Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Before today’s TCA panel on USA‘s new series Graceland, USA co-presidents Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel touted the network’s scripted series as their “signature strength.” They added that USA Network will be “diving into comedy in a big way in 2013” and hailed the addition of a “small show called Modern Family as an important part of our lineup.”
After the session, McCumber added that comedy “is an area that we’ve always wanted to move into, comedy has been a part of what we do; take a look at Psych, it’s always been in our DNA,” McCumber said. “When we have this platform we should be able to launch a true comedy series off of, we’d be crazy not to look at the half-hour world. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack, comedy is just a little more difficult.”
But there’s one minor series development problem at USA Network: The executives joked about its as-yet-untitled Heuton/Fallaci project — “We love the show, we don’t love the title” — and invited all suggestions for a new name for the series.
At the panel, the title Graceland became the subject of the first question to the show’s executive producer Jeff Eastin. Will TV audiences be able to make the leap from expecting Elvis to appear to identifying that name with a reality-based drama about undercover agents living in a repossessed California beachfront mansion called Graceland?
Eastin, also creator/executive producer of USA’s White Collar, said the show had begun with the “dull” working title Safe House. He said the creative team preferred a more “thematic” title. They came up with the story that the mansion was seized from a drug lord known to be an obsessed Elvis fan. “We were going to have a big velvet Elvis hanging in the foyer,” he said. “We decided that wasn’t a good idea, but kept the title.” (McCumber said after the panel that USA Network always loved the title.)
Eastin, who appeared on the panel with cast members Daniel Sunjata, Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Ferlito, Brandon Jay McLaren, Manny Montana and Serinda Swan, said that he brought the series idea to USA. The script, he said, was based on material on a real-life “house father” to undercover agents first brought to Eastin by his agents at CAA. Said Eastin: “They took me and showed me the real house that had been commissioned, I met the real guys and they started telling me their stories. At that point I said: I gotta make this show.”
Eastin said that he kept his script around “for a while” before bringing it to USA. “I considered it sort of the best script I’d ever written,” he said. “Finally it got to a place where I loved working with USA, brought it out and showed it to them, and they really liked it, especially for the fact that it was very character-driven, there. It is a dark show. What I’m really proud of is that it’s not just a dark show but it’s also a pretty funny show. The laughs are coming out of the reality.”