[03/12/07 - 03:47 PM]
Live at the Paley Festival: FOX's "Prison Break"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

7:03 p.m.: Barbara Dixon is back to intro tonight's moderator - TV historian Alex Van Block, who in turn intros the episode to be screened - "Pilot."

7:52 p.m.: Block returns to bring out the panelists - Wade Williams (Bellick), Rockmond Dunbar (C-Note), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), Sarah Wayne Callies (Sara), Dominic Purcell (Lincoln), Dawn Parouse (executive producer), Matt Olmstead (executive producer), Paul T. Scheuring (executive producer) and... wait, no Wentworth Miller? You can almost hear the collective sigh of disappointment in the room.

7:56 p.m.: Paul on the genesis of the show: "I had been working as a professional feature writer for about eight or 10 years in a writing partnership and the summer before pitch season... I dissolved that partnership. And in Hollywood, the big question is when a writing partnership dissolves - the question is, 'Who's the writer?' And people are very unwilling to take a chance on either partner so at that point I was kind of flapping my wings and trying to get any work that I could. And I had a previous professional relationship with Dawn [Parouse] and she said, 'What about a TV series?' And I didn't really think I was gonna want to get into, involved in television but like I said at that point I took anything that I could get. And it was her idea - a show about a prison escape and a guy with tattoos that would ultimately find his way out. So I am in great debt to her for that. And that's kind of the genesis really."

7:57 p.m.: Dawn continues: "First of all, I had met Paul and his writing partner and loved their work. And I first tried to - although I did not have the rights to - 'Grand Theft Auto.' I thought it would be a good television series, although it wouldn't have been. [Laughs.] And that's where I met Paul and then they did a project with me which was great. Paul was really the writer on that one, they were sort of doing separate things at the same time they were [partners]. So I really got to respect Paul's writing. And then I had optioned a book for Paul to write and thankfully we didn't sell it. But in the meantime I sold the idea [for 'Prison Break'] to FOX and said in the hallways of NBC or actually in the parking lot where the pitch didn't go well for this other book. And I said, 'In case it doesn't sell, there's this other project that I'd think you'd be great for.' And immediately we talked about it and he fixed the things that were kind of wrong, which was like, he was like, 'Why would a guy do that?' And he said, 'Unless they were brothers.'"

7:59 p.m.: Paul on how Steven Spielberg almost got involved with the show: "I basically turned in the pilot [in] January of '04. And the good and bad thing about turning in a pilot for television is that it's not like features where something can remain in development for years and years and years... But the good thing about television is that, you know, generally everyone turns in their scripts at the same time and they'll basically tell you within three or four weeks, 'we're shooting this next month' or 'it's not happening.' And so I was ready for that kind of feedback. I turned in the script. And Gail Berman was the president of FOX at the time. She said, 'This is great. Provisionally we want to make it.' And all of a sudden we were sliding back into that feature world. Because it was such an unorthodox piece and 'Lost' had not yet been released, and surprisingly they had '24.' But the idea of a serialized show made them a little bit nervous. So they felt like, 'Well, what if we made a mini-series out of this? And let's get a marquee name - so-and-so presents: 'Prison Break.'' And so they ended up giving it to Spielberg and he responded and so I had to go over there and give him the whole pitch. And [I kept getting asked], 'Where does the series go?' And so I had to do that song and dance in front of him and then I thought I was going to collapse before I walked in there. And it all worked out pretty well. He said actually that he would be involved. He said, 'I'd love to do this. The only thing that I can't do is let this pull me away from directing. And if any of my directing things slot up I have to take that.' And so I'm praying [that they don't]... but 'War of the Worlds' got slotted up so he fell off. So now it's going about eight or nine months and at that stage, I believe it was in September in that year when 'Lost' had its huge, huge, huge debut. I had literally gotten a call from the studio the next day. They go, 'We're making the pilot!' And so all those things, all those hoops I had to jump through [about how the series can sustain itself], all of a sudden dissipated. They're just like, 'Let's make a series, you'll figure it out!'"

8:03 p.m.: Wade Williams gives my favorite answer when people ask - hoping to get some artsy fartsy answer - how they came aboard a particular show: "I was trying to get a job."

8:05 p.m.: Paul on the weird road Rockmond Dunbar took to becoming a series regular after guest starring in the pilot: "We saw him in the pilot and we're like, 'This is our guy.' But because we weren't picked up yet for series [yet], they were already casting other shows and we didn't have him contractually locked up... And so another show ['Head Cases'] picked him up which then once we got picked up, we're like, 'What do we do? We don't have that actor. Do we recast the role?' And then we were like, 'We like Rockmond so much as an actor, it's like do we take the chance, do we say we just don't see C-Note for about six or seven episodes? 'Head Cases' will get on the air. No one will watch it.'" Dawn chimes in, "No I didn't say that." Paul adds, "She did say that, she's lying. [Laughs.] That was a big debate in the writers' room. We had such faith in Rockmond and then we're like, 'We'll take this chance and you know what, if the show does succeed, if 'Head Cases' does succeed, then in the seventh or eighth episode, then we'll introduce a new character that's going to play that role in the escape.' But we really bet on him. And he were are two seasons later and he's done a wonderful job."

8:06 p.m.: Block confirms both Wentworth Miller and William Fichtner are MIA. "Both of them are working and their schedules did not allow this. They do send their apologies." More heavy sighs from the crowd. You made like 200 girls cry Wentworth, are you happy?

8:07 p.m.: Robert Knepper on his pre-"Prison Break" days: "All of a sudden I realized I was part of that middle class actors group that is being squeezed out. You get a little money or you get a lot of money. And I all of a sudden was one of those victims." He goes on to say he was applying to be everything from a park ranger at Will Rogers State Park to teaching acting at UCLA at the time he got cast as T-Bag.

8:14 p.m.: Amaury Nolasco accidentally drops the f-bomb during his "how I got cast" story, prompting a look from Sarah Wayne Callies. Amaury then leans into Sarah's lap and apologizes. Sarah then adds, "If you don't know, I'm pregnant."

8:17 p.m.: Dominic Purcell on what he was doing when he was cast in "Prison Break": "I was doing a 'wonderful' show called 'North Shore.'" Dawn adds that the day before his audition, Dominic had gotten into a fist fight with one of his "North Shore" co-stars.

8:19 p.m.: Paul on why the show moved to Dallas this season: "Basically what we had to have this season was this idea of [being] able to convey all sorts of different corners of the country, whether we're in California or Vegas or, you know, Texas or Chicago or even Mexico. And we had to be able to convey that all within that 30-mile radius the crew would operate within. And we found out in Chicago, that you pretty much got the Midwest." He then goes on to add that their line producer, Garry Brown, suggested Dallas - only to find out later he did so because he lives there.

8:25 p.m.: Matt Olmstead on the violence in the show: "We have a body count... in two years [of] 44 people but the biggest reaction we got was when a cat was killed by Bellick. My mom will never forgive me for that."

8:27 p.m.: Paul on Robert's acting style: "He's kind of a method actor... We knew we had a keeper in that very first episode. We cast him in the episode after the pilot. And again, we were going to have an insidious character that's going to be the guy [where the audiences goes], 'No, he's the guy that can't go in the escape!' So it was going to start with T-Bag and if the guy we cast for that role was a complete bomb then we'd wash him out and bring in some other bad guy in the fourth or fifth episode. So the subject of that episode was a big kind of race riot. And everyone's slicing each other and killing each other. And T-Bag's kind of recessed in the sequence, he's not in it too much. So here's Knepper who's only been in the production for one or two days and we're all running around because we're managing like about 100-150 extras that are all going crazy. And Knepper just walks by [while we're shooting Wentworth]... and I don't know him from Adam... and he goes [opens mouth]. But laying on his tongue is a razor blade, a real razor blade! It's not a part of the scene."

8:37 p.m.: Paul on why the show is a success, domestically and internationally: "I think there's kind of three components... One obviously, we have a cast of hunky fellows, headed by Wentworth who's not here. Secondarily I think we have a universal kind of conceit which is the emotion, the love between brothers which sort of transcends culture. And lastly, there's a lot of United States government bashing in it."

8:39 p.m.: Time for Q&A. Someone wastes no time asking for season three scoop. "As far as the content of season three," Paul teases. "I think you have to watch the rest of this season and we've only got three episodes left but I think you're going to start to get a real idea of where we're going."

8:43 p.m.: Dominic on his overall "Prison Break" experience: "Improvisation is a technique some actors use and some don't. It's not about improvisation it's more, you know, working in TV you're usually very handcuffed by the writers. And I certainly experienced that on 'John Doe.' And it was incredibly frustrating... the wonderful thing about this show is the writers let us change words, change things to... so that they roll out of our tongues easier. And I really attribute a lot of the spontaneity in 'Prison Break' to that, you know? And that's the great thing about this show is that it really is an ensemble thing, including the writers. We're all one big family try to make this thing work. And I for one have been constantly surprised by the amount of freedom the writers give us. I think that's imperative for any successful drama."

8:46 p.m.: Paul on the show's censorship battles: "[We've done] a lot of slang that too hip for them." To which, Dawn adds, "[Robert Knepper's character's] name is T-Bag." Paul then details a particular scene in which T-Bag - who had cornered and was going to potentially rape Wentworth Miller's character - was supposed to say, "I'm going to light up that leather donut boy!" FOX objected, even though the phrase "leather donut" was completely made up by Paul. The version that aired then cut the audio out after "I'm going to light up that leather..."

8:48 p.m.: Someone asks all the actors about the "death specter" that hangs over shows like this. Paul explains: "In general, you're already agreeing to terms with a lot of these guys for the season. Even if we wanted to kill someone, say Dominic, not that I've looked into this... you make agreements, contractual agreements with the actors and their representation before they even hit the screen. So Dominic's guaranteed for all 22 episodes and you can't all of a sudden go, 'In episode three he's dead!' It just doesn't work that way. In that sense, there's a sense of work stability for the actors in that. In terms of feeling a responsibility and kinship with them... you feel for them when you're going to kill their character off. But 'Prison Break' isn't going to last forever anyhow. None of these guys are going to be marching down on the streets doing 'Prison Break: Season 8.' It's just not going to happen."

8:51 p.m.: A fan asks Paul if it's true that the show was originally conceived to run 44 episodes and out: "The original conceit was coming out of the gate to go 44 episodes. And that was with the assumption that no one would ever watch the show. With increasing success, you have networks that have commodities, particularly a show like this that I believe is in 42 countries right now I think. For a corporation like FOX it's a cash cow, and that's not something you turn away from. And so the long and short of this is if Matt and I said, 'The show's over [after] 44 episodes.' They would go, 'You're over at 44 episodes.' So having faced that very real business aspect, we've kind of found what we feel is a really great middle ground which is - we preserve everything creatively from those first two seasons, close the door on those seasons as we originally intended and yet have the connective tissue that will allow us to turn a new card and evolve it in season three. So we feel really good about telling the original story in the 44 episodes but also platforming season three so I think it is the best of both worlds."

8:54 p.m.: Someone asks why we haven't seen the tattoo in a while. "You don't want the tattoo," Sarah jokes. "You want Wentworth with his shirt off!" The crowd supports her assumption. Paul nevertheless adds, "The tattoo still has some application and actually in these coming episodes... I think it's the next episode as a matter of fact, there is kind of a beginning and end to that tattoo, an endgame for his overall plan will be revealed via the tattoo."

8:56 p.m.: Paul on the theme of season three: "There's certain sense of redemption. It's actually going to be, you know, on the subject of violence and that sort of thing, it's gonna be even more stripped down and closer to the earth and brutal... and not all the people you see on the stage right now will be there." Matt jokes, "This is the first I've heard this guys."

8:58 p.m.: Paul on where season three will be filmed: "We'll be staying in Dallas for season three. Some second unit/splitter work in both Florida and Louisiana. So you can extrapolate from there."

8:59 p.m.: A very excited fan asks Sarah, and no, I'm not making this up: "How good of a kisser is Wentworth Miller?" This is followed by lots of shouts of "good question!" Sarah plays along: "I will tell you this much, we finished the scene on the train where I was so overcome with morning sickness that I almost vomited on the poor boy. And it was a long day and we were kind of tired. I turned to him and said, 'Just so you know, I haven't had an outbreak in months.' Let me tell you, the color drained from [his face so fast] it was amazing. I will say no more than that."

9:01 p.m.: And that's all boys and girls. I wonder how many questions about making out we'll get tomorrow?


  [march 2007]  


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