A Chat with Adrian Hodges (“Survivors,” “Primeval”)

Adrian Hodges has been beloved by fans of BBC America’s ever-growing sci-fi lineup ever since presenting them with “Primeval,” which he created along with Tim Haines, but they’ll soon have a new reason to give him a hug when they seem him on the street. Americans may not be familiar with the 1970s British TV series known as “Survivors,” but, hey, that’s okay: it just means that they’ll be able to dig into Hodges’ new take on the series – which premieres this Saturday night on BBC America – without any preconceptions. Plus, as you’ll soon read in my chat with Mr. Hodges, which took place a few hours after the TCA panel for “Survivors,” he’s taken great pains to make sure even those who are familiar with the original series will, by the end of the first episode of this new version, realize that he’s got plenty of surprises in store for them, too. Oh, and listen up, “Primeval” fans: you’d well to read beyond the bits about “Survivors,” as we chatted about the status of the third series of “Primeval” as well as the oft-discussed feature film based on the show. There’s also some stuff about other items on Hodges’ C.V., and…well, you’d just better go ahead and read it for yourself, hadn’t you?

Adrian Hodges: Wow, look at your recorder. I used to do a bit of journalism when I first started out, but my tape recorder was… (Holds his hands several inches apart, then laughs) That’s technology for you!

Bullz-Eye: Hey, mine’s shrunk by two or three times in size just in the past few years! (Laughs) Well, first off, I just want to say that I’m a big “Primeval” fan.

AH: Thank you! Cool!

BE: I was not familiar with the original 1970s version of “Survivors,” but I take it that you were at least somewhat of a fan of it.

AH: Yeah, I was, in that kind of general way we are when we’re kids and we watch TV. I was maybe 15 or 16, something like that, and I remember very clearly the impact of the first episode. If I’m honest, I’m hazy about some of the other, later episodes, but I do remember the extraordinary shock of the imagery of a husband dying, of things that were stand-out images in my head, and you carry that through the years. It was something I remembered very well, so it was really kind of great to be asked to have another look at it, you know?

BE: So they pitched it to you, then?

AH: They did. What happened was that I’d done “Primeval,” as you know, and I was very actively looking for a genre show that I could do in a slightly…well, in Britain, it’s in a later timeslot. Something that was a bit more…I don’t want to say more adult, because I think that “Primeval” is adult, but not a family show in the same way. However you define “family.” (Laughs) So “Survivors” was perfect. BBC had had this great success with reviving “Doctor Who,” so they were looking at some of their old shows and saying, “Well, that one wouldn’t work, but maybe this one would.” And “Survivors” was one they thought might work again, so they basically came to me and said, “What do you think?” And I thought it was great, not so much because of the set-up, not just because of the post-apocalyptic thing, which is fascinating, but it’s kind of not the point. The point is what happens afterwards, and that’s the fun of it for me as a writer, ‘cause you don’t often get a chance to write about people in the most extreme situation. So that’s why I wanted to do it.

BE: What was the profile of the original show? Was it semi-high? I ask because I’m a kind of an Anglophile, so I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it.

AH: I don’t think it was, really. In terms of being a success at the time, it was, but it wasn’t, like, a thing like with “Doctor Who,” where you carry that memory with you, and so that when it was revived, there was this huge desire to like it. It was one of those shows where…people didn’t want to not like “Doctor Who.” They wanted to like it. It was a nice thing to happen, and it doesn’t often happen. There aren’t many shows that people are so fond of that they can go with that attitude to them. Usually, as you know, when you remake or re-imagine a show, you get the opposite reaction, which is that people don’t really want you to do it, because they liked it the first time. And, now, there’s been such an acceleration of remaking of formats. It’s a very dangerous area. I thought “Survivors” was a good one because it was a success at the time, which proved that it was a strong idea, but it wasn’t so well known that it would be something that everybody would be saying, “Oh, but you didn’t do that scene, you didn’t do it like this, you didn’t do that.” The truth is, it was the best part of 40 years ago, and it’s not a classic. It’s a very good show. The first episode of the original is a model of brilliant series set-up writing, and, indeed, much of the rest of it. But it is fundamentally a show which was well-liked but probably not as well-remembered as some. Not everything can be a classic, you know. That’s the way it is. I couldn’t believe that “Edge of Darkness” was being remade. It’s amazing, after all these years, to suddenly see it. So stuff comes around.

BE: So did you revisit that first episode of “Survivors” before you made this new version, or did you just kind of go from memory and dive into the new version?

AH: I watched the whole of the first series before I started writing, and I don’t usually do that with things where there’s existing material. I mean, in a completely different genre, I’ve just done a new version of a film called “The Go Between.” I’ve adapted the L.P. Hartley novel, and I didn’t look at the film of that, because I deliberately didn’t want to be influenced by it. I’ve only looked at it relatively recently, and it’s interesting to see what they did and what I did, and that’s fine. But with “Survivors,” I thought that it was…well, because I was basing some of my material on that original material, it seemed respectful and sensible to look at the way they’d done it, and also to remind myself what they’d done well and maybe what they hadn’t done quite so well, just to see how it would go. I always knew I was going to move away from that version quite quickly, but I wanted to make sure that whatever was good…I mean, I’m not crazy: if it’s good, I’m going to do it again. (Laughs)

BE: How did you go about selecting your cast? Was it a case of finding folks you’d worked with in the past, or was it more of a standard audition process?

AH: There’s a little bit of that. I mean, because of the way television works, as you know, there’s a certain pressure to use a certain profile of actor in certain roles. We knew we needed a leading lady that meant something to the British audience, and that’s, in truth, not that big a pool of people. It’s tough to find exactly the right person, particularly a woman who’s grown up, a woman with children who’s believable as an ordinary woman. So Julie (Graham) was actually pretty straightforward, because she was one of only one or two who really fit the bill…and, luckily, she wanted to do it! So at that point, we closed that. That was done. The other guys…it’s an interest process. Paterson (Joseph), funnily enough, was a very early choice, and then we went ‘round the houses looking at other people and then came all the way back to Paterson. And that sometimes happens, ‘cause it’s a bit like when you get something right first time, and you think, “Have I really got it right?” And you go and try prove it sixteen other different ways, but you still come back to the right answer, so that was Paterson. The others…it’s just a question of trying to find the right faces for the roles, the right talent and the right look, and that’s hopefully what we did.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the first episode of “Survivors” yet, then you’ll want to head off for a bit and pop back ‘round after you’ve had a chance to see it.)

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TV in the 2000s: 15 Shows Canceled After Appearing in Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings*

*Probably Coincidentally

Back in 2005, Bullz-Eye kicked off a regularly-recurring feature that’s become a staple of our site: the TV Power Rankings, which gives us a chance to offer up our opinions once every six months on the best that television has to offer. Now that we’re looking back at the entire decade in our TV in the 2000s feature, however, it gave us an opportunity to look back at all of the shows that have appeared within the Rankings over the course of its history, and when we did, it was a little eyebrow-raising to see how many of our favorite programs bit the dust almost immediately after receiving accolades from us. We’re pretty sure their cancellations weren’t our fault…or, at least, not entirely. Anyway, take a look back through the list with us, won’t you? If nothing else, it shows that we’ve got good taste, even if the average viewer doesn’t always share our opinions.

1. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003 – 2006) – “Even if this is indeed the end for one of Fox’s all time greatest shows, it is better to have loved and lost…oh, the hell with that, Fox is freaking nuts if they cancel this show.” So said David Medsker in February 2006. But did they listen to him? They did not. “We’re not ones to buy into the whole dumbing-down-of-society thing,” Medsker added, “but if this show gets canned while ‘According to Jim’ lives on, maybe there’s something to it after all.” Oh, yeah, there’s definitely something to it: “According to Jim” stayed on the air until June 2009.

2. Deadwood (HBO, 2004 – 2006) – When it was announced that Season 3 would be the last for the semi-historical look at the wild west, there was really only one name that John Paulsen could call the folks at HBO. We probably shouldn’t use it here, but if you need a hint, it starts with a “C” and rhymes with “sock pluckers.” “Everything about the show – the language, the acting, the story, the sets and the costumes – is colorful,” Paulsen observed in February 2007, “and whether or not HBO wants to admit it, they’re going to miss ‘Deadwood’ once it’s gone for good.” They must’ve been in some serious denial, then: creator David Milch reportedly agreed to do a proper wrap-up of the series through a pair of “Deadwood” movies” for the network, but things never really got beyond the discussion stage.

3. Invasion (ABC, 2005 – 2006) – The fall of 2005 was a good time in prime time for sci-fi fans, with each of the big three networks offering up an entry from the genre, but by the spring of 2006, their cheers had turned to tears. NBC’s “Surface” was permanently submerged after 15 episodes, while CBS’s “Threshold” crossed the point of no return after only nine episodes had aired. Give ABC some credit, however, for at least sticking with their entry for the full 22. “’Invasion’ started slowly, but has steadily ramped up the creepiness,” said John Paulsen in February ’06, acknowledging that, although it gave its audience lots of questions, at least it was providing them with more answers than “Lost” was. Unfortunately, there was still plenty to be answered when the show was canceled, and things got even more depressing when Tyler Labine talked to Bullz-Eye about what might’ve been. “(Creator Shaun Cassidy) had written this bible for the show, and he had written this amazing five-season arc,” said Labine. “We were just floored. Our jaws were literally on the floor after he explained it to us. We were, like, ‘Wow, we’re on for a really great ride!’” What a shame for us all that the ride ended as quickly as it did.

4. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2005 – 2006) – Well, you can’t say that we weren’t honest about offering up both the pros and the cons of Aaron Sorkin’s behind-the-scenes look into a late-night comedy series. “The show is pompous, unrealistic and ridiculously left-wing,” admitted Jason Zingale in February 2007, “but it also makes for some damn good television.” Unfortunately, with an awful lead-in – seriously, who thought that pairing the show with “Heroes” was a good idea? – “Studio 60” didn’t develop enough of a following to earn a second season.

5. Rome (HBO, 2005 – 2007) – In its first season, “Rome” turned up at #18 in the Power Rankings, but by the time Season 2 aired, it had leapt to #6. Not that such success earned the show a third season (it was apparently ridiculously expensive to produce, which you can absolutely believe if you’ve ever seen it, but at least the news of its cancellation came in time for John Paulsen to register his annoyance within the February 2007 Rankings. “As it turns out, ‘Rome’ isn’t the heir to the throne of ‘The Sopranos,’” he wrote. “Instead, sadly, it’s a bastard stepchild, just like ‘Deadwood.’” Creator Bruno Heller was probably even more pissed than Paulsen, having mapped out his vision of the series all the way through its fifth season, but as recently as December 2008, Heller was still sounding optimistic about the chances for a “Rome” movie. “I would love to round that show off,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. Hey, we’re behind you 100%, Bruno.

6. Four Kings (NBC, 2006) – If you don’t remember this sitcom, you’re forgiven, as it premiered in January 2006 and was gone by March. Still, it made enough of an impression to earn Honorable Mention status in the February 2006 rankings. “Four Kings” was created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the duo behind “Will and Grace,” and featured Seth Green as one of its cast members, so you might think it surprising that it was off the air within seven episodes (and with a remaining six episodes still unaired). Looking back, however, the fact that the greatest praise Jason Zingale could heap upon the show in his write-up was that “it’s a worthy quick-fix until NBC finds a better alternative” should’ve given us a clue that it wasn’t long for this world.

7. Jericho (CBS, 2006 – 2008) – It was the little show that could, our “Jericho.” It started with an awesomely dark premise – a nuclear bomb goes off in the U.S., and we view the repercussions through the eyes of a small town in Kansas – and, after figuring out its direction (the attempts to meld some “Little House on the Prairie” aspects to the show were soon phased out), the series found its footing, kicked some creative ass, and was promptly canceled. But what’s this…? The show’s diehard fanbase made enough noise (and sent enough nuts) to get the show a 7-episode second season which lived up to everyone’s expectations and then some. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the ratings, but those who actually tuned in for Season 2 know how many twists, turns, and outright shocks it included. There’s still talk of a possible “Jericho” movie. We can only hope.

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Currently on the Bubble: Half the Reasons I Watch Network TV.

Have you noticed an intoxicating scent of fear and desperation in the air recently? When you catch that scent wafting in from the general direction Hollywood, you know we’ve reached the time when the networks have begun to look very, very seriously at their schedules in order to determine which of the shows that haven’t yet earned pick-up notices for their next season actually deserve those notices. This year, the stench is particularly strong, what with the combination of Jay Leno’s new M-F 10 PM show killing five perfectly good spots for hourlong drama on NBC, the general economic situation, and the American public still not really having much of an interest in watching anything original. Keeping in mind, of course, that when I say “the American public,” I’m not talking about you

“No, Mum, they haven’t officially canceled ‘Eleventh Hour’ yet. I’ll keep you posted, though, shall I?”

Nellie Andreeva at the Hollywood Reporter has put together a piece where she gives a rundown of what shows are still waiting to find out if they’re going to get a pink slip or a terse note saying, “Yeah, yeah, you’ve got another season, now get your ass back to work,” while Hercules over at Ain’t It Cool News has taken the work out of it for you and simply offered up three succinct lists: Likely To Return, Unlikely to Return, and 50/50.

Taking the “Likely to Return” list – “Ghost Whisperer,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Law & Order,” “Numb3rs,” “Southland,” and “Ugly Betty” – out of discussion for the moment, I don’t mind telling you that, between the other two lists, it’s highly depressing to see about half of my TiVo Season Passes get cited. (Not mentioned in the Hollywood Reporter piece is “Kings,” but I agree with Herc that it’s probably been left out because its permanent vacation at the end of its Saturday night death slot run is considered a given.) Regular Premium Hollywood readers will already know that our man John Paulsen has been covering the death knell of several of these shows and established his feelings on what he’d be bummed to see depart, but here are the five shows – one per network, so as not to be greedy – that I’d most like to see earn a reprieve from cancellation:

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“Veronica Mars” movie on the way?

Good news, “Veronica Mars” fans — it looks like there may be a movie in the works.

Fans of the CW drama were absolutely crushed when the network didn’t renew the show in 2007, and talk immediately turned to giving the series a proper two-hour Cineplex sendoff. Now, creator Rob Thomas has divulged the first solid details of the project, which is closer than ever to becoming reality.

Speaking to reporters at the TCAs in Los Angeles, Thomas (on hand to promote his new ABC show Cupid) confirmed that he is writing a Veronica Mars movie, according to iFMagazine.com.

Thomas says he has the movie “70 percent” down in his head, and is struggling with one crucial plot point. However, he also feels he is “on the right track now” and will clear that hurdle soon enough.

The movie is not going to take place where Veronica Mars’ would-be fourth season would have (Thomas made a presentation for network execs that proposed jumping forward in time to Veronica in the FBI). Instead, the movie is set to start just days before Veronica graduates from Hearst College.

According to the article, the cast is interested and financing shouldn’t be a problem, so this is looking very good at the moment. This comes on the heels of the news that there is also a “Jericho” movie in the works.

Count this writer amongst the fans of the show that were sorely disappointed when the CW elected not to renew it. In that final season, “Veronica Mars” was every bit as good as it ever was, and it felt like there were plenty more stories to tell. I was intrigued by the possibility of her ending up at the FBI, but I’ll take any of Ms. Mars that I can get at this point.

  

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TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “The Prisoner”

There are cult TV series, and then there are cult TV series. Standing rather far ahead of the rest of the pack by just about every critics’ estimation, however, is “The Prisoner,” starring Patrick McGoohan as a former secret agent who is held captive in a small seaside village by the sea by an unidentified power that wants to know why he’s resigned from service. Hell, I’ve never even watched the series, and yet I’d still rate it as one of the top cult shows of all time, based solely on its reputation.

Once again, I think you have to give AMC kudos for their boldness as a network, because not only have they decided to re-imagine “The Prisoner,” thereby putting themselves in line to take no end of flak from the highly obsessive fans of the original series, but they’re even offering up the original show on AMCtv.com for those who haven’t seen it yet. (They also gave all of the critics in attendance a copy of the DVD box set of the series, since we’re clearly far too busy to watch television online.)

Confident much?

Well, you probably would be, too, if you could lay claim to having secured Jim Caviezel as your new Number Six and Sir Ian McKellen as the devious Number Two, then filled out the cast with Lennie James (“Jericho”), Ruth Wilson (“Jane Eyre”), and Jamie Campbell Bower (“Sweeney Todd,” “RocknRolla”).

It’s still going to take some convincing to get the old-school “Prisoner” fans to accept that the seaside of Portmeirion has been thrown out in favor of a new Village located in the midst of a desert setting, of course, but director Nick Hurran is clearly pleased with this new interpretation of the concept, which still focuses on a man trapped somewhere from which he cannot escape.

“The themes have the issue of family, of love, of control and of freedom in the same way,” said Hurran. “Freedom of choice, how much should we be allowed to have in our society of freedom. So, in that way, there are parallels of someone leaving a world and waking up in this extraordinary place for a reason that wants to be discovered. As in the original, there’s The Village. It’s an ideal world where everything will be provided for you. For us, you’ll be endlessly happy. Everything will be fulfilled for you, as long as you don’t ask questions. You won’t have the freedom to ask why, to say, ‘I’d like to leave now.’ And Six is the only one who questions that and says, ‘No, I’m not going to just take a number and join your marvelous world. I’m going to ask why and why is everybody else like this.’ We follow his challenge to question it and try and find out.”

McKellen, who conceded that he didn’t watch the original “Prisoner” when it first aired and only caught it in reruns years later, seems happy with the fact that AMC’s re-interpretation will be far less open-ended than its predecessor.

“One of the characteristics of the original was that in 17 episodes, the questions that you were invited to ask as to why and who is in charge and what are their motives, was never really answered, hence the enduring fascination,” said McKellen. “The viewers are still guessing as to what was the meaning of it all. Well, this is different. By episode six, you know everything about The Village: Where it came from, where it’s going to, who created it, why they did it and what it’s like to actually live there.”

McKellen also agrees with the decision to abandon the unabashedly British nature of the original. “Even though the location was in Wales, it didn’t feel like that,” he said. “It felt like a little English Disney place. Frankly, I’m more attracted to (screenwriter) Bill Gallagher’s notion of ‘The Prisoner’ and The Village and it’s on a world scale. The implications are for us all. To have an American character at the center of it seems appropriate in a way it would not have been to that curious English feeling that saturated the original series.”

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