ABC's new conspiracy series, Zero Hour, is going to be big, really big. The series, which stars ER's Anthony Edwards, has a “massive scope” and follows the model of 24, with a new closed-ended story being told each season, said creator and executive producer Paul T. Scheuring. The series premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
“I honestly don't know if there's a show that offers bigger conceit and scope than what we're doing. It's either going to be crazy good or people are going to go, 'Dude, you're out of your tree,'” said Scheuring in an exclusive interview with Blastr.
In Zero Hour, Edwards plays Hank Galliston, a skeptic who publishes a magazine that debunks myths. However, when Hank's wife is kidnapped by an international terrorist who is trying to get his hands on a mysterious clock she purchased, Hank ends up in the midst of a conspiracy with a cataclysmic secret at its center. The series also stars Michael Nyqvist as White Vincent, Jacinda Barrett as Hank's wife, Laila, and Carmen Ejogo as FBI agent Beck Riley.
“This is one of those reverse-engineered series where, unlike a lot of the other serialized shows, we know exactly what the last frames are. We know exactly what the end of the story is. And so, really, I built up an architecture on the front end of it, this idea of a man getting drawn into a large conspiracy, to get to the endgame that I wanted to get to,” said Scheuring.
“In a broader sense, I'm a huge fan, obviously, of intelligently rendered swashbuckling stories like the original Indiana Jones and that sort of thing. And what's interesting is that those original genre pieces like Indiana Jones were really awesome, intelligent pictures, and subsequently they've become this trope where everyone's like, 'Oh, I want to do the Indiana Jones thing!' And what we've lost in the process, in my opinion, is the intelligence of them. So what we're trying to do is stay in that realm of a big thriller that at the same time evokes a lot of questions and treats the audience with a lot of respect in terms of their intelligence,” he said.
Initially Scheuring had planned on casting an actor in the lead who was more of a “swashbuckling hero.” However, when Edwards came up for the part, his vision for Hank changed.
“It was an interesting choice because on the surface you're like, 'No, that's not the guy.' But then you're like, 'Well, hold on. He brings a real-world quality to it and a kind of cerebral quality to it.' So the guy becomes a little more of a real-world academic skeptic or editor of a magazine, as opposed to this kind of ridiculous lantern-jawed movie-star guy,” said Scheuring. “It was definitely a nice surprise where you just reframe and you're like, 'Well, no, that's actually better than what I was originally thinking. Less cheesy, you know?'”
Eventually Edwards became the perfect skeptical lead character for Scheuring. Hank has “probably his entire life wanted to believe in Bigfoot. He's wanted to believe in the Loch Ness monster and the Chupacabra and all these different things. After 20 years of doing it, he's effectively found that unfortunately, it's all BS, man. It's just all BS,” he said.
“And then all of a sudden something happens, especially in the pilot,” when Hank makes a shocking discovery. “What we want to do going forward is continue to peel back layers of the onion and obviously reveal more and more. But the whole time keeping on that razor's edge for him of, 'Well, this is really incredible the things that I'm seeing, but I think I can still explain this,'” he said.
“There's going to become a tipping point in the series where it's like, 'Can you explain that?' And so it might be the journey of doubt to faith or skepticism to faith or discovery for him,” he said.
Another significant character, White Vincent, is the show's Big Bad, at least for season one. “It's incumbent that the antagonist have a human agenda for what they're trying to accomplish. An understandable agenda, even if it's by all appearances egregious. And Vincent is just a straight-up analogue for the Frankenstein monster, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,” said Scheuring. “The Frankenstein monster was this product of science who had no other like him, and he was lonely in the world looking for his place. He was this wandering philosopher who could not fit in, but he had this huge skill set and this huge philosophical database to access. Vincent, in a lot of ways, is just that. He literally is. He's a broken soul searching, but of course his language is, 'If you and I don't agree, I might have to break your knees.' But there's something bittersweet about him, which is important in the antagonist as well as all our characters.”
Scheuring, who also created Prison Break, “learned in pretty short order that people that make these shows generally have a big idea for a pilot, but they don't really know where it's going. And then they flap their wings for two weeks or two months or seven seasons and you realize that it's total bulls--t. It really alienates the audience,” he said.
“So what was incumbent for me was to know where to start. With this show we're going to continue to roll cards at a very fast pace so that the audience will see that ... and each card is quite fantastic, to be honest with you. It's like, wait, what the hell does that mean? That's impossible! And yet it all comes together at the end. So that's something we pride ourselves on. There's no red herrings here. There's no MacGuffin. There's no flapping our wings. We know exactly where we're going. … Our model is like 24, which is every year there's a new case,” said Scheuring.
Since the series has the framework of an editor who runs a myth-busting magazine, “Why can't next year they be looking into the chupacabra or what have you? It allows us to tell closed-ended stories, which in my opinion are the most rewarding anyhow,” he said.
“You're totally allowed to reset. You can bring in all new characters. You bring in a whole new narrative. It becomes like writing a new novel. We've got a 13-episode run, and the body count is going to be up on some principal players.”
While ABC hasn't had a lot of luck this year with genre shows (including Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue, which have both been canceled) or with the Thursday 8 p.m. ET timeslot, Scheuring believes Zero Hour will succeed or fail on its own terms.
“It'll either work or it won't. It'll either be the thing that we are successful with or the sword that we fall on. It will be unique. It will be original. You won't be able to really go, 'Oh, yeah. They copied this or that.' It's just like, 'Whoa! I don't know what the f--k's going on! But it's different!' Good or bad. And that's what we said from the very outset. Let's do something different and smart. And you know what? If it works, great. If people don't go for it, at least we made something that was different and unique and not a cliche, because again, as I was saying before, you have this trope of the treasure hunts, like the Da Vinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it's like, if you just reheat that without something really intelligent and different beneath it, the audience is like, 'Who cares, man? It's The Librarian on TNT, I don't care.' Whereas if you put something together and they're like, 'I don't see how these pieces are fitting together yet. I haven't seen this stuff before. What's going on? But I'm going to keep watching.' That's all we're ultimately aiming to do,” said Scheuring.
Here's a look at Zero Hour:
Are you ready for something unique on Thursday nights?