Created by Adam Nussdorf and executive produced by David Eick and Tim Kring, the FreeForm drama series Beyond is about a young man named Holden (Burkely Duffield), who wakes up from a coma after 12 years and discovers new supernatural abilities that land him in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. Holden must learn to navigate his new reality while also figuring out who he is, now that so many years have passed. Already picked up for a second season, viewers can either binge-watch the full season online or watch as the episodes air weekly.
While at the FreeForm portion of the TCA Press Tour, executive producers David Eick (Battlestar Galactica) and Tim Kring (Heroes) spoke to Collider for this interview, in which they talked about what it’s been like to have this series available for binge viewing, how this process has affected the storytelling, how they’ll be approaching Season 2, how much they’ve departed from what they thought this show might be, and how their background with visual effects-heavy TV shows has helped with this one. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: Congrats on Season 2! How has all of this progressed for you guys, with the full season being available online while episodes air weekly on FreeForm?
TIM KRING: To be honest, for me, having done some serialized shows in a time when this wasn’t the way they were aired, we always felt like we were airing our show with one hand tied behind our back. The week-to-week airing of a show, especially one that has cliffhanger endings and a lot of suspense between the episodes, sometimes would be very detrimental to the show. What ended up happening was that your audience was always angry at something. You’d leave a cliffhanger that would be somebody getting killed or some big plot twist, and then that entire week, the fans are whipped into a frenzy with one another. They’re usually angry, frustrated, don’t know the answer to something, or are confused, and that whole week that people have to talk about it can be really destructive to the show. Now, with the ability to just click on another episode and get the answers immediately, it’s an acknowledgment that this is how people are watching shows. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, it’s a superior experience to waiting.
DAVID EICK: We didn’t know the show was going to be binge-able while we were writing it and making it. But the real estate necessary to reacclimate an audience to the episode they may or may not have seen from the previous week, you’re really talking about three to six pages of material that are dedicated just to that. We now have 42 minutes to tell a story because they keep shrinking the amount of real estate. When you know that the audience watching Episode 5, just saw Episode 4 and you don’t have to walk them through the week that they’ve been waiting for Episode 5, it does allow you to tell the story better because you’ve got more pages with which to do it.
KRING: The truth is that you used to have to treat your audience with not quite as much intelligence because you didn’t know whether new people were watching, so you wanted to make sure that everybody understood things. Now, the relationship the storyteller has with the audience is a much higher quality relationship. You treat them with a lot more intelligence because the truth is that it’s not my fault if you don’t know what’s going on. There are plenty of ways for you to find out. You can talk to all kinds of people, and you’ve got access to all this information. The onus is no longer on us, as a storyteller, to tell you. You can go out and find out yourself. So, every episode can start where it’s supposed to start.
Having that knowledge, will that change how you approach things with Season 2?
EICK: I think so. Because we had the sense that there was the possibility of the show being binged and that adjusted some of our storytelling, knowing that it’s going to be a binge-able show will help us capitalize on it. We really will be able to maximize story value in every page vs. exposition value in a certain number of pages that have to be donated to the previous week. You get a lot of notes, from any network and not just FreeForm, about clarity, about stating purpose, about character objective, about consistency, and about continuity of previous episodes. Many of those notes become unnecessary, only because we can now say to the audience, “If you’re not entirely clear on this, we know you’ve got it DVRed and we know you’ve got the internet. We may, in fact, deliberately withhold something from you because we know you can go do a little digging and figure it out for yourself.” It’s a different style of storytelling than if you’re doing Law & Order.
KRING: It allows the audience to participate a little bit more. They play a much more important role in the storytelling because you don’t have to spoon feed things to them. They have to work at things. Oftentimes, with binge-able stuff, second and third viewings are really important because you see, “Oh, that character I didn’t like, that was supposed to be that way because, in Episode 9, he turned out to be a turncoat. Now, I’m going to go back and watch all those moments that I felt that way about him.” That’s what’s fun about it.
When you’re working on the first season of a show, you have to also think a little bit ahead because a network likes to know that you’re headed somewhere. How close are you going to be sticking to what you thought might be next for this show, and how much did doing a season of this show affect where you’ll go next?
EICK: I would say the direction the show has gone is a significant departure from anything anyone was expecting, only in good ways. It harnesses this individual, personal, adolescent story and turns it into this visual effects adventure. It all began with this young point of view. That was intact. The construct of the family was intact. But the ideas that involve different dimensions, and the nexus that surrounds life and the afterlife, are pretty wacky ideas that involved a great deal of research into everything from Ayahuasca to brain disease. Part of the joy of a series pick-up is that it gives you a green light to dive into a lot of that stuff.
When you don’t know whether the end of the season is the end of the series, do you worry about how much you leave open, at the end of it?
EICK: Never, honestly. I don’t. I really believe you have to make television with the belief that you’re going to continue on. If you hedge bets and you catch yourself being measured, I usually find that’s a bad sign. Maybe you know something that you don’t want to know.
KRING: In the shows I’ve done serialized storytelling with, there are big open questions, but you like every episode to be identifiable as what it is. It’s also very important that each season is identifiable. There’s usually some big thing that you’re trying to wrap up. There are big bows that you’re trying to tie, by the end of the season, that you would do anyway because it’s just good storytelling to tie those things up. You have these long periods of time now, between seasons, and it’s a time where you can find a show and binge watch. You can very often start a new season with a lot more viewers than you had, leaving off the season before. It’s a chance to pull the show into a train station, stop the train, and let all these new viewers on, so you can tell a new story. In some ways, a second season is a chance to tell a brand new story that you can wrap up, at the end of it.
EICK: I’m the last guy on Earth to watch Breaking Bad. If you look at the ratings, the first two seasons were doing one to one-and-a-half million. The third season was doing two million. The fourth season was doing four million. The fifth season was doing five and six million. It’s like a snowball rolling down hill. Once you know you’ve got that momentum, it completely frees you from a storytelling perspective. On Battlestar Galactica, we knew that we could get away with things that we never would have dreamed of getting away with, like having compromising heroes and ugly protagonists, only because we knew we had that continuity of audience. It does make a big difference.
It’s remarkable how much you can do on TV now, with visual effects. Do you think you could have done this show without the background and experience that you’ve both had in that, on previous shows?
EICK: I take my hat off to [Tim] because he knew how to conquer NBC when I found it an inscrutable place to work, so I don’t know how he does what he does. I do think you learn things about genre storytelling, but you also have to be careful not to learn too much. Whenever Tim, (show creator) Adam [Nussdorf] and I get together to talk about Beyond, we continually refer to it as a family show, a drama, an adolescent show, and a coming of age show. You’d have to hang around a lot longer into the conversation before we start getting into visual effects.
KRING: David had amassed quite a database of people that he’d worked with. His deep knowledge of the visual and special effects world was really key to figuring out how to do this on time and on budget. Having worked on Battlestar and Falling Skies, this was really in David’s wheelhouse. Even in the first season of Heroes, visual and special effects that would have taken two to three weeks to do at some server farm in Nevada can now be done on a laptop while you’re on the set. Trying to keep up with just the exponential change in the learning curve of how these things are being done is amazing.
EICK: To our great fortune, we were able to bring some of the technicians over from Battlestar to assist in that. We had people we knew we could leave at the controls, and they understood that, until it looks photo-real, it’s not done.
Is it challenging to get actors who don’t have much experience dealing with effects to actually pull it off convincingly?
EICK: I got the great fortune of inheriting this cast that Tim and Adam put together. I find Burkely [Duffield], in particular, to be uniquely adept at that. It’s a very difficult thing to do.
KRING: I wonder whether younger actors have an advantage because of growing up with so much more of it.
EICK: Half of them are doing green screen in their backyard when they’re kids.
KRING: I also wonder if acting classes talk about it. You may have a career where 60% of your career is acting against stuff that isn’t there.
EICK: It’s not just the green screen and the tennis ball. There are the most epic, visually arresting, widescreen, desperately dramatic sequences, and you’re on a tiny little square stage, not only having to act the monster or the lizard or whatever, but the depth and breadth of it and the yelling across great distances. It’s a very complicated style of acting, beyond just the stuff they can’t see. They’ve gotta imagine this very epic landscape that isn’t anything like what they’re standing in the middle of.
It’s also fun that a lot of this cast was relatively unfamiliar to audiences, so they can really get lost in the characters.
KRING: That’s the fun thing of casting a show. I’m a pretty strong believer that TV makes stars, not the other way around. I love the idea of having a cast where people don’t associate them with too much baggage, so there’s a certain amount of transparency between the character they’re playing and the audience.
Beyond airs on Monday nights on FreeForm, or you can watch the entire season at www.FreeForm.com.