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Awake on NBC

Features, Interviews, New Shows

Interview: Kyle Killen

2 Comments 02 March 2012

Kyle Killen, creator of NBC's AwakeHere at New TV Shows we’ve been big fans of Kyle Killen ever since we saw the pilot for Lone Star, the show he created for Fox in 2010. One of the smartest, most interesting pilots for many a year, it seemed to lay the tracks for what could well become a modern classic. One episode later Lone Star was axed; despite critical acclaim the show didn’t bring in the numbers the network demanded so it was cut down before it had even had a chance to reach its prime.

Disappointment followed once more when The Beaver, based on a highly regarded Killen script, performed poorly at the box office — presumably largely because of widely publicised accusations of racism and domestic violence against its star Mel Gibson in the run up to its release.

But now Killen is hoping it’ll prove to be third time lucky with NBC drama Awake, a show which follows a police detective who is involved in a horiffic car accident with his wife and son. When he regains conciousness he finds himself caught between two worlds — one in which his wife survived but his son died, the other in which the roles are reversed. He skips from one reality to the other every time he wakes from sleep, causing him to question which version of his new life is indeed ‘real’. But as he tells one of his psychiatrists (he’s got one for each reality, naturally): “When it comes to letting one of them go, I have no desire to ever make progress.”

With the first episode of Awake set to air on NBC tonight, Kyle Killen was good enough to answer some of our questions about a show we’ve been excited about for quite some time.

Both Awake and Lone Star feature central characters struggling with a double life of one kind or another. Was that a deliberate choice? Are there themes you had planned to explore with your previous show that you plan to include in Awake?

Something like that. My mind was kind on the dual life place coming off of Lone Star so I think it was still fertile ground when I went looking for another story to tell.

What is it about the double life dynamic that appeals to you?

I think we all wonder about the decision we might have made differently and the lives that might have resulted from them. I’m kind of interested in people who refuse to pick one and instead try to take both sides of the fork in the road at the same time.

Is there anything you learned during your experience with Lone Star that has affected your approach with Awake?

Lone Star had a much darker core — the lead was essentially an anti-hero, someone you cared for despite his behaviour. I think part of the fun was that the audience could never really tell if they wanted him to succeed or fail. Ultimately, that turned out to be a  barrier to a network audience and we had trouble getting enough people to try it out to keep it on the air.

Awake really turns that dynamic on it’s head, giving you someone who’s struggle is something we’re completely empathetic to and our rooting interest is pure and clear. Lone Star was also a very serialised story that required commitment while Awake will offer a serialised overstory, but also has a procedural engine that provides stories that begin and end every week.

Does the fate of Lone Star make you nervous about Awake‘s prospects or is it a case of ‘well, it’s unlikely we’ll be treated as badly as last time’?

I think no one really ever knows what’s going to work and what won’t. If Lone Star had been a giant hit I’d still be very nervous that no one was going to turn up for Awake. In the end, making films and television is a giant leap of faith and Lone Star demonstrated that when you take that leap you can very easily end up on your face.

Awake NBC

Does Awake live and die with its central mystery or can you eventually answer that and still have more to explore? Is there a worry that if you take too long to answer the big question fuelling the show that the audience will give up?

I really don’t think it’s a show about which world is real. I think it’s a show about man who treats each world as real and struggles with the ways those two worlds start to pull away from one another and demand different things from him. I think that to the extent people keep watching, it will be because they’re invested in both worlds, not because they’re waiting for one of them to go away.

Do you have an ‘ideal run’ in mind for the show in terms of number of episodes/seasons?

I don’t.  No one wants it to be a show that outlives it story, but given that my last show made it two episodes, I haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about that particular problem.

Do you have a solid idea from the outset what’s really going on with [main character] Michael or is that something you’ll decide upon when the show naturally approaches that point?

I tend to start with really defined places that I want to get to in a season, something to build to or explore, but I think you have to be open to how to get there. You’re working with a lot of creative and talented people and they’re going to bring amazing things to you that you’d never have considered on your own. Being able to accomodate that and see it all grow and mesh together is the single most exciting thing about doing a show like this.

How do you feel about the timeslot you’ve been given? How much sway do you give to that factor in terms of successful a show is?

This was ER‘s timeslot, a space I grew up watching NBC dominate, so it feels like an honour to land there. There’s no safe harbour on television. It’s like an election every week, and ultimately people vote for what they want more of. We enjoyed making this and are excited about, so we hope people dig it. That’s about as much as we can control.

Jason Isaacs and Laura Allen in Awake

In terms of the detective elements of the show, will there be a new case to be solved in each reality every week or are we looking at longer arcs?

Yes and yes. There’s a case or cases each week in most episodes, though eventually the dominoes on the over arching story arcs start to fall in a way that demands more of our time and attention. Hopefully it’s a satisfying blend of the weekly and serialised.

When The Wire was shown in the UK a couple of years back David Simon was asked if he was worried that the casual viewer would feel lost when dipping into his show halfway through. His response: “Fuck the casual viewer”. With a relatively complex set-up for your show is there a chance people joining the show late will feel alienated — and if so, do you care?

As an enormous fan of The Wire, I’m extraordinarily grateful that Simon took that approach. I think there’s a few different ways to look at it. First of all, I think we underestimate the intelligence of the audience and their bandwidth to handle things that are different or unique. There’s nothing about this show that’s more mentally taxing than Jersey Shore. It’s just an entirely different type of story.

As for the casual viewers, I think it’s completely legitimate to say that you’re making something that is intended to be a deep, meaningful and incredible insight into a particular world that demands investment from and audience and rewards them with both entertainment and eye-opening insight like The Wire. I think it’s also legitimate to say that there are a lot of people who work incredibly hard all day and simply aren’t up to a challenge like that for the hour they spend in front of the TV each night.

Anyone can decide to aim their efforts at either audience, and we can argue the merits and cultural importance of the shows on either side of the divide, but as a writer it ultimately has less to do with the audience than your own interest and investment in what you’re giving your time to. So in that sense, regardless of what kind of show you’re writing, it’s always less about the audience than about the writer deciding what makes them happy.

The first seven minutes of episode one were available to view online early. How do you feel about that kind of marketing? You’ve written the opener to hang together as a whole so does taking a chunk of that and putting it out there on its own cause any issues?

I think the first seven minutes do a great job of setting up what the show’s about, so I’m all for it. The reality is that people don’t consume TV by setting their clocks and showing up on a certain channel at a certain time any more. The more we embrace that and explore ways to use and benefit from it, the more I think we’ll discover a host of opportunities where currently we see threats.

To wrap up, what would you say to somebody who prior to coming across this interview is undecided about whether or not to give Awake a go? Why should they tune in?

I think it’s a bit of an experiment, an effort to see if we can bend some conventions and offer something new that’s satisfying to a wide audience. As with any experiment, you tune in to see if it might go horribly wrong. We’ll know March 1.


Pawnee plays host to West Wing fan convention

4 Comments 14 February 2012

As if the return of Louis CK as lovable cop Dave in this week’s episode of Parks and Recreation isn’t enough to get excited about, news of another forthcoming guest star has us staring impatiently at the all-too-static calendar like a spoilt kid in the run up to Christmas.

The West Wing might just be New TV Shows‘ favourite programme of all time (the Sorkin years, at least) so the prospect of Bradley Whitford turning up in Pawnee in an episode that features several nods to NBC’s political drama has us giddy with excitement. Whitford, who delighted as Josh Lyman in The West Wing, will show up as the outgoing city councilman that Leslie Knope is hoping to succeed.

The episode title, Live Ammo, is a West Wing reference in itself, playing on a line uttered to Ainsley Hayes by one Sam Seaborn — who was played by Parks and Rec‘s Rob Lowe. How very meta. The only downer is the fact that Whitford and Lowe reportedly don’t share a scene in the episode. While we understand that if done badly it could have been a duff note, the Parks writing staff have proved over the past few years that they know what they’re doing. We’re pretty sure they could have pulled it off.

Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to the day when Parks and Rec meets The West Wing and our head explodes. What a way to go.

Awake on NBC

New Shows, News

NBC sets Awake date

No Comments 04 February 2012

Grab your big red pen and open up your diary to March 1, for that’s the date that Kyle Killen’s double life drama Awake will premiere on NBC in the US. Our faith in Killen, whose credits include the excellent but shoddily-treated Lone Star, is so strong that if the show turns out to be a turkey we’ll run down the nearest high street naked shouting “It is your duty to mock us; we’ve misled literally tens of people”.

Awake sees Jason Isaacs play a police detective who, following a car accident involving his family, switches between two tragic realities every time he wakes up. In one his son survives and his wife dies, in the other vice versa. As well as having a different loved one to grieve in each, to try and work through the pain he also has different crimes to tackle with different partners — as well as different therapists to talk things over with. But despite being largely opposed both existences share some striking parallels which may be the key to cracking the mystery of what really happened.

Trust us, it’s going to be great. Although we reserve the right to renege on that naked high street thing if it turns out that his wife and kid are both alive and it’s him that’s been dead all along. Because that would be rubbish.



Awake on NBC

Features, New Shows

Three shows we’re dying to see

1 Comment 28 January 2012

Over the optimist, New TV Shows can often be found pawing through the upcoming television schedules with an excited eye panning from side to side looking for the next truly great programme. Sure, sometimes we get burned but on the whole we know how to pick ‘em.

Having scanned through a list of the new shows lined up for 2012, we’ve identified a number of forthcoming programmes that we’re confident are going to be the bomb, as all the kids are saying nowadays. Read on for our three favourite contenders for new TV show of 2012:


The pitch

A detective is faced with two separate realities when regaining conciousness following a car accident involving his wife and son. In each reality only one of his loved ones survived the crash and he he switches between the two every time he wakes from slumber. Is he cracking up from the stress of losing somebody so close to him? Or is he just experiencing particularly vivid dreams? Only time — and some serious soul searching — will tell.

Why you should be excited

Show creator Kyle Killen is a huge talent and due a break following some rotten luck with previous projects. He was responsible for 2010′s best pilot, Lone Star, which also dealt with living a double life albeit in a very different way. Unfortunately Fox cancelled it two episodes in despite incredible promise because of disappointing viewing figures. The word from those who have seen an early version of the Awake pilot is overwhelmingly positive and the show has a strong front man in the shape of Jason Isaacs. The premise is strong and we’re more than confident that Killen will deliver; the trailer (above) has us PUMPED. The only worry is that NBC may get cold feet over a show that will likely only fully reward those who watch closely week-in-week-out. Fingers crossed they give the show — and Killen — the chance they deserve.

When it’s due to air



The pitch

A peek behind the scenes at a busy TV newsroom. Veteran news anchor Will McCallister is roundly trashed and labelled ‘un-American’ after telling the truth in a widely publicised interview. Soon after, the protégé he’s been rooting for is offered a plum timeslot of his own and the majority of McCallister’s disallusioned staff follow him out of the door. Can McCallister regain the trust of the nation with the help of a team of hastily arranged replacements?

Why you should be excited

Aaron Sorkin, creator of best-TV-show-ever-ever contender The West Wing, is behind The Newsroom, so expect plenty of weighty issues interspersed with his trademark snappy dialogue and light slapstick. This is the third ‘behind the scenes of a TV show’ project Sorkin has created, following the underrated Sports Night and unfairly lambasted Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, so he’s liklely to hit the ground running. We’ve read an early version of the pilot episode script and it’s classic Sorkin fare — more than enough to get us unreasonably excited. While HBO has undoubtedly killed off some shows before their time — hello Deadwood! Hi there Carnivale! — you’d hope it’ll give Sorkin time to find his stride with this one. Jeff Daniels is signed on to play Will McCallister and we’re confident he can deliver the Sorkinese.

When it’s due to air

Summer 2012


The pitch

The team behind BBC political satire The Thick of It takes on US politics. The series follows a senator who is unexpectedly catapulted into the office of Vice President only to find that the job is nothing like she expected.

Why you should be excited

Have you seen The Thick of It? If so, you’ll know exactly why. Any project that creator Armando Iannucci is attached to is automatically worth having on your radar given his sparkling previous form. The UK comedy landscape has been immesurably enriched by his presence for more than 20 years now — The Day Today, several Alan Partridge projects, the ludicrously underrated Channel 4 comedy The Armando Iannucci Shows — and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t have the same success in the US. The new show also boasts a couple of bona fide sitcom greats among its cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame plays main character Selina Meyer, while Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale also stars.

When it’s due to air


Up All Night

Features, New Shows, Pilot Season

Still to come: New NBC comedies

No Comments 21 September 2011

Here’s a novel idea. How about publishing a preview of upcoming NBC sitcoms once two of them have already aired? Unconventional, granted, but we started work on this preview a while back and promptly got sidetracked with something else so it’d be a shame not to put it out there. Expect reviews of all the new pilot episodes in due course.

Anyway, onto the new NBC comedies. The network  has  an incredibly strong returning comedy line-up (Parks and Recreation, Community, The Office, 30 Rock) so the new shows will have to go some to stand out from the crowd. Let’s start with the sitcoms that will be airing during the ‘fall season’.


The fact that Will Arnett has failed to find the right vehicle since frequently stealing the show as Gob Bluth on still-missed sitcom Arrested Development is nothing short of a bloody big shame. So it was with excitement that we greeted the news that he was bouncing back from last season’s Running Wilde-shaped disappointment with a starring role in a new NBC comedy alongside some other exciting names. Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph have both shown that they’re more than capable of providing laughs, so there’s reason to believe that this could come together nicely.

That said, the trailer is far from convincing. There are a couple of nice observations (the surprising leg strength of a newborn, the knowing countdown to tears as the champagne cork hits the ceiling) but on the whole things fall a little flat. Creator Emily Spivey has many years of Saturday Night Live writing under her belt and also wrote a fun episode of TV’s current best sitcom Parks and Recreation, so despite the miss-and-hit promo we’ll continue to hold out with (very) cautious optimism.



An odd one, this. Free Agents first cropped up in the form of a UK sitcom pilot starring Stephen Mangan, Sharon Horgan and Anthony Head for Channel 4′s short Comedy Showcase season in 2007. It wasn’t until two years later that a series was aired; it went out with little fanfare and was received with a collective shrug of the shoulders from the viewing public.

Not the most obvious candidate for a US remake, then, but here we are. The always enjoyable Hank Azaria plays a newly divorced father who has a one-night stand with a colleague (Kathryn Hahn) and wants to take the relationship further. Unfortunately for him, she’s not really up for a long-term relationship; while she seems the confident type on the outside, she’s dealing with previous relationship issues herself — her husband-to-be dropped dead shortly before they were to tie the knot. Head, widely thought of as the best element of the original show, reprises his role as the foul-mouthed head of the PR firm that the will-they-won’t-they-with-a-twist couple work for.

Going by the trailer above, this could well shape up very nicely indeed. Azaria is a fine comic performer, so given the right material he could help Free Agents become a real dark horse. The main concern is the cocky ‘come on, bro!’ co-worker (Mo Mandel) who gets a bunch of screen time in the video preview — not funny at all, ‘dude’. On the other hand, Al Madrigal’s socially awkward staffer looks like a keeper.



Whintey Cummings comes over all Vincent Gallo; as creator, co-producer and star of a self-titled sitcom, it’s easy to see how things could potentially get a little self-indulgent. Cummings’ star is rising, though (she’s also co-creator and co-producer of CBS’ new comedy 2 Broke Girls), and having given her show the plum post-Office spot in the schedule NBC clearly sees her their next big star in the making.

Neither the trailer above or the official blurb from NBC give a great deal away about the show itself; it centres around the trials and tribulations of a long-term relationship and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid amorous stagnation. Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess; what’s for sure is that it’ll need more than that relatively flimsy hook to keep people watching.

Cummings has developed quite the following thanks to some of her shock-based stand up — during the Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff she addressed Pamela Anderson with: “You’ve slept with Brett Michaels, Tommy Lee and Kid Rock; why don’t you just save yourself some time and drink a vat of Magic Johnson’s blood?” — but it’ll be interesting to see how she fares in the more sedate surroundings of network television.


So, with Up All Night, Free Agents and Whitney all coming to NBC very shortly, what do we have left to look forward to as midseason replacements? These three, that’s what:



Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first; it’s a terrible title. Yes, it’s based on a best-selling book of the same name whose title is a skewed version of the Judy Blume novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. There are a couple of problems here. Firstly, the majority of people who are exposed to the show won’t get the reference. Secondly, even if they did, it wouldn’t hide the fact that it’s a horrible title for a TV show. In this era of social media being a huge marketing tool for new shows, it might have been an idea to go with something a little snappier than what we’ve got. Twitter users are going to have a third of their 140-character limit taken up by the time they’ve typed out the show title! We’re being wilfully ignorant for the sake of a poor attempt at humour, there. Clearly it won’t be a problem; they’ll be able to use a catchy hashtag instead. You know, like #AYTV?IMC. Oh.

Onto the trailer, and there’s not much there to get our hopes up. Bartender gets caught drink driving so buys apartment within walking distance of work so that she isn’t tempted to drink drive again. That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!



Jessica St. Clair, Lennon Parham and Adam Pally star in this single-camera comedy following a soon-to-be-divorced woman who flies back across the US to move back in with her ex-flatmate and best friend — only to find that said friend’s partner has moved in and converted her old room into an office. The short trailer is light on laughs but time will tell whether there’s anything more underneath the wobbly premise to get excited about.

One point of note: the pilot episode was directed by Fred Savage, who, quite apart from being a New TV Shows favourite purely for having played Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years and the grandson in Top Five Best Film Ever inductee The Princess Bride, has plenty of experience with directing strong comedy, including underrated gem Party Down.



Bent stars Jeffrey Tambor. That’s Jeffrey ‘Hank Kingsley AND George Bluth’ Tambor, star of two of the greatest television comedies of all time: The Larry Sanders Show and Arrested Development. That alone should be enough to have you tune in. Plus, you know, the trailer looks good.

The unimportant extra details: Amanda Peet (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) plays a single mother who hires a recovering gambling addict (David Walton) and his band of oddball co-workers to remodel the kitchen in her new home. Tambor plays the contractor’s father, an out of work actor — and hopefully gets lots of screen time. The extended preview indicates that the show has charm and we’re pinning our hopes on Bent being a winner. It’s just a shame that we’ll have to wait until later on in the year — or possibly even 2012 — to get a glimpse of the show proper.

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