TV can be a cutthroat business. No one knows that as well as TV show creator Kyle Killen. When his show “Lone Star” premiered on Fox in 2010, it was critically acclaimed and talked about as one of the best pilots of the season. But the viewers didn’t tune in for the first episode, and it was pulled after just two episodes had aired. Taking what he learned from the experience in stride, Killen is bringing programming back to network TV with his new show “Awake,” a high-concept show about a cop who lives in alternate realities after a car accident, one in which his wife dies and one in which his son dies. The catch? He doesn’t know which is real and which is a dream. Along for the ride is producer/showrunner Howard Gordon, who among other things, was a showrunner for “24” and most recently co-created the Showtime hit “Homeland.”
“Awake” airs on NBC every Thursday at 9 p.m.
Since the Super Bowl you’ve had a strong advertising campaign. What do you think of the ads and how do you feel there is a challenge in getting across such a complex plot and nailing the tone of the show in a 30-second ad?
Howard Gordon: Kyle and I went to a NBC marketing and promotions meeting last week and saw their campaign and were kind of blown away by its intelligence and by its commitment. The network is clearly very committed to it and they are spending money on it. Some of the promos, two in particular kind of blew us away. One really does sell the procedural aspect and the duality and the other really sells the emotional anchor. They are airing them across a lot of platforms. I think remarkably, legibly people can understand what they are going to tune into and they have been getting a lot of positive response. So we are psyched about NBC’s approach to this.
A lot of people have been connecting the show in some ways to the film “Inception.” Kyle, how do you as the creator of the show feel about that comparison? Is it welcomed or not?
Kyle Killen: I mean I thought “Inception” was an incredible movie. I don’t know how much we have directly in common with it other than there is certainly that idea of your waking life and your dream life and the dreams feeling incredibly real, sometime so real that you can’t quite tell which is which. I think beyond that it is not necessarily an “Inception”-like experience on a weekly basis. We are simply playing different notes. But anytime someone associates your work with something that is iconic, I have no problem with whatsoever.
When you guys found out that you weren’t on the fall schedule and you would premiere mid-season at the earliest, did you use that time to tinker with things or do rewrites or reshoots or did you save that for your production hiatus?
KK: You know, there is really no difference when [a show] starts. I mean we are finished and finishing alongside shows that were fall series. You start work at essentially the same time. There was a little bit more lead time, which we were incredibly grateful for. It has been a complicated show to figure out on a week to week basis and make work in a satisfying way, so any and all extra time was incredibly welcome. I think having the opportunity of being a mid-season show, we get a launch that isn’t cluttered with the launch of everything else. It doesn’t feel like a demolition derby of new shows. I think it sets up well for a show like this.
How did your experience as working on “Lone Star” change your approach to working on network TV?
I mean it does and it doesn’t. I think anybody who tries something and has it not work would be stupid not to look at what occurred and what lessons you could take away from that. I think one of the big takeaways is that “Awake” is that it offers some standalone elements in comparison to a completely serialized show. With “Lone Star,” the effort was always to try a cable style show on network. The risk in that is if you don’t get a network-sized audience in Week 1 you are going to be battling uphill from then on. You are not just saying, “Please join us for Week 2. Please join us for Week 3.” You’re also saying, “Please go back and catch up on Week 1 and Week 2 so you’ll have some idea of what’s happening.” I think trying to lower the barrier to entry for subsequent episodes so that a show could gain momentum rather than just bleed it from the top is something that felt like it was going to be smart to bake into future network television ideas.