The new ABC drama series Last Resort, premiering on September 27th, tells a suspenseful, emotional and action-packed story about what happens when a U.S. submarine crew receives an order to fire nuclear weapons at a foreign country, and then ignores that order.
While at the ABC portion of the TCA Press Tour, show creator/executive producer Shawn Ryan (The Shield) talked about telling such an ambitious story, how the characters will come first, how realistic and technical the show will be, why director Martin Campbell was the perfect person to bring the series to life for the pilot, putting their very healthy budget on the screen, how much edge they can bring, how the special effects elements will come into play, and what shows he’s currently enjoying on TV. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
SHAWN RYAN: My ambitions have grown, and the story started with Karl [Gajdusek]. I want to give Karl credit. The initial nugget of this story was his, and then we joined forces. But, when we pitched this to Paul Lee and his cohorts at ABC, last summer or fall, I described it as the show that I couldn’t make five years ago because I didn’t possess the skill set, and that I felt like the shows I had done, up to this point — with the ongoing serialization of The Shield, combined with the production value of The Chicago Code, and combined with this buddy thing that we had done in Terriers — all got me to this place where I felt I could do something this ambitious. It’s not like I didn’t want to do something of a huge scale like this before, but this is a really difficult show, from a storytelling standpoint and a production standpoint. We have the production in Hawaii and have to manage that. It’s a big-budget, very huge, monstrous-scope show that I don’t think I would have been capable of doing before. So, it’s not like my ambitions have grown, but my feelings about my capability to live up to those ambitions has grown.
Will this show be about the relationships, or will there be a threat of the week?
RYAN: We go in a lot of different directions. There’s going to be a Tom Clancy aspect to this show, the way there was in the pilot, in every episode. But, TV is about relationships, whether it’s Sam (Scott Speedman) and Marcus (Andre Braugher), or Grace (Daisy Betts) trying to prove herself, or a character like Kylie (Autumn Reeser), who’s grown up in a very privileged life and now has to decide whether she wants to risk that to uncover a conspiracy that may ultimately unravel her own family’s company.
TV is about characters, so the characters will come first. This is not a show about war, but it’s a show about people in a time of crisis. In the same way that Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Reds and Doctor Zhivago were personal character stories about people in the middle of crisis, that’s what we’re hoping to do, in a weekly series. As a result, we’re going to delve into what happens between Sam and Marcus. They’re in lockstep, at the beginning of this pilot. Will they stay in lockstep? Will they become opposed to each other? And Grace is a trailblazer. Only recently has the U.S. government allowed women on submarines. Can she live up to that? Will she be viewed as a creature of nepotism, or will she prove herself amongst her crew? So, it will be a character piece.
There’s not going to be a monster-of-the-week situation, but there will be high stakes. They find themselves in a very precarious situation. There will be three kinds of threats that we deal with from the outside world. America is not happy that the submarine is sitting parked with nuclear weapons aimed at it. Other countries are going to want to get involved, in some way. There are threats on the island, as represented by Julian Serrat, our character who is the local strongman, who’s not thrilled at the arrival of these people.
And then, probably most interesting to me is the internal threats. There started off being 150 people on the submarine. There are 130-some by the end of the pilot. They’re not all going to think alike. Some of them are going to be solidly with Marcus and Sam, and some are not. What do they want to do? What threats will emerge from within that group? So, we feel like we have lots of stories to tell, and any one episode is not going to be like another. This isn’t going to be the kind of show where every episode feels the same. We’ll delve into all that stuff.
RYAN: We want to be as realistic as we can. Most information about U.S. nuclear submarines in classified. There’s a positive and negative to that. The negative is that, when you want to find out an answer, you don’t get it. The positive is that it always you to make some stuff up. Who’s going to say you’re wrong, since it’s classified.
How accurate will the tech talk be?
RYAN: We had two consultants that helped us out on the pilot, and we have a new one that’s helping us out on the series. Our writers ask questions, as they’re breaking the stories and writing the scripts. When the scripts come out, we get notes from the tech consultant. With submarines, a lot of stuff gets repeated. We don’t always have time to do that, so it won’t always be accurate, in terms of that. But, we want to be as accurate as possible, as much as we can be, in keeping to the time constraints of the show.
How many episodes is (pilot director) Martin Campbell doing?
RYAN: He’s just done the pilot, for now. He’s got a movie thing that he’s doing. We’d love to have him back, at some point, but I don’t know if or when that will happen.
RYAN: I love the idea that the same guy who directed the “Three Men and Adena” episode (of Homicide), which is one of my all time favorite episodes of television, is also the same guy that reinvented James Bond with Casino Royale. I loved the idea of a guy who can do an episode that was just three people in a room. A lot of this pilot is just these people on the com, waiting for a phone call to come in and to see if they’re going to be attacked. That tension is very important. It’s also a pilot of great scale. It’s a big, ambitious pilot. So, someone who had done Golden Eye, Casino Royale and The Mask of Zorro, was someone that I felt was up to that. He connected with the material, and he impressed us.
How do you balance the scale throughout the run of the series, for budgetary reasons?
RYAN: We have the interior of the sub that we’re going to continue to use. Now that our visual effects company has built the exterior of the sub, it makes it cheaper and easier for us to do that underwater stuff. Some episodes will be bigger than others. We joke that, somewhere in our future, we have the ultimate bottle episode – the bottle being the submarine – that we’ll do, at some point, to save a little money. The studio is really allowing us a very healthy budget, by new show standards and we’re going to put a lot on the screen, in terms of that.
RYAN: Oh, yes! You can’t just leave a sub parked to always get attacked, or to allow your crew to stop drilling and learning how to do it. So, there will be drills. There will be missions. There are various things. We’ll be on the sub, a fair amount.
With so much plot to establish in the first episode, will viewers have to wait until the second or third episode to get a sense of what the show is going to be?
RYAN: Great question. I always vowed that I would avoid premise pilots, but this clearly is a premise pilot. It’s always better when you can just drop into a world and do it, so the show will be discovering it. Hopefully, we’re inventive enough, in the same way that Lost was. I hope that we never get into a rut where you know what a typical episode of Last Resort is. Some episodes will feel very internal and personal, and some will feel very epic in scope. We’re going to have figure that out. It’s a high wire act, no doubt.
For fans of yours, how is this a Shawn Ryan show?
RYAN: A lot of my shows have had a basis in a group of men and women, who find themselves struggling with duty on the job, in dangerous circumstances. I think that definitely applies to the submarine crew here. For those people who love The Shield, the crew of the USS Colorado is engaged in things on a far, far larger scale.
How has developing this show been different than the other shows that you’ve done?
RYAN: I have a true partner, in Karl [Gajdusek]. I had David Mamet on The Unit. He wrote that. But, this is us working together, which has been great. I’m at a new studio now. It’s a different and new experience to work at Sony. They’ve been fantastic! The stakes are higher, in many ways. The Shield was such a low-cost gamble when it came out. We made that show so cheaply, and nobody watched FX, so if we were going to fail, we’d fail relatively anonymously. This is a big deal.
RYAN: When I was first told Thursday nights at 8:00 pm, one of my first questions was, “Is our content going to need to be different than it would be at 9:00 or 10:00?” And I was assured that it wouldn’t. I was reminded that Lost started off as an 8:00 show on ABC, and we saw what kind of depth of storytelling and what kind of serious nature they were able to touch on. So, I’m going to take them at their word. We are going to make the kind of adult, smart, provocative drama that we want, and hope the audience at 8:00 shows up and appreciates it.
How do you feel about fitting into this slot at ABC?
RYAN: We had a lot of conversations about it and, ultimately, what we discovered was that women are going to want to watch Scott Speedman, Andre Braugher and Daniel Lissing who plays James King, our CO, but they also like good stories and relationships, and we’ve got that. The Marcus/Sam relationship is really interesting. Will Sam and his wife, Christine, ever be able to get together. Grace trying to prove herself on that submarine is something that they can probably get into. We have as many female series regulars as we do male series regulars on this show. If we try to do things 24 style, with just plot, I don’t think that’s going to work on this series. But, if you tie the plot into the emotional lives of the characters, that’s something that can work for men and women. There’s a flip side of that question because a lot of shows that ABC has done, in the last couple of years, seem like they only appeal to women. I think the hope, on this show, is that women are going to find the emotional hook to this show, and yet it’s a show that their husbands will gladly watch with them. That’s the ultimate goal. We’ll see what eventually happens.
RYAN: The Shield was very rough around the edges, intentionally so. This is a network show. I think I understand the difference, having done The Unit and The Chicago Code, and having worked on Lie to Me, for a year. It’s about finding that sweet spot of what appeals to an audience, and yet finding those things that are different about your characters. You can have flawed characters on network TV. I think it’s a misnomer that flawed characters only exist on cable. But, I think there is a slightly more heroic bent. Obviously, Vic Mackey did some awful stuff that would be tough for some of the characters on this show to do. So, it’s finding that balance and aiming for a lot of great shows that I love, going back to Homicide, NYPD Blue, The West Wing and Lost. Those were all network shows that delved into very extensive areas. They showed characters with extreme flaws and dealt in very adult, sophisticated content. Our goal is to do something like that.
Because of its success, have you felt pressure with shows subsequent to The Shield?
RYAN: The Shield had two to three million really hardcore followers. The Shield doesn’t mean anything to anyone. It just doesn’t. So, no. I think that I put much more pressure on myself than I’ve ever felt anyone else put on me. I’m a perfectionist. I want the stuff to be great. I don’t ever want to be embarrassed with something that has my name on it. There is no external pressure that can be put on me that’s greater than what I put on myself. I’m aware of the beloved nature that The Shield holds with a lot of people and amongst a lot of TV critics, and I know that it’s going to be hard to ever eclipse that. I could crawl under a rock and never try, or I could keep trying, and I’m going to keep trying.
Every single episode of that show holds up.
RYAN: There’s one that doesn’t, for me.
RYAN: There’s an episode in the first season, where I felt we were still finding our way. It’s the, as I like to it, “Throw Away.” I wouldn’t say that it was bad, but it’s not up to the high standards, for a variety reasons. There were some script issues. We hadn’t yet developed a language to educate the directors on what we were after, and the show hadn’t hit the air yet. We didn’t really have episodes to show the directors. The actors were still figuring things out. We covered it up and polished it up, as best we could. I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere, if you’re not a tougher critic on your own self than other people are. That’s just me and my attitude. We worked very hard. We never wanted an episode to feel like a filler or a stepping stone to something coming later. We wanted every episode to be enjoyed and work on its own. I’d have to go back and watch them all, to see if I still think that they hold up, but we worked hard to strive for that.
How excited are you to have a special effects element to play with on this show?
RYAN: It’s pretty great! Fuse is the company. They did special effects on The Unit, but we didn’t have as much of a call for that on that show, as we do here. One of the great things about Sony – our studio – is that they allowed us to get an early start, even before the pilot was picked up. They really believed in it and they allowed us to hire the special effects company, way back in December. So, while most pilots were doing their special effects in February, we were doing ours in December. It made a big difference. So, right now, what we’re doing is getting scripts in really early. They’re working on special effects for Episode 4 right now, even though we don’t start shooting Episode 1 until Monday. Like anything, the more time these craftsmen have to do what you’ve asked them to do, the better the job. I thought the special effects in the pilot were pretty spectacular, and that’s nothing that had to do with me. It had to do with this company, and having a vision and the time to do it. The stress in the series will be to maintain that. There are a couple of hard air dates where there will be some episodes that we probably don’t do too many special effects because the time, from the end of filming to when it airs, won’t allow us to do a good job. So, we’ll just craft those stories to be less special effects dependent, in those episodes, while hitting them harder in others.
What TV shows are you watching right now?
RYAN: I just did a marathon of Homeland, which I thought was pretty great. I didn’t watch that in the fall. I watched it a few weeks ago. I really loved that. I like a lot of the comedies on FX, such as Louie, Archer and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I really like Game of Thrones and Mad Men. I’m way behind on Breaking Bad, and it’s been hard to avoid all the tweets about it. I don’t want to know anything until I can go back and watch them all. I’ve heard people say, “I hear The Shield is great. I’d love to watch it, but it’s so intimidating about having to watch all that,” and that’s where I am with Breaking Bad. I’ve only seen the pilot and it was great, and I was so busy with work that now I’ve got to catch up, but I’ll watch that.