More from Comic-Con 2016: CBS Television

Posted on August 3, 2016 at 3:55 pm

At Comic-Con I had a chance to chat with the stars and producers of CBS television series, both fan favorites and new shows.


James Wolk of “Zoo” Is one of my favorite actors, so it was a special treat to get a chance to talk to him about “Zoo.” Wolk plays Jackson Oz, an American zoologist investigating a mysterious pandemic that has created devastating animal attacks. He says that following the death of Chloe, Jackson’s love interest on the show, last season, “it takes a dark turn. Jackson is under a terrible amount of stress. He has a lot of animosity with Dariela, played Alyssa Diaz, because she is indirectly responsible for Chloe’s death. Meanwhile, Jackson’s brother is falling in love with Dariela, so there’s a lot of turmoil starting to develop with the characters. In a more broad sense, the animal apocalypse is still happening, the mutations are starting to affect people, and we’re going to start to explore what that means.” He said that having been a guest star and recurring character on series (“Happen Endings,” “Mad Men”) before, “I know what it feels like to be welcomed. I know what it feels like to have people go, ‘Oh, that’s the new person so we’ll put him over there. They’re just busy. But I know that when people were so welcoming to me, it freed me up as an actor because I felt comfortable. I opened up as an actor and the colors came out, the different levels. So it’s a selfish thing to embrace them because they’ll do their best work and that’s good for the show. It’s going to gel. So we all go out of the way to make them feel comfortable and welcome.”

Kirsten Vangsness of “Criminal Minds” and Tyler James Williams of “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” talked about how being on a crime procedural. Vangsness plays a character who has to rattle off a lot of technical terms. “I have to make that exposition a discovery, to make it different in a neat little labyrinth. Also I talk pretty fast in real life.” Williams said that “the show does not vilify people; it explains people. Hurt people hurt people.” “Fear makes you cruel,” Vangsness said. Williams says the show has made him more empathetic. “If anything it makes me more aware of how we interact with each other. I immediately ask ‘what happened to them?’ Our job as actors is to justify the behavior of the character, so that seems natural.”


Eddie Kaye Thomas and Jaydn Wong talked about playing super-smart good guys on “Scorpion.”  Thomas said he was on the subway and a little boy said to him, “You’re the one who catches the bad guys.”  He knows that “we’re in people’s living rooms.  We’ve shared time with you.”  And he “likes saving the day.  Wong added. “I like being right.”  Thomas would not want to have the ability to read people’s moods and emotions. “I like the mystery. I would not want to carry the weight.” Fortunately, he says he is “really bad at analyzing people.”  Wong likes the complication of the characters. “We’re geniuses, but we have emotional challenges.  We’re good at some things but bad at something else.”  Thomas agreed. “The show doesn’t work because we’re smart. It works because we have characters the audience can relate to.”

“MacGuyver,” the classic 1980’s television series about the endlessly ingenious adventurer, has been rebooted and will be premiering September 23 2016 with Lucas Till taking over the lead role. Producers Peter Lenkov and James Wan talked about honoring the original series and its fans and updating it for a new generation. “He’s a unique character,” Lenkov said. “He does everything the opposite of most action heroes on TV today. He resorts to violence last. He doesn’t use a gun.” If you look at the original show, there’s no internet or cell phones. So the new MacGuyver will still be a technology guy, but with a new set of tools and options. There will be a shift to more of an ensemble, and it is very much designed to be something the whole family will watch together and “We hope to get people interested in engineering and creating, in looking at what is around them differently.” That means a lot of research. “We’re on a lot of watch lists,” he laughed, because of the Google searches they do on how to blow things up or break into secure locations. Wan, who also directs, says he is bringing a cinematic eye to the framing and editing of the series. And he identifies with his hero who has to use what is around him to solve problems. “Being a filmmaker is like being MacGuyver.”

“This isn’t a bad guy of the week show,” Lenkov said. “It’s more like an adventure story, pure entertainment.”

Producer Corinne Brinkerhoff and actor Megan Ketch (Tessa) spoke about “American Gothic.”

Brinkerhoff talked about communicating Tessa’s character through her wardrobe. “We decided early on that there was some whimsy to Tessa. She is a primary school teacher and her clothes should be warm and inviting and that they should have a sort of intricate pattern. Tessa often wears shirts that have little frogs on them or little ice cream cones. We wanted Tessa to have a brightness and a lightness and those whimsical prints felt like a really specific way to understand her personality in one look, in one shirt, in one garment.” Ketch praised the show’s costume designer, Barbara Sommerville. “Clothing is behavior.”

Brinkerhoff also spoke of the possibilities for taking the story forward, suggesting that she might prefer to use the same cast in an entirely different story, like a repertory company. “Or, we could do it another way and stay within our same family but jump time. I have a pitch on how to do that. The other way is the more traditional, you come back and you pick right back up where you were and you continue their story. So there’s lots of possibilities and it’s all in the air….when you artificially extend a story it’s very frustrating and it’s not really playing fair with the viewers. So we always set out to tell this in 13 episodes and then see what the future holds.” No matter which direction it goes, it will keep the same tone. “We would always have a very complicated family grappling with some sort of mystery or crime that needs to be solved with a big twist in the middle. And what I love to write is the intersection of dark comedy with real high stakes drama and so that is the thing that I would always want to keep consistent.”


And Wilmer Valderrama spoke about joining the cast of “NCIS” in its 14th season. “I parachuted onto a moving train,” he said about joining the long-running series that is said to be the most globally watched of all current television shows. “But I feel very much at home already. Mark Harmon and I are truly good friends. He pushes me and I push him.” His character has been undercover for years. “Most of the agency doesn’t know he exists. His cover is blown and he is forced to return, to warn them about a possible threat. He’s a lone wolf, allergic to working with a team. He has been living the double life. He is unpredictable, a little unstable, maybe with PTSD. He’s a good guy trapped in the cage of an animal.” Valderrama has seen PTSD in his work with the troops. “I truly respect the type of individual who has what it takes to endure.”

NOTE: all photos copyright 2016 Nell Minow

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