I seem to have this thing about needing to see canceled shows come to some sort of clean conclusion. When a network decides to cancel or not renew a show that has no long-running mystery, you could pretty much not care less to hear about how things were going to wind up. But when you’re left with a major cliffhanger on a show where you pretty much don’t know what the heck was going on most of the time, and then never see a following season or concluding movie to satisfy your curiosity, you want some damn answers, am I right?
So far I’ve talked to a couple of creators of shows that never saw their way to a conclusion. First there was James Pariott, creator of the ill-fated Defying Gravity. Then I spoke with the awesome ladies of CW’s Reaper, who let us all in on some really great ideas for where they were going to go for the remainder of the series, had it continued. So what do I tackle next?
Last year at the San Diego Comic-Con, I got to talk a while with Reggie Lee of NBC’s Grimm. If you ever get a chance to talk with this man, go do it. He’s extremely cordial and interested in what you’ve got going on in your life and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s nothing like the evil dudes he’d played on Prison Break and Persons Unknown! To make a long story short, he helped point me in the right direction to talk to Rémi Aubuchon, Executive Producer for Persons Unknown, to get some answers for how the show would have ended. Almost a year later, it all panned out in spades.
What I didn’t know about Mr. Aubuchon, going into the interview, was that he was not only involved with Persons Unknown and Caprica, but he’s the big guy in charge of the second season of Falling Skies and had a big hand in Stargate Universe. I’ll get into a little bit about what he had to say about those shows later, but let’s start with the plenty he had to say about where Persons Unknown was going to go.
“The truth is that Chris [McQuarrie] developed the pilot, and he had a very general idea about where the show was going to go, and he left early on in the project. And, to be really honest, it was me and a group of writers who primarily came up with the heart and the bulk of the show. Chris’s idea was astounding and wonderful and interesting and intriguing, but he’s a feature film writer with a great feature film career, and the day-in and day-out of trying to develop a season of television lost his interest, to be honest, so he kinda said ‘go with God’ and we tried to develop the season, given his great start with the pilot.”
I asked Aubuchon about the difficulty in needing to capture viewers’ attention and interest extremely early in a show like this, when it’s typically rather difficult to come in part-way through the season and not feel lost.
“I will say in defense of the season that we did really have a beginning, middle and end. Even though we were serialized, I believe that every episode had a fair beginning, middle and end. I do believe you need to know something about the show going into them; you couldn’t tune into episode five and hope to know everything that was going on. But I felt strongly that there were enough clues that you could enjoy a single episode of the show and get it.”
The main question on our minds, though was whether or not the writers had any clue where they were going to go, had the show progressed.
“It’s a little complicated to explain why we didn’t go for more than one season, but we certainly have a pretty strong idea of where we were going to go. … We had every intention of going with a second season and even a third season. In fact, to FOX — the studio — I had to pitch an idea of what the full five years would be, if we were going to go for five years.”
There was a strange marketing campaign going on as the show was coming to its first season conclusion. By that time most either knew or speculated that the show wasn’t coming back for another season, so the thought of getting some answers was on many minds. So, in what was likely a ploy to simply get more people to tune in — or back in — to watch the show’s remaining episodes, promos promised we’d get most if not all of the remaining questions answered by the first season finale. As those of us who’ve seen the season through have seen, that wasn’t the case at all.
“I felt that the marketing for the first season was a little dishonest. It’s true that I thought we were going to wrap up a lot of questions, but not all of them. In fact, we had defined the last episode as a huge cliffhanger. So every time NBC kept saying, ‘all the questions will be answered,’ I would cringe a lot, because I kept thinking, ‘uh … that’s not really gonna happen!’
“We were told in no uncertain terms that we had to have a cliffhanger, and that it had to be a really strong cliffhanger. But when it went to NBC, it was NBC’s marketing department that decided that because of the fallout from Lost, that they would say that all of the answers would be given at the end of the season. That turned out to be, in my opinion, false advertising.
Back when I spoke with James Parriott about Defying Gravity, he held little back in what he thought of the handling of Lost and its by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to constructing the show’s mythology. Parriott said he couldn’t run his show that same way, so he did have the majority of the show’s progression already in mind before the show’s first season completed. So was that the same case going into the mythology-laden Persons Unknown?
“Well I think [the Lost team was] under the same pressure [with ABC] that we felt under with NBC, where I wasn’t really allowed to publicly say some things at that time. I had several friends that were on Lost who basically confirmed the same thing, that they really had no idea where they were going. Look, it kept me intrigued for many, many years, so their storytelling was great, but I just didn’t want to find myself busted because we suddenly ended up telling a story where we didn’t know what the rules were. I think it’s just a good idea [to have the rules in place].
“I was a big Lost fan, but one of the things that upset me about Lost — and I’m certainly not the only person who felt this way — is that I felt they were punting a lot of the time during the season, and that they clearly didn’t have a clear idea of what was happening in the background, that they kept trying to find their way through the mythology to what was going on. Speaking for myself, I was kind of disappointed in how we ended up at the end of the season. I had started working on Persons Unknown long before Lost had its own conclusion, even though we ended up airing after Lost. And one of the things we tried to do right at the top is to make sure we knew what was happening — why these people were here in this town, what the purpose of it was, how were were going to manipulate that story, and eventually how it was going to conclude itself.
“Chris’s original idea was to try and do a Prisoner, but in a 21st-century approach. The Prisoner reflected the anxiety and the hopes and dreams and paranoia of the ’60s, and we wanted to do that same thing for the 2000s. The Prisoner was about individuality and suppressing that individuality. Our focus was on free will and the individual being able to triumph over the establishment. So that’s the premise of saying where we would have gone.
“We were making it more of an ensemble, a slightly different organization in mind. I think [Chris] would be completely straightforward that he had every intention of doing a modern-day Prisoner.”