NBC's new series Awake has a lot going for it: a bold concept from unique storyteller Kyle Killen and the expertise of Howard Gordon, who knows a lot about ambitious shows. Recently, the two talked with me about putting together the highly anticipated drama.
Awake centers around a detective (played by Brotherhood star Jason Isaacs) who, after being involved in a car accident with his wife and son, begins to experience two realities: one in which his wife survived the tragedy and one in which his son lived. As viewers wonder which is real, the main character simply tries to move on with his life and use his newfound state to make a difference.
It makes sense that this show would come from Killen, a man who gave us the most misunderstood drama on FOX (Lone Star) and be produced by Gordon, who knows how to make a different idea into a successful series (24). Here's what they had to say about how Awake came to be.
Kyle, this is another very unique premise for a series from you. Can you talk me through how the idea took shape?
Kyle Killen: It had some things in common with [my] last series, Lone Star. When that ended, some of those questions of duality and trying to make a go of living a life in two spaces [were] still floating around in my head. That was something that was still of interest to me and this seemed like a good vehicle for exploring a lot of that.
And then, the concept of the way your dreams feel real, the way you seem to experience them as something that you don't blink at until something crazy happens that sort of bursts that balloon. I became interested in the question of what if nothing ever popped that balloon. What if you couldn't tell the difference between when you were awake and when you were asleep? I started looking for a way to marry those two ideas up and a few months later we had Awake.
Once you had that idea, how did you start to bring the show together?
Howard Gordon: We started with the lead [character], Michael Britten, since he had to shoulder so much of the story. Actually at the very beginning, we were afraid until we decided we could actually break point of view. It seemed that he might have to be in every scene, which anybody who has ever done hour long television knows that's pretty impossible.
Anyway, there is a very short list of leading men of a certain age, who are substantial. Jason Isaacs
was at the very top of that list and we were lucky enough to get him. I had met with him a couple of months before, and I know he was very sketchy about whether he wanted to do television [again]. He was intrigued as I was by Kyle's pilot and he jumped in. From there [we] built out the molecule: who worked with your lead.
Both of you having done serialized television before, was there anything you did knowing that you were going to have that same kind of show that might be more difficult for an audience?
Kyle Killen: I think the risk with a completely serialized show is that your audience is all in or all out. That is a tremendous gamble. We are very interested in the serialized elements of the story but we also recognize that in the fractured landscape of television today it is hard to get everybody to commit [in] week one. What you really want to do is leave the door open so that hopefully the good word filters out and people can come to it without feeling like "Well I'm already hopelessly behind so I give up on that. Or maybe if it goes a second or third year I'll catch up on DVD."
If week six is the first week that you watch, you are going to get a satisfying hour of television that you can completely follow and understand. Hopefully that experience makes you excited about going back and catching up. I just think the trend is towards making sure that your audience has an opportunity even if they are not there [in] week one.
Howard Gordon: Kyle is exactly right and I think, having done 24 and recognizing from inside how nearly it impossible it was, the barrier to entry that it creates...there is a mercenary aspect to it as well which is shows that you can occasionally watch or sporadically watch are more syndicatable. The studio is more incentivized to do shows that have standalone beginnings, middles and ends.