’s hard for me to imagine not writing these characters any more. I can’t even imagine it, actually. I don’t even want to think about it.

Season seven of “Mad Men” premieres at 10pm Sunday, April 13, on AMC. The first of seven episodes of its final season will air in 2014, with the remainder airing in 2015.


“Da Vinci’s Demons”: A Chat with Tom Riley and David S. Goyer

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 21 March 2014 5:29 PM, PDT

“There is a greater story here, still being written.” So declares Leonardo Da Vinci in the opening moments of the second season of “Da Vinci’s Demons”, which kicks off at 9pm Saturday on Starz.  It’s a statement typical of David S. Goyer’s reimagined Da Vinci, a swashbuckling hero informed by a fascination with design, and physics, driven by limitless imagination and his adoration of freedom.

As season two opens, it’s that last part – freedom – that Da Vinci is having a spot of trouble with. He is bedraggled, exhausted and unexpectedly down for the count, in strange company, and in an even stranger locale: Peru. Particularly odd, given that the final moments of season one left viewers with a cliffhanger in Renaissance-era Florence.

Don’t fret. Though season two stars in medias res, this is just a glimpse at the next chapter in Da Vinci’s labyrinthine pursuit of the legendary Book of Leaves. For anyone who was spellbound by season one, “Da Vinci’s Demons’” expansion of its lush palette from the various visual feasts offered by Old World into the New opens up an array of possibilities. Not only will we meet lots of new characters in season two, but viewers will also be treated to the drama’s vision of a completely different world.

“We really do try to take the characters to a very different place from where they began,” said series star Tom Riley, who plays Da Vinci.  “By the end of the season, everyone ends up with a very different world view. For me, it’s always been a case of pacing his growth from an arrogant boy child — who has a genius but can’t deal with it and is socially inept and rude and can be charming, but doesn’t feel the need to be – to gradually coming of age and realizing that his genius comes with a certain amount of responsibility.

“As the season progresses, he’s going to continue in this quest for The Book of Leaves, to the detriment of the people around him and to the detriment of himself,” Riley added. “So it’s all going to come back and bite him in the ass.”

We recently sat down with Riley and Goyer to talk about what’s in store for our inventive Renaissance hero in season two. (Please note that the two were interviewed separately at the same event but answered the several of the same questions. Their responses have been collated into this Q&A in a few places.)

IMDbTV: (To David S. Goyer) When you were first talking about this series, there were a lot of comparisons, for obvious reasons, between this character and Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. You observed that you think of Leonardo as the superhero of this particular age. We saw a lot of those super-heroic qualities in the first season. But as the second season begins, there’s a great deal of reversal. Of course, this is not out of line with the typical superhero’s journey, but can we expect that to be the overarching theme of the season?

David S. Goyer: It is. Very much so. Most of that is a just function of me, as a creator, not wanting to do the same thing.

IMDbTV: (To Tom Riley) So it’s a big season of not just reversal, but of decline as well.

Tom Riley: It really is, but also a reversal of relationships. People come together who shouldn’t necessarily be together because they have to be. People change and grow – people who you assume are bad, such as in Lucrezia’s (Laura Haddock) case, you realize are far more pure than you could have ever expected. It’s great to have that kind of arc, to really feel like you’re doing something meaty. And we don’t need to introduce the world anymore. We can just let the characters live in the crazy.

IMDbTV: That must be a relief.

Tom Riley: It is, because most people are still saying, “So he fights demons, then? It’s like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer? (sic) ” No, it’s not…maybe we should have gone with a different title. …It does tend to take a while to get into the show. I think we took four or five episodes to find our tone. In season two, the storytelling confidence helps it become richer and deeper. You start to learn about the characters and invest more. You begin to care, which is nice.

IMDbTV: I disagree, by the way.  I think the title is great. It draws people in. It’s not “Cougar Town.”

Riley: (laughs) That cast, they’ve said in public , “We hate our title!”  I love our title. But I do think there is a certain segment of the audience that got alienated by just assuming that it’s something that it’s not. It would be nice to pull them back. It’s funny, word of mouth is something I didn’t expect on this show. The people who watch it love it with a passion that I haven’t experienced with anything I’ve done before. People will start weeping in the street. I don’t know how to react. I always have to carry a tissue! But those people, they tell their friends to watch it, which is really in our favor.

Goyer: One thing I knew that I didn’t want to do in season two is to just have Da Vinci stay in the house of Medici and keep building war machines and turning back Rome. I thought that would become really repetitive… so I wanted to take him, and Lorenzo (Elliot Cowan) and Riario (Blake Ritson), out of their comfort zones.  Throw the characters up in to the air, and reassemble them into different alliances.

…I remember working with one of my writers on “Flash Forward” who used to be on “Prison Break,” and he’d said that what they did at the end of the first season was, they sat down and they just said as an exercise, “Which characters in our show haven’t had any scenes or meaningful interactions with other characters?” And they drew up a list. We did the same exercise on our show… and that just opens itself up to some interesting storytelling.

IMDbTV: That must have changed the trajectory of the story to a certain extent.

Goyer: Yes. Sometimes I’ll do that in the writers room. I’ll say, “Let’s just go through an exercise in thinking about things differently. What is the craziest thing we can possibly do?”  So we opened season two not where we finished season one. When I first proposed that, everybody just said “You’re insane.” I got some push back, but eventually they agreed it was kind of cool.

Riley:  We knew about [the opening of season two] when we were filming the finale of season one… which was a very exciting idea. And then, that kind of begets the idea of, maybe this will work for everyone else, because if they’ve got to be there [in the New World], who else has to be elsewhere in order for this to happen? Midseason, there’s some more absolutely crazy, batsh-t, nexus-of-madness stuff that happens… but always within the realms that we understand and the boundaries that we set up.

IMDbTV: (To David S. Goyer) You have said that there will be more historical figures introduced in season two, much in the way that you reimagined Vlad the Impaler in season one. One name that was listed quite early on IMDb is Amerigo Vespucci (played by Lee Boardman). Are there other figures that we should be looking out for?

Goyer:  Later on in the season we’re going to meet some of the players in the Ottoman Empire, which is something we’ve hinted at here and there in the show. …We introduce another real life person, King Ferrante, who was famous for embalming his enemies in what was known as the Black Museum. He supposedly had, in his dungeon, a number of his enemies propped around in sort of lifelike positions, like mummies. We’ll meet him and his son. And Hippolyta, who was married to Prince of Naples, and coincidentally happened to have been Lorenzo’s girlfriend before Clarice (Orsini, played by Lara Pulver)…  So yes, we’ll be meeting a variety of characters like that.

IMDbTV: As you’ve been researching different possibilities for the show, it must be interesting to come up with ways to connect the vastly different players in this era.

Goyer:  I love that. One of the players we introduce… Carlo de’ Medici? The reason he came about, well, it was two reasons. One, I was bummed at the lack of ethnic diversity in the first season. But then, almost all of those figures were Caucasians in Europe… We were in Florence, touring the Medici palace, and we were looking at this mural that the Medicis have in their chapel. There’s a bunch of white guys on the mural, and there’s one black guy. I said to the guide, “Who’s that?” One guide didn’t know, and the other told me he was Carlo Medici, a half-African, bastard son of Cosimo Medici… I did some research, and he’s mentioned a couple of times. He kind of appears and disappears, and we don’t know what happened to him.

For a writer like myself, I love that he’s a bastard son, and Riario’s a bastard son, and Da Vinci’s a bastard son. That’s a perfect example – it’s someone you can learn about from history, but he’s also kind of a blank slate.

IMDbTV: That’s perfect for your purposes.

Goyer:  Yeah. We introduce him in the third episode. He’s played by Ray Fearon, he’s a fantastic actor. I guess that’s an example of how real life leads to some interesting story. He’s a real guy, but not a lot is known about him, which means we can kind of do whatever we want with him.

IMDbTV:  Is the main plot of the series always going to be about Leonardo questing for The Book of Leaves?

Goyer:  I once told Starz that the day Da Vinci gets The Book of Leaves is the day the show will end. Having said that, there’s a giant thing that happens at the end of season two that, in a million years, I never thought we would do in season two. I always thought it’s something that, if we were lucky enough to get six or seven seasons, we would do. I said, “F—k it, let’s do it.” … I deviated from my own plan.

IMDbTV:  But that opens up the world, right? You can go in all different kinds of directions.

Goyer:  Right. You go in with a plan, and one of the beauties of doing a television show is that … there’s kind of a feedback loop. Certain actors surprise you. Certain actors that are recurring become series regulars, and it does change and evolve.

IMDbTV:  You’re bringing your own cinematic sensibilities into this series, your own particular style. But as you’re developing the story, are there other films or performances, or other works that are informing your choices?

Goyer:  Sure. Of course Assassin’s Creed was an influence. I would say Shakespeare in Love is an influence. The modern “Sherlock” is an influence. A lot more influence came from writing and novels than, perhaps, film or television. I think these sort of historical prestiges are done much more in novels, a ton of novels sparked ideas for us.

Season two of “Da Vinci’s Demons” premieres 9pm Saturday, March 22 on Starz.


Bullets and Tears: A Post-Finale “Banshee” Chat

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 14 March 2014 10:30 PM, PDT

WARNING: This article contains explicit details about the season two finale of the Cinemax series “Banshee,” which debuted at 10pm Friday, March 14. If you have not seen the finale or the series itself, and you don’t want to be spoiled, please stop reading this article now.

Last chance to take the highway out of *SPOILER* town…you’ve been warned.

The fictional Pennsylvania town of Banshee is a place of extreme dualities. It is small town where gentle people gather for Spirit Festivals and Amish girls sell pies; it is a den to which criminals are drawn to hide out, and other men create lucrative empires out of preying on weaker souls.

In the world of Cinemax’s “Banshee,” it’s also the kind of town where an ex-convict master thief can assume the identity of a sheriff and keep the law with his fists, bullets and explosives. But even that disguise has its limits. In season two our mystery man received a surprise visit from the son of the dead guy whose identity he is assuming, and quickly discovered how much trouble having a kid can be. Our fake sheriff felt the weight of losing that surrogate son, too, when Banshee’s crime boss decided to disappear the young man.

The woman the fake sheriff loved –loves? – nearly lost her family, did time in jail, and still faced retribution from the sadistic mobster father she didn’t quite kill in the season one finale. Oh, and that bag of diamonds she and her lover stole together? The payday supposedly valued at millions of dollars, enough to make the trouble of going to prison, changing identities and dodging assassins worth their while? Like the sheriff, those stones are also completely fake.

In spite of all this, the mysterious man known as Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) is in a better place than he’s ever been at the end of season two. The Ukrainian mobster hunting him, Rabbit (Ben Cross), is dead. His former lover, Carrie Hopewell (Ivana Milicevic), is on the path to reuniting with her husband and children. For better or worse, Hood’s biological daughter, the one Carrie is raising with her husband Gordon (Rus Blackwell), knows that Hood is her father. “Banshee” even reconnected Hood with one of his former partners in crime, Fat Au.

Also, all of the people mentioned above, along with most of Hood’s current co-workers in Banshee’s sheriff’s department and Carrie and Hood’s closest friends Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison), are alive and mostly well.   In this town, breathing is a precious commodity.

On the poorer side of the equation, the God-fearing Emmett Yawners (Demetrius Grosse) found out that surrendering his badge and gun and leaving town wasn’t enough to keep him or his wife alive. The white supremacists who attacked his pregnant spouse, killing their unborn son, came back to finish the job after Emmett repaid their violence with violence and Proctor killed their leader.

“Banshee” fans also may be mourning  Alex Longshadow (Anthony Ruivivar), the young chief of the Kinaho tribe who could not maintain political power with his actions and, instead, made a deal with the town’s devil, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen). Kai helped him hold his position by intimidating his political foes, a dirty debt Alex was never going to be able to pay off. One can’t blame the Chief for seizing upon the opportunity to put away Proctor once Hood had constructed a case against him.

In the final analysis,  Alex Longshadow’s greatest enemy was Alex Longshadow… more specifically, his own hubris. By revealing his plans to take down her Uncle Kai to Rebecca (Lili Simmons), Alex underestimated Rebecca’s allegiance to family as well as her burgeoning addiction to power. The shunned Amish girl responded to his advances by adding a new move to her seduction routine — one that involved a gun, a knife and a lot of her enemy’s blood.

“Banshee’s” saga began long ago in New York, with Hood and Ana stealing kisses and diamonds. That plotline came to a close on a church bench in the season finale, aptly titled “Bullets and Tears”. The next, more treacherous chapters are being refined as we speak.

Prior to the finale, “Banshee’s” executive producer and showrunner Greg Yaitanes , and executive producer Jonathan Tropper, who co-created the series, spoke with IMDbTV about the episode and their plans for season three.

IMDbTV: This season began as very emotional, deep and quiet. But by the end, you’ve violently killed off several really key characters. How did you find that balance, in terms of really establishing those characters and delving into lots of emotional depth while still dealing out a lot of death, both inside and outside of the town?

Jonathan Tropper: Because we get into the characters in that way, ultimately it sort of dictates to us who will live and who will die. If you keep everything pretty superficial, you can keep each character spinning in its own orbit for endless seasons. But we’re not a procedural. That’s not what we do. So as we go into each character’s story arc, because of the way they’re all interconnected, sometimes it becomes very obvious that this character, his story is going to end this season. We actually really try to be open and let what happens in the writers room and in our brainstorming sessions dictate if that’s really going to be the case. We try not to get sentimental about it, because it’s all about story.

IMDbTV: So it sounds like you knew that this was really it for Emmett this season. That he wasn’t just going to leave town, but there was no way that he was coming back.

Tropper: Yes. There’s an underlying premise in our show, which is that not too many people are going to get out alive, and that everything that happens in Banshee corrupts what’s pure.

Emmett was pure. But ultimately Banshee corrupted him and that resulted in his death. So yeah, that just seemed like a pretty straightforward storyline that is true to the underlying premise of the show.

IMDbTV:  It also seemed as if, if it were possible for Banshee to have a moral center… Emmett was it. So I guess while it didn’t surprise me that he left… that 11th hour execution was shocking.

Greg Yaitanes: Yes, we had a conversation about that. The thing that we wanted to show is that “Banshee” is a show where there aren’t always happy endings. It is a show where anybody can go at any time. But also, it was evil for evil. We kind of told everybody in episode 8 how that was going to end. Just because they [the white supremacists] did something bad and a like response was met, that doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. We wanted to show there was a real consequence to the action. That was not the end. It’s very powerful that way, because it’s obviously going to fuel us at the front of the season next year. But I know it was very powerful choice for that season.

IMDbTV: So that part of the show’s storyline isn’t over?

Tropper: Well, the death of one our major characters at the end of this season is obviously going to have repercussions moving into season three.

Yaitanes: Evil for evil.

IMDbTV:  It also makes me curious as to how that decision-making process played out with Alex.  His death is more understandable in a sense…he was warned by his sister Nola (Odette Annable) , and went ahead and got in bed with Proctor anyway, which was of course repaid. Does that mean that we can expect Nola will come back?

Tropper:  Well, we’re not going to really give away anything about season three too much. But obviously what we’re teeing up is that the battle between Proctor and the Native Americans is heating up, which will have far-ranging repercussions for everybody in the town.

IMDbTV:  So there’s a big storm coming, between that and everything that’s going on with Lucas Hood as well.

Tropper: We always try to make sure that all of our stories are interconnected. So nothing can happen between Proctor and the Native Americans that doesn’t affect Hood, and nothing can happen between Hood and Proctor that doesn’t affect the Amish and the Native Americans. It’s a bunch of dominoes set up in concentric circles.

IMDbTV:  Is it safe to assume that we haven’t seen the last of Job?

Tropper: (laughs) Yes, that’s a pretty safe assumption.

Yaitanes: When and how, that’s part of the fun of next year. I’m going to say something about scripts for season three, because we’re getting scripts for season three right now. The way Jonathan ends next season blew my mind. I cannot wait until season four. It is the ultimate fan finale coming up at the end of season three.

IMDbTV: That’s amazing to hear right at the end of season two. Speaking of the second season, one of the things we spoke about earlier is that this season was all about the resolution of identity. Not just with Ana, but with Hood and to a certain extent, with Sugar and Proctor.  What is the overarching theme with season three, then? Can you give us a hint about that?

Tropper: We’re basically exploring the same thing. In every season we’re exploring the evolution identity. And in season three what Lucas is really struggling with is, ‘If I’m sitting in the sheriff’s chair, I’m wearing this uniform and I’m doing this job, at some point am I not in fact the sheriff of this town? And am I then, in some way, now responsible for it?’ It is that kind of “Man Who Would Be King” struggle of, ‘Maybe I was meant to be here’ and ‘Maybe this is my true path’.

It’s just a further exploration of who is he is and, you know, whether it’s Lucas Hood or Kai Proctor, are they fated to always be these men? Are they somehow able to change the people they are? Or are they always fated to be these killers and these warriors? Existential sh*t!

Yaitanes: What we try to do is, we sit and have that process of what the next season would be about before this season aired. We try to preserve and keep the process as pure as we can, based on what we think will work and where we can take the story. I really love my creative marriage to Jonathan because we build on each other’s thoughts in a very supportive way.

IMDbTV: Do you have an ideal number of seasons that it would take for the story to properly play out?

Yaitanes: I’ve always said it’s five. I think Jonathan feels the same… Personally, I never want to be the show that overstays its welcome. I think we feel that we can deliver five unbelievable, high-quality, where-every-episode-is-good, seasons.

Tropper: We’ve always discussed the fact that there is a natural arc to this, and that there’s also simply a limited amount of time that we can pull off this ruse where the sheriff is a criminal. Every season, we’re picking at more threads and more people are finding out. At some point, we’re going to have to blow that whole story out of the water. And that’s not necessarily the very end of the show. But we’re definitely getting you there. What we don’t want to do is find artificial ways of preserving the ruse, because then it will just start to feel stale.

IMDbTV: It seems that once some shows hit a certain stride, their network grants them a little more leeway in terms of bringing in more prominent guest stars. You’ve had Ben Cross, but his arc is over, as well as Julian Sands’. Going in to the third season, do you have a wish list as who you’d like to bring on?

Yaitanes: We’re actively exploring that right now. One of the things we like is that, whoever comes in isn’t really bringing a lot of baggage or overtaking the show with their presence. The thing that I like about our guest stars so far is that they’re phenomenal, but Cinemax has always been confident in the fact that we can work with new faces everywhere on the show, which is enormously empowering. I never want this show to feel like “The Love Boat”. …We’re still a scrappy show. We don’t have an enormous budget, and we just want to be smart. That’s how we find great new faces like Fat Au. In a way that adds to our credibility, in the fact that you really haven’t seen these people a lot.

Tropper: We don’t want to take you out of the show. Suddenly you’re a little less in Banshee now because you’re seeing somebody whose face you see on magazine covers all the time. We want to keep the feeling that this town is its own place.

IMDbTV: OK, a very basic question: The diamonds are fake, so the main reason for Lucas hiding out in Banshee is gone. Rabbit is dead. Job is in New York, for the time being. It seems the only thing that’s left for Lucas right now in Banshee is conflict. …Why does he stay? Why does he keep coming back?

Tropper: We do deal with that, from a story perspective… Once the threat of Rabbit is over, well, you know, his daughter [Deva, played by Ryann Shane] now knows that he’s her father. This guy, he’s never had anything else in his life and now there’s a girl who knows he’s her father. Events just keep conspiring to keep him there, even though the best thing he could do for all concerned is get out of dodge.

IMDbTV: Do you have a clear vision of what the final scene of the series is going to be?

Tropper:  We’ve always talked about what the last scene is. But we’ll certainly never reveal it. We’ve always kind of known, in theory, where this show ends. But of course, once you’ve spent years of working with characters and becoming very attached to them, I think you have to be open to letting the story tell you, in some way, where it’s going to end.


“Black Sails”: An Exclusive Look at Episode “VIII.”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 14 March 2014 1:38 PM, PDT

The end of Captain Flint’s journey is nowhere in sight, but as of Saturday night, season one of “Black Sails” will pull in to port with its finale. Here’s an exclusive photo from “VIII.”, the last new episode for now. Fortunately Starz has already renewed “Black Sails” for a second season, so even if the Walrus crew’s pursuit of the elusive Urca de Lima does not bear fruit this week, we’ll find out what happens eventually.

The season finale of “Black Sails” airs at 9pm Saturday on Starz.


“Mad Men”: An Exclusive Photo from Season 7

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 13 March 2014 9:51 AM, PDT

 

It’s up, up and away for AMC’s brand-defining drama “Mad Men“, launching its final season on Sunday, April 13 at 10pm.

Earlier this week the network released three gallery images from the upcoming season, depicting characters arriving — or waiting — at the airport. Perhaps tellingly, one image featured Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) standing beneath a Trans World Airline sign, looking beautiful and somewhat concerned about something unidentifiable in the distance — but not looking at each other.

In this exclusive photo from AMC, Megan is stepping out solo…from a taxicab. Click on the link to see a full-sized version of the image.

As a reminder, the final season of “Mad Men” will air in two seven-episode segments, with final boarding starting in 2015.


“Dawn” at El Rey: A Chat with Robert Rodriguez

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 11 March 2014 2:53 PM, PDT

Sexy vampires. Likable outlaws. A heist gone wrong, and a crusading lawman with a score to settle. Many a television series has been draped from these plot devices over the years. Some have become hits, others barely saw the light of day. Few, if any, arrived with a network built specifically for the kind of audience that would watch it.

That is the plum slot in which “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” finds itself. Based on the 1996 film directed by Robert Rodriguez, the 10-episode action series makes its debut tonight at 9pm on the cable channel El Rey.

Rodriguez, a man best known for directing a diverse range of films, from Sin City (and its upcoming sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) to the Spy Kids franchise, founded El Rey with the vision of appealing to second- and third-generation, largely English-speaking Hispanics in the 18-49 age demographic.

“We wanted to cater towards a male demographic at first, because they had limited choices in this arena,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe I should say, men and kick-ass females, from 18-49… millennials, leaning toward Hispanic as well. All of that. We wanted… to see what range of an audience we can bring.”

Although it launched December 2013, you may not have heard of El Rey. But if “Dusk” makes the kind of noise that Rodriguez believes that it will, the burgeoning channel may soon occupy a few slots on your DVR list of recordings, especially if you happen to be a particular type of film fan.

Meaning, the kind of fan who would happily surrender hours of his or her day to a marathon of Sonny Chiba films. Or one who would cry out with glee upon finding, say, Switchblade Sisters while channel surfing. Those viewers made the film version of From Dusk Till Dawn a cult classic, and could become the perfect evangelists for the series.

They’re also the sort of people who can appreciate the campy brilliance of casting Don Johnson as a Texas Ranger, and Wilmer Valderrama as a crime kingpin.

“Film lovers and people who love cool, kickass stuff should really come to the network and feel like they’re treated like a king,” he continued. “Like, you turn on your TV, and everything you could possibly want is right there. And you don’t even have to change the channel – personalities have curated it to actually be [about] things that they say is cool. You’re not going to be asking, ‘Why am I watching this?’ It’ll all make sense.”

We sat down with Rodriguez recently to talk about his vision for El Rey and how “Dusk” could infuse new blood into the vampire genre on television.

IMDb: Are you going to do something along the line of what Robert Osborne does with Turner Classic Movies and have curators and hosts?

Rodriguez: We’ll have introductions for some of our movies, for sure.  They won’t be quite as stiff. But they most certainly will be about passion and what moves people. I’m going to be introducing some, Bob Orci, Harry Knowles, and we have a bunch of other guests we haven’t announced yet, but they’ll be introducing their favorite films.

IMDb: Can you tease me with just one?

Rodriguez: Ha. No, we’ll probably be saving that for another announcement. But other people, you can probably figure it out.

IMDb: Maybe somebody whose name starts with a Q?

Rodriguez: Possibly. There’s a long list of different people. But this is fun, as it grows, there’s already so much great content out there that we already have, and that we will get as the windows open up on that content later.

IMDb: You talked about expanding the mythology of From the Dusk Till Dawn. But this TV show is arriving at time when, in popular culture, vampires have just about come and gone in popularity. Now everything is about zombies. What does this show bring that’s new to a trend that people are saying is fading out? What’s left that this show is going to cater to that hasn’t been seen recently?

Rodriguez: One, this show has the best characters in the world. So you come for the characters first. They’re great: The Gecko Brothers, Santanico, Earl McGraw…all of the Fuller family. You’re just into it for them. But then you’ll realize there’s this whole thing that’s being built up, that’s much different from the movie.

I did a lot Aztec and Mayan research for the original film, trying to find an actual cult that existed that could have been vampire-like, that would have had traditional vampires. And there’s a lot of interesting stuff there. So I put pieces of it in the movie, but we just had traditional monster makeup and we didn’t really get to explore it and didn’t have a story built around it. This time we’re getting to go in there and delve into something that has much more authenticity and is different than anything anyone has ever seen. I’m excited about that difference…I don’t even know if we could even call them vampires, I don’t want confuse people by calling them something else. But they’re not traditional vampires.

IMDb: The other big vampire franchise I can think of that’s very seminal on TV, particularly for millennials, is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. You and Joss Whedon have something in common, in that he wrote the movie script….

(Rodriguez starts laughing.)

IMDb: …and then he created the series. However, he didn’t direct it –

Rodriguez: Yep.

IMDb: –so it ended up being exactly what he didn’t want to do.

Rodriguez: Yes.

IMDb: Then he went back to do the series, and it became this epic, inter-generationally affecting work.  One of the benefits, and the main differences, between that and this series is that you directed the original work and now you’re returning to it and expanding on it. But what are other things with this series that you’ll be able to take to a different level for the television medium?

Rodriguez: Part of it was knowing how high we had set the bar originally. We cast George Clooney and Salma Hayek, and other stars for that. We wouldn’t settle for anything less than amazing casting of this to bring these characters to life, because they’re really rich, fantastic characters. And then the mythology that we wanted to delve into, in order to re-tell the story in a way that set us up to sustain it for future seasons. It had to be extremely intricate, evolved and rich. That’s what was cool about exploring Hispanic themes, is that it’s untouched. It’s just sitting there, waiting to be explored. It’s new! Nobody’s even thought to make anything like this before. It’s just ours to go and make it our own.

That’s exciting, to create a world that’s going to be all about exploring themes, ideas and story elements that nobody’s seen before because no one’s thought in that direction. They just repetitively imitate other versions of it but not do anything really new.

IMDb: A few years ago, the networks tried and failed to expand telenovelas to an American audience. This might seem like a silly question, but is that something you could see El Rey putting its own spin on and doing for the network? I ask because when the average American viewer thinks about Hispanic television, it’s one of the first things that come to mind.

Rodriguez: Right. They think about the Spanish counterpart. But I think what we want to invent is something completely new, something that anybody can watch and not even realize it has a Hispanic touch to it. People are surprised to realize, sometimes, that Spy Kids is actually a Hispanic film, because it doesn’t seem like it. But it is. It’s just so mainstream, and it taps into a universal quality. That’s what we want to do. I think if we just looked at Spanish television and said, “Let’s just adapt that to English!” we’d fail, just like if we took “CSI” and said, “Let’s do the Hispanic ‘CSI’,” we’d fail. So it has to be completely new, and it has to feel mainstream and original, and not feel like it’s translated.

In general, we always knew that wasn’t the key. We have to make something for everybody.

“From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” premieres at 9pm Tuesday,  March 11, on El Rey.