When CBS ordered Hostages to series earlier this year, the network did so as a 15-episode “event” series, but today at CBS’ Television Critics Association press tour, Les Moonves reminded that does not necessarily mean a completely close-ended, “one and done” season only. The end of the pilot episode shows how the show could continue on, and considering the family in the show is not only physically being held hostage but also feel they are being so emotionally by the family itself, there might be a lot of water in which to wade. Moonves noted critics might want to “ask again in January,” after the show has moved creatively and ratings have come in, how the network feels about keeping Hostages for multi-season arcs.
“We already sort of had these touchstones, these maps, and because it’s 15, it’s a real gift to us because we really got to shape an arc without having to stretch it out or tap dance. You can tell the story you want to tell like a novel, with a beginning, middle, and an end,” series executive producer Jeffrey Nachmanoff said about the pitch as presented to the network.
“The thing about the title of Hostages is it’s really a metaphor. It’s not a show about people held hostage physically the entire time; it’s about how these people are held hostage to the decisions they’ve made [but they do go] out and about in their world but now by chance this ordinary American family has collided with a conspiracy, and that changes them all forever.”
Hostages, therefore, was originally conceived as a show about a family who felt trapped in their daily lives and relationships, but it always had the added, “extraordinary” element of a masked man (Dylan McDermott) coming into the home and literally holding them hostage, until the matriarch (Toni Collette) killed the President for him. It’s not as crazy as it sounds: she has been tasked with being the President’s surgeon, and he took advantage of that; he didn’t just pick her at random and train her to be a killer.
Still, when the idea was presented to him for development, Nachmanoff admitted that his first response was “Are you sure that’s a network television show?” However, based on where the television marketplace is today, he strongly believes the answer is yes.
“It’s a chance to try and do something different and outside the model of what we normally see on network TV,” Nachmanoff said, comparing his characters to those you’d normally see on cable, such as a Walter White (Breaking Bad).
“These are characters that are ordinary people in extraordinary situations…People in extremis that discover something different about themselves because of the situations they are thrust in.”
It certainly helps that McDermott’s Duncan is a “good guy at his core” who has his own reasons for doing what he is doing, which the season will explore freely and quickly.
In the pilot episode Collette’s Ellen has to decide whether to botch the surgery or not, “being asked to choose between becoming a murderer and assassin and her family. We take her down a path, and she discovers really her inner hero, and she rises to the challenge,” per Nachmanoff. However, [SPOILER ALERT] at the end of the pilot, she chooses secret option C and neither kills him nor completes the surgery successfully. She finds a loophole that delays the surgery altogether.
“The next episode is that Ellen didn’t do what he said [so] what is the fall out from that? What happens from that, and what are the consequences?” Nachmanoff said.
“It’s the cat and mouse, [giving] the audience that feeling and that ride of suspense. Suspense is different from surprise. We’re not making a horror film. You know what he wants; you know what she wants…now we have a new problem. Every episode’s another turn of the screw; every episode is what are the consequences of the last decision.”
Additionally, Nachmanoff shared that the series will be “peeling back the layers of the onion of…this dysfunctional family” as the episodes go on and the tensions grow.
“We don’t get to know a lot about Ellen in the pilot or even in the first, particularly because she had such a huge front story,” Nachmanoff said.
“We’re learning a lot about her as she responds to the situation in the moment, but as the series goes forward, we’re going to peel the onion back even further [on] her situation with her family and with Duncan, there’s a whole Stockholm situation we’re going to explore [as well].”
Going back to the title as being largely metaphorical, Nachmanoff also confirmed that the 15-episode season, which plays out largely in real time (so the story will span the course of two weeks), would not consist of the family stuck in the house for all of the episodes. In fact, in episode two (the first after the pilot), he noted that the family will be back to the outside world and “is back to their quote normal lives”– well, as much as they can be knowing such a task is still hanging over their heads.
“We have a complete arc and plan for the season but…some of those things are going to change and adjust [as we shoot]. Our ideas are we don’t pull any punches, we’re kind of going to go for it…We think the thing people respond to in the show is going to be surprise and taking them off-balance,” Nachmanoff said.
“At some point in the next few episodes the family is going to try and escape, and in the process, one of the central characters, we won’t tell you who, is going to get shot.”
Hostages premieres on CBS on September 23 2013 at 10 p.m.
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