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Sunday, March 13, 2011

"V" Executive Producer: "It's a pretty terrific season finale"

Thursday, I was privileged to speak with Steve Pearlman, one of the executive producers of “V.” He was very frank with me about the difficulties the show faced this season when its episode order was cut. And he made a pretty good case for why the show should be renewed.

Plus, he told me a little about the season finale, though he was very careful not to give anything away…

Q: One of the great things about the show this season has been how fast everything moves. Tell me a little about the decision process to speed up the pace of the storytelling.

It was a very conscious decision. The feedback we were getting from the network and even the viewers was that not enough was happening. So going into the second season, it was a very conscious decision to really try to jam pack each episode as much as we possibly could.

The fact that we had originally been ordered for 13 episodes and it ended up being 10 episodes ultimately kind of ended up accelerating even more than we had planned toward the end of the season. Because we knew where we wanted to get to by the season finale, we just had to figure out a way to get there quicker. So the last three episodes had been planned to arc out over 6 episodes. And then we ultimately had to collapse that.

Q: Was it tough for you guys and the writers to go from 13 episodes to 10?

It was very difficult. It was difficult on a lot of levels. It was difficult emotionally because nobody likes to get cut back. There were very logical kinds of reasons having to do with scheduling and what not that the network made that decision. But when you’re kind of in the throes of it, it becomes very emotional. So there was that component of it. And it was kind of a doubly hard pill to swallow because all of the feedback we had been getting from the network to the finished cuts was that they had been very happy. So to be getting the feedback of, we really like what we’re seeing, we’re putting you on in a time period that is more protected, but now we’re going to cut your order short, I think that was emotionally very difficult for the writers, for the cast. The crew was a little bit more protected from the ins and outs of the politics of the network.

It didn’t jive. It was like you like us but you want to break up. It was tough on that basis. It was also tough practically because we had arced the stories out over 13 episodes. We knew how we wanted to end up. We knew basically how we wanted to get there. This was around episode six, seven, when ABC decided to put us on in January, thereby cutting the order by three. We were shooting episode six, we were prepping episode seven, we had scripts at that point for episodes eight and nine, I believe, already in some various forms of drafts. So basically, we already had a script for episode nine, we were planning three more episodes after that. Now all of a sudden episode nine is your second to last episode. So you’ve got to take what was episodes ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen and jam it all into episode 10. So just purely from a storytelling, practical, logistics basis that was very difficult and it meant that episode nine, which was already in existence as a script, had to be modified a little bit to be able to step out some of the stories so that we could get to what was ultimately our season finale.

Even at that, we went back to the network and pitched them on the idea of maybe doing a two-hour season finale and that was not something, we couldn’t get them to agree to that. So it was, okay guys, we’ve got one episode now. We’ve got episode 10. We’ve got to get four episodes of story jammed into episode 10. I think when you see the episode it’s pretty non-stop out of the gate, which is great. I wish we could do that every single week. It’s a pretty terrific season finale. One of the by products of having to jam so much story into one episode, we ended up shooting a script that ended up being almost 18 minutes longer than what we’re allowed by our format time. We crammed too much in, we couldn’t fit it all and ultimately we had to cut quite a bit out in editorial. But I think in the end it actually made for a stronger episode so I’m not unhappy about that.

Q: What can you tell me about the finale?

I think the main story, which is something we’ve certainly been tracking all season long, we get to a climax with the story we ended episode nine on the other night where Diana has now joined with the Fifth Column. At the end of the last episode, Lisa’s in, Diana’s in, we’ve seen now that Marcus is on their side. Joshua has regained his memory so it’s all kind of coming together now for some kind of big showdown. I think that’s all I’ll say. I think that’s what you can expect to see in the season finale.

Q: Is it fair to say that possibly not everyone will make it out alive?

I think that is fair to say.

Q: What was it like having Marc Singer in the finale?

Marc was great. He was only with us shooting for two days. We shot nine days for the episode and he came in toward the end of the shoot. He was terrific. The cast got along with him and he seemed to just slip right in. It was fun to see Marc and Jane [Badler] together. I don’t think that the two of them had actually seen each other since the original series wrapped back in the 80s. So they had a little bit of a reunion, which was kind of fun. The thing about Marc that I think we enjoyed and appreciated, much like Jane Badler, was certainly there’s a connection from them to the old series and for fans that’s a real treat. For us, he embodied the character that has been written. For new viewers, people who didn’t know or watch the original series, you can tune in to this episode and see he’s just a great actor playing a great character. It’s not like this big stunt. So it really works on two levels.

Q: The transformation of Erica has been a major arc this season. Why was it important to transform Erica and send her in this tougher direction?

You see this on a lot of television shows where you see characters go through transformations. The arc of Erica, which the writers kind of dubbed the Annafication of Erica, I think was a great arc for her. And I think to see a mother, a woman, a leader, a professional who at the beginning when we first meet her is all about doing things the right way and ultimately we see that character pushed to the brink where they’re willing to compromise anything, including their own family, for a cause. And then presumably they have some kind of wakeup call that they’ve gone too far. That maybe they’re not looking at things too clearly. And I think that’s ultimately what we’re seeing with Erica. And the question is when does she wake up? When does she realize she’s gone too far? And I think you’ll start to get a sense of that in the season finale.

Q: How optimistic are you that you’ll be picked up for another season?

I’m always optimistic. I think that the show is kind of a bright spot in an otherwise dim night on ABC. I read last night after I got home from work that Michael Chiklis has now signed on to do a pilot for another network, which pretty much spells the end for “No Ordinary Family.” As if that wasn’t already kind of prescribed. And I know that “Detroit 1-8-7” is a show that the network is very fond of creatively, but no one’s been watching it. So week after week after week, since we premiered nine weeks ago, we’ve seen this kind of tentpole at 9 o’clock.

When I first got into this business a hundred years ago, my background was in research. So I have a background in understanding the ratings probably more than anybody would want to. And to see that kind of ratings build at nine o’clock, I mean we’re building a half a ratings point or more in the adult 18-49 demo, which is pretty extraordinary, and then those people just go away at 10 o’clock. There is definitely a sense of appointment television for this show.

I wish the numbers were bigger, I can’t lie about that. But there is a pretty extraordinary fan base that is coming to the show week after week and I think that’s the kind of thing that if you’re sitting in an executive office in Burbank trying to make decisions about your schedule, you can’t ignore that. Because the reality in today’s television environment is that they could decide to take “V” off the air and put something else on there next year and it could be doing “Detroit 1-8-7” kind of numbers and they would be a half a ratings point less than what they’re getting now in that time period.

In reality, my expectation is if the show were to get ordered for a third season, we would be in a similar fashion where we’re not on the fall schedule, it kind of comes on mid-season as a replacement which is a challenge in and of itself because it’s off the air for seven or eight months. Television viewing is kind of a habitual thing. You watch it because you get hooked. If it’s not there, the habit can become broken. And that’s unfortunate. But in reality, if the show were ordered for a third season that’s how it would be ordered.

Q: Have you made any plans for what you’d do in the third season?

Broad strokes. We haven’t nailed down anything specific, it’s a little bit early for that. In reality, we just finished doing the sound mix for episode 10 literally last week and we’ve still got visual effects that we’re fine tuning for the episode that airs Tuesday. So focusing on season three, that would be something we would start doing in the next several weeks.

Q: What would you say to the fans?

I’ve been a part of a lot of shows over the years, both producing and prior to that I was an executive at Warner Bros. I’ve seen in this show something that is unlike anything I’ve seen before in terms of the passion for this show. When I came to “V” back at the pilot, that was not something that I really expected or anticipated. I knew it was based on an old series. I knew when that series was on in the early 80s that it had been popular, but I never expected the kind of passion and the kind of attachment that people have to this. So first and foremost, I’d say thank you to the people who are watching it. It’s pretty extraordinary. And I’d say thank you to our cast. You’ve got a group of very talented people who were displaced from their homes to move up to Vancouver for the better part of two years. And they really put their heart and soul into these characters. I think they really found nuance to the characters. I think that they took the characters to new levels and it was fun to see that happen on a weekly basis.

I think we had very talented writers and crew. In many respects, I think we were like the little engine that could. We had a very rough first season, we overcame that, were ordered for a second season. I think that for whatever reason, expectations from the network have been fairly low, and I think we’ve managed to exceed the expectations. And I think that’s just because there’s something about this show, about this particular piece of iconography in television lore, that people have tapped into. I’m happy to have been a part of this. I hope we have the opportunity to continue and make more. But more than anything I think I would just say thank you to everyone who has been watching and showing their incredible support.

The season finale of “V” airs Tuesday, March 15th at 9 p.m. on ABC…

Photos Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC