September 19, 2006

TV Blogger Press Conference: CBS' Jericho

Over the two plus years that I have been carving out a little something of an online presence, I have encountered many firsts. Tonight was another first which saw me in a position that I have never been in before.

Tonight CBS held an online press conference for bloggers in preparation for the debut of new series Jericho. The participants were executive producer Jon Turteltaub and star Skeet Ulrich.

I have never experienced anything like this before, and I have to say that it was rather cool to be involved in it. I received the invite last week, to which I immediately responded in the affirmative, and this morning we received the link, login information, and a phone number to use if we wanted to ask a question.

The conference went online shortly after 9:00pm Eastern time. Of course, I experienced the requisite technical issues as my network dropped and I missed a little bit of the opening. Isn't that the way it always goes? Anyway, my network came back up and I was able to get back in relatively quick.

Both Turteltaub and Ulrich were both quite amiable as they joked about whether anyone was watching or what they were supposed to do. They went on to open with a clip from the pilot episode, where they have the reveal of the mushroom cloud in the distance. They go on to say that the first time they saw that cut of the scene was the day that CBS picked them up as a series.

What follows is an account of the conference, to the best of my ability, in a paraphrased form. It was weird being involved in something like that, and I was not terribly well prepared. I was able to scratch down some notes as we went along. I should also note that I did not call in, as I had no idea what I would ask. Perhaps the next time I get a chance like this.

First, it was asked about balancing the action and the drama aspects of the show. Jon answered that the show will be a mix, but the show starts with the characters. With the drama of the characters they will build in action, but they recognize that they are not 24, nor do they want to be. He believes that people watch for the characters, and if the characters are good, they will come back. I agree with that, characters are important for a television show that has hopes of lasting for any length of time. People will run from the sinking ship of a television show that is only action, at least I know I would.

Jericho is going to delve into a few aspects of their situation. They wish to explore the obvious questions of who did this, why did they do it, and how big is the problem. At the same time, there is going to be a strong focus on the smaller story of these townsfolk. It came up a few times troughout the conference on how do people react when there are no institutions, a lack of a bigger visage of authority. How would you react? If you knew that no one would do anything to you, would you be more apt to commit criminal activities? Or would you strive to retain some sort of order, as if the authority was there? Themes like this will be explored through the, hopefully, lengthy run of the show.

Skeet was asked about what drew him to Jericho, and if he was happier doing television than movies. Skeet said that there were a lot of things that drew him to this series,. He was interested in the circumstances that these people found themselves in, and the potential character development. He also said that he enjoys television, for a few reasons. He liked being able to stay at home with his family, where his kids have just started kindergarten, and the fact that he doesn't have to be on the road all the time. He also enjoys working on the broad canvas that is television, he likened it to acting in a novel, where the arc is much larger and can be more involved than the relatively limited film medium.

It was asked about potential spiritual implications. In response they spoke of the idea of taking away the institutions which sort of dictate morality, if they are taken away, how would you react? Would your sense of right remain unchanged, or would it waver with the newfound freedom of no authority.

What about the thought scaring away the audience? The caller spoke of how, while enjoying the show, he was unsettled by it in this era of terrorist activity, plane hijackings and the like. Jon responded that it was good to scare the audience, but it was not good to scare them away. He went on to say that Jericho stresses humanity, and that people should be able to watch this and not be scared away, but perhaps be a little unsettled, but uplifted by the overall story.

The topic of inspirations came up, and if there were any post-apocalyptic tales that played a part in the development of the show. Jon said that Stephen King's The Stand had an influence on the pilot's scriptwriter, and The Twilight Zone and The Day After had their place in the inspiration. However, they were more focused on what they didn't want to be, which was a variotion on Mad Max or The Postman.

More specifically to the show, it was brought up about the character focus, as different characters step to the foreground in the first two episodes. The answer was that the focus would shift to different characters as the town of Jericho is more than just one person, even though the primary focus would be on Jake Green (Skeet's character). He also gave the insider answer of how different actors are not contracted for all episodes. Besides the logistical nightmare of trying to cram all of the characters into every episode, it makes more sense to focus on them in fewer episodes to actually give them some screen time.

As for some more insider like information, not much was given up, they did not want to run the risk of all us writers spoiling things for everyone. However, we did learn that not everyone you have met is still alive by episode 9, of course, there are no hints as to who may be passing on. We are also told that we begin to learn a bit more about Jake and his return to Jericho, plus why he left, in episode five. Then there is the character of Robert Hawkins, who is signed for the initial order of 13 episodes, may be more than he appears to be. Jon and Skeet were a little mysterious about what that meant.

The question of blogging, online conferences and viral marketing came up. Jon Turteltaub talked of how once something becomes marketing, it loses the viral aspect. It is important to keep an eye on what is done online, but America will discover what it wants, and there is no controlling it. He did seem to like the idea of what bloggers can do, and how they are in touch with society.

The conference came to a close around 9:50 when they aired a trailer for the show.

Overall, it was an interesting experience. Jon and Skeet seemed like nice guys, as they joked between calls, and did appear to be a little uncomfortable in this forum. It was probably the first time they have been involved in this type of forum, but it was handled well.

I have seen the first two episodes of Jericho, and I eagerly look forward to the third. The story is being setup nicely and there is an organic flow, meaning it doesn't strike me as being overplotted. Sure, there is a lot going on, but it flows well, and there is the basis for some good characters here for them to build on.

Jericho's premiere airs on CBS at 8:00 on 9/20. I recommend that you check it out. I will also say that as much as I liked the pilot, the second episode is even better, so at least give it 2 episodes.


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