During a Bates Motel panel discussion Friday, Carlton Cuse was blunt about borrowing from a classic. No, not Hitchcock’s Psycho; TV’s Twin Peaks. “We pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks,” joked Cuse, executive producer of the A&E series with Kerry Ehrin, in response to a question about the similarities from panel moderator Shawn Ryan. “If you wanted to get that confession, the answer is yes,” he continued, tongue in cheek. “I loved that show. They only did 30 episodes. Kerry and I thought we’d do the 70 that are missing.” Cuse appeared on the Paley Center panel “Inside Bates Motel: Reimagining A Cinema Icon” with Ehrin, Vera Farmiga (who portrays Norma Bates), Freddie Highmore (Norman), Max Thieriot (Norman’s half-brother Dylan), Nicola Peltz (popular teen Bradley Martin) and Nestor Carbonell (Sheriff Alex Romero). English actress Olivia Cooke, who plays Norman’s friend Emma Decody, who battles cystic fibrosis, was a no-show because of “visa snafus,” Ryan said. Once it was acknowledged that both TV shows are plenty creepy and set in the foggy Northwest, Cuse, Ehrin and the cast spent more time during the freewheeling discussion citing the similarities and differences of Bates Motel from Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 film.
Guillermo del Toro is bringing his vampire novel trilogy The Strain to television as a drama series, which will be run by former Lost co-showrunner Carlton Cuse. In a very competitive situation with multiple cable networks offering major commitments, FX has landed the project, ordering a pilot that will be co-written, directed and executive produced by del Toro. Co-writing the pilot script is Chuck Hogan (Prince Of Thieves), who also co-authored the books with del Toro. Lost alum Cuse will help develop the series and serve as executive producer/showrunner. Like Lost, The Strain is envisioned as having a limited run. Del Toro tells Deadline he believes the books have enough juice to fill three to five seasons of series, and that he would like to helm as many episodes as his feature schedule allows. Del Toro, Cuse and Hogan exec produce with del Toro’s long-time manager/producing partner Gary Ungar.
In the opening book of the series, the 2009 The Strain, a Boeing 777 lands at JFK with no communication or signs of life. Eph Goodweather, who investigates biological threats for the CDC, is called in and discovers all the passengers dead, and signs that a strange being had been aboard the vessel. Soon, he teams with ex-professor and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian and they assemble a ragtag group that represents mankind’s only hope when a swarm of vampires quickly turn civilization into a buffet spread. Fittingly for male-driven FX, unlike the traditional, romanticized portrayals of vampires as tuxedo-clad studs, The Strain‘s bloodsuckers have no seductive powers — they are parasites, husks of their former human form with stingers that drain blood for nourishment, while spreading capillary worms that convert victims into more vampires under the control of The Master.
Carlton Cuse has teamed with author/pastor Rob Bell for Stronger, a drama project with spiritual overtones, which has been sold to ABC via ABC Studios in a hefty script deal. Stronger, which the former Lost co-showrunner and the founder of Michigan’s Mars Hill Bible Church are co-writing and executive producing, revolves around Tom Stronger, a musician and teacher, and his spiritual journey as he becomes a benefactor and guide to others. Music is expected to be a big part of the show, which features autobiographical elements as Bell is a former musician and played with rock/gospel bands in the 1990s.
Cuse and Bell met at the 2011 Time 100 gala — Bell was a 2011 honoree and Cuse had been on the magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010. The two immediately hit it off and soon concocted the idea for Stronger. While spiritual, Stronger won’t be supernatural. It will touch on the spiritual side of people’s lives much like the final season of Lost did and like Bell has done in his career as a pastor speaking to congregations of more than 10,000. Bell last week announced that he will be leaving the Mars Hill Bible Church in December to move with his family to Los Angeles. The series with Cuse is one of many things Bell plans to pursue,
As Sunday’s Emmy Awards telecast approaches, the Writers Guild of America West last night hosted its annual ”Sublime Primetime 2010″. It was a panel discussion with Emmy-nominated TV writer-producers including Carlton Cuse (Lost), Rolin Jones (Friday Night Lights), Mindy Kaling (The Office), Robert King and Michelle King (The Good Wife), Bruce C. McKenna and Robert Schenkkan (The Pacific), and Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck, and Ian Brennan (Glee). As part of Deadline’s ongoing series on TV’s top showrunners, freelance journalist Diane Haithman examines the WGA’s Showrunners Training Program about making the leap from writer to boss:
The sixth season of the Writers Guild West’s Showrunner Training Program begins January 2011 and is taking applications now. Conducted in partnership with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, it’s designed to help senior-level writer-producers hone the skills necessary to become successful showrunners in today’s television landscape. But if you want to find about 2010′s boot camp, then you have to first get past the “Cone of Silence”. It seems fitting that the people who make and create TV shows would turn to the sitcom Get Smart to describe the bubble of secrecy that shrouds the popular program. Though voluntary, the pledge to not reveal what happens is vital to the program’s effectiveness. “We’ve only had one instance in five years when something got out of the room, and it was unfortunate but it was the result of an honest mistake,” Jeff Melvoin, showrunner for Lifetime’s Army Wives and one of the founders of the program, tells me. “The reason we have the Cone of Silence is, we want the experience to be meaningful. We have top folks coming in and talking about their experiences, and I think that if people are going to give up six Saturdays and do this program, they deserve the best that we can give them, and that means not pulling any punches.”
While the artistic mission behind the program is making better TV, there’s also another compelling reason: money. Networks and studios are constantly complaining there aren’t enough experienced TV showrunners (creatives who also know how to handle the financial and managerial aspects of putting on their shows). The AMPTP collectively give an estimated $125,000 to $150,000 annually to fund the boot camp. After all, they benefit most from it. The program is one of the most sacrosanct even when the WGA and AMPTP negotiate contracts.
As program co-founder and WGAW president John Wells (E.R., Third Watch, West Wing) tells me: “It’s really kind of a crazy thing, if you think about it – there aren’t too many businesses where somebody writes something, they produce it in the spring [as a pilot episode] and come May 1st somebody says: ‘All right, here’s $26 million – go hire 150 to 200 people and spend it all by sometime next May.’” Wells says that it’s virtually impossible to be just a writer anymore in television. “Some people have done it very successfully, where they’ve found a partner who is willing to take over all the managerial stuff and they are allowed to just sit someplace and write,” says Wells. “But in television, it is certainly the aspiration to reach a point where you are controlling your own material, and feel that you are making decisions about what you are doing – the cast, the music, what the cut looks like.”
Wells and Melvoin formed the program because both believe the apprenticeship system long in place before the word “showrunner” even existed has disappeared. Plus, shows are being given to creators who cut their teeth in the feature film world or, more rarely, playwriting or other writing disciplines. So these creatives were coming to television with a unique vision but no practical experience in the medium.
Lost is making a stylish exit with 12 Emmy nominations for its sixth and final season, including best drama series, best lead drama actor (Matthew Fox), supporting actors (Terry O’Quinn, Michael Emerson) as well as writing (Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse) and directing (Jack Bender), both for the much-talked-about series …