Interview Date: 11/15/2010
Run Date: 11/17/2010
Bullz-Eye called Fox’s “Lone Star” the best drama of the 2010 fall TV season, but we were far from the only outlet to make such a statement. Not that it did the show any good: despite being one of the best reviewed series of the fall crop, “Lone Star” ceased to shine after a mere two episodes. Though its brief run wasn’t enough to secure the show a spot in the top 25 of our TV Power Rankings (it’s hard to throw your votes to a show that was canceled before we’d even commenced voting), we can’t very well say goodbye to “Lone Star” with at least giving it Honorable Mention, and as part of our farewell, series creator Kyle Killen was kind enough to speak to us how the short life and times of…that’s right, we’ll say it again…the best drama of the 2010 fall season.
Bullz-Eye: Well, as I mentioned to you via E-mail, I was a huge fan of the show and was extremely depressed to see it go.
Kyle Killen: Well, that’s much appreciated.
BE: Now, to be fair, Fox did kind of have a reputation long before this series for sending really fantastic show to their death early. I kind of feared the worst, but I still did my best to promote it nonetheless.
KK: Well, I guess your fears were not unfounded. (Laughs)
BE: From a creative standpoint, were you happy with the way the pilot and subsequent episodes had gone?
KK: Yeah, I really was! You know, it definitely was not a case where… (Hesitates) A lot of shows come and go very quickly, it happens every year, and I think some of those cases are the worst of both worlds: not only does your show get canceled, but by the time it had gotten on, it felt like it was made by committee. Ten different hands have been on it, and you don’t even recognize what it is that’s being canceled. But I felt like, in our case, we really were given more or less all the rope we wanted to hang ourselves by. (Laughs) I think once they decided, “We’re going to try to make kind of a cable show on a network,” they really encouraged us to do that, and I think Kevin Reilly, the Fox president, having come from FX, he even had thoughts on how to sort of make it more cable. To not shy away from it or tone it down, but, in fact, if we were going to do it, to really go for it. So, yeah, that’s the sad thing about sitting down and watching the subsequent episodes: that you want to be able to say, “Ugh, well, then it went south.” But, really, you sit down and watch ‘em, and you’re like, “Hey, that’s pretty good TV. I wish that was still on the air!”
BE: I was there for the TCA tour, so I was there for the panel, and Kevin was very much promoting the fact that this was a cable-type show on Fox. Because of that, I figured they’d at least give it a little bit of time to breathe.
KK: Yeah, and I think they really wanted to. I…I can’t speak to how it goes down every time, but it really felt like both Kevin and Peter (Rice), when it came decision time, it was…well, it was easy and it was not easy. It was very difficult in that I think they were actually and truly invested, and they would’ve…they just desperately wanted this to work. I think it was easy in that rarely are the numbers that clear. You know, it just wasn’t sustainable at those levels. From a business standpoint, I think it was probably easy for them. From an investment in a show and the time they’d put into it over the summer and their own personal enthusiasm, I genuinely believe that it was difficult for them to cut their losses.
BE: So I can make people feel really, really bad about what they missed, tell me, if you could, about the origins of “Lone Star,” as far as how the idea came to you and how you came to develop it.
KK: I had a friend who was interested in doing a show that was sort of about oil in Texas, specifically in Midland. And I don’t think we were blown away or felt like, “Ah, here’s a place that America’s been dying to come on a weekly basis!” (Laughs) And we sort of let it die. And then, you know, the more I thought about it, if Midland was one half of a world, and it was a person who was enamored with some of the things that I’d found claustrophobic about Midland…the small town, isolated nature of it…and they were enamored of it because they could spend half of their time elsewhere, it started to feel more like it had the beginnings of something good. And then it just sort of developed from there.
BE: People used “Dallas” as a point of reference in just about every review that was done, but was it something that came to your mind when you were putting it together?
KK: Well, you know, even in the pitch, it was something that I referenced. “Dallas” is sort of the prototypical old super-nighttime soap, and I think a lot of the elements were things that we wanted to use. I think we wanted to feel a little more…well, in some ways, the premise is slightly more outlandish, but I think we wanted the individual moments to feel a little more grounded and real. So I would sort of point people in the direction of “Dallas,” but I would say, “But we’re not going to go quite to, like, the hair-pulling cat fights,” and so on and so forth. We were going to try to pull back on the melodrama.
BE: When I watching the first episode, I thought, “I can’t wait to see where this goes,” but at the same time, a lot of others were thinking, “I can’t imagine that this concept is going to be able to sustain itself over the long haul.” What were your visions as far as maintaining the two lifestyles without making it fall into cliché?
KK: Well, as the two worlds developed…I don’t know, we read all the same reviews, but, as writers, in some cases, you feel like you have twice as much to play with. It was definitely difficult, in that you had to strike a balance in a way that you might not have to in a more traditional set-up. But at the same time, you know, you’ve got conflict and issues and stories coming from both sides of his life, and what was fascinating was that there were a lot of ways that those things sort of reflected and overlapped each other. It felt like a really novel and interesting construction. It didn’t make it an easy show to write, but it was definitely a fun challenge, and when it worked, it was really satisfying.
BE: Did you have a corkboard and index cards, trying to work out the logistics?
KK: We did! And I think what we found as the show developed was that what you locked into first, I think, was maybe what no one quite anticipated. You know, when you talk about “Dallas” and the nighttime soap of it all, and that tends to be people in conflict over something on a weekly basis, but the thing that really ended up driving the show was the relationship between Bob and his father and where the con of it all was going. That definitely became the engine of the train. In some ways, it made it difficult to do what would be typical smaller soap stories, because the stakes were always so incredibly high in Bob’s world, with trying to hold the con together, that everything else kind of paled by comparison. Which isn’t a bad thing for a TV show, to have something that feels really dire at the center of it and have that constantly progressing and moving forward, and you’re trying to get out from under it. It just made it a little bit harder to do things that felt small and superfluous.
BE: It’s weird watching James Wolk on the screen. Knowing what he’s doing, you want to hate him, but at the same time, he manages to be sympathetic, which he shouldn’t be able to accomplish under those circumstances.
KK: (Laughs) Yeah, he was a huge find, and he’s really the reason that the show could exist, because that’s exactly what you needed. And where that character went, I think part of the idea, the thrust of the show is that he’s got this sort of dewy-eyed vision of how he’s going to pull this off, but he’s not only lying to everyone around him, he’s lying to himself about how he can be a great husband to two people, that he can he steal from one place to pay back another, and that all these things could work. As we went forward, we became interested in sort of forcing him to look at things through clearer eyes, asking him to really face what he was doing and decide whether he was in it for having two wives or for being a good person, but to realize to some extent that those things are mutually exclusive. And I think he continued to be likable even as his compromises grew greater, and that’s just not something you can plug in any actor and have the ability to do.
BE: You must’ve been beside yourself when the show pulled David Keith and Jon Voight into the cast.
KK: Yeah, I mean, I think every time we thought of someone to cast…even going forward, when Andie MacDowell came on, people were willing to sign up. They were interested, and they got what the roles were. That’s what it really came down to. They would get the script and be enamored with the opportunity, which was really exciting. David Keith, especially, was somebody who just continued to show up the whole way through and…I don’t think anybody was more excited when new scripts came out. He just really dug into it, and he did great, great work as a result.
BE: You mentioned Andie MacDowell, and I know Rosa Blasi was going to be joining the cast as well. Can you talk a little bit about who their characters would have been?
KK: Rosa was Trammell’s wife, and she and their son started to take on a larger role towards the…well, what would have been the middle of the season, but the last episode that we shot was the first one where we really got to explore Rosa’s character. And Andie MacDowell was someone who, when David Keith’s character sort of thought that Bob wasn’t going to be going along and helping him, brought in Andie MacDowell as a fellow con-man, and the two of them began to work together to try to get what he’d been after the whole time, which was the Thatcher fortune. So she was his new partner and someone who was the love interest for Jon Voight as a means for trying to get to that family’s fortune.
BE: So how far had you fleshed out the show? The full first season, or beyond?
KK: Well, we had pretty specific ideas for where Season 2 would begin, and that meant we had super specific ideas for where Season 1 would end. It’s a little tricky, in that we sort of knew what the last episode was going to be but never knew… (Starts to laugh) This sounds ironic now, but we never knew if the last episode would be 22 or if it would be 13. At that moment, we were proceeding with the idea that it would be 13, so I think we were pretty clear on how to fill the gap between the one that we were shooting and what would have been Episode 13 had we gotten a back order. I mean, we had some ideas, but it was certainly much more nebulous about how we would sort of turn things one more time and still end up in the same place.
BE: At least one critic described “Lone Star” as the best pilot since “Friday Night Lights,” and you were actually fortunate enough to have someone from “Friday Night Lights” in the pilot. Did Adrianne gel pretty quickly with the material?
KK: Yeah, she did. I think she was really hesitant about jumping right back into television, but at the same time, I think it seemed like an opportunity to do something that was so opposite of her character. It’s interesting, because it’s totally different from Tyra on “Friday Night Lights.” She’s a wealthy, sophisticated woman of privilege. And, yet, there’s something that you can’t suppress about Adrianne that just sort of comes through. She has this life and energy that I think is actually in some ways consistent across all of her performances. It’s the thing that makes her her, and it was kind of cool to be able to put that in a new package. The other funny thing about having a “Friday Night Lights” cast member is that she had been through incredibly low ratings for years. (Laughs) I think she was the only one who wasn’t particularly concerned after that first week. She was, like, “Oh, no, I know what happens. It’ll be all right. It’ll be fine. Everything’s good.” I think she actually calmed a lot of fears on set. Unfortunately, we weren’t on Friday nights. We were sitting in the middle of Monday.
BE: So have you talked to DirecTV about picking up the show? (Laughs)
KK: I think we’ve talked to everybody about it!
BE: Yeah, sorry, I was being a little facetious there, but I did know that you’d been trying to save the series by getting it picked up elsewhere.
KK: Yeah, I think there were a couple of places that made really great sense, but it’s just that everything has to go 100% right for a show to make the leap from network to cable, and I just think the stars were not aligned for us. So I think it’s done.
BE: That’s unfortunate. I’d kept my fingers crossed that FX would say, “Well, heck, it was always more of an FX show, anyway, so how about if we pick it up?”
KK: Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve heard some people say that it’s more of an FX show, but I’ve heard a decent number of people say, “It’s not quite dark enough to be an FX show.” We wouldn’t care whether we liked him or were rooting for him on FX. It’d be a little rougher. So that just sort of shows you how specifically targeted the cable networks are and why it’s so difficult to take something from network, where the goal is to not target specifically but to cast a wide net, and go to cable, where it’s usually super-specific. “This is what our audience is into, this is how our characters work, this is what the tone of world and our shows are.” The chances that there will be a great deal of overlap are slim.
BE: Has there been any talk of getting the additional unaired episodes out there, either on DVD, for download, or even just being able to watch them online?
KK: Yeah, well, we had asked them to hold off while we explored all of the cable options, because it’s a more valuable property to cable if there are significant portions that have yet to be aired, but I think now that we’ve exhausted that process, we’d like to get them out there, if for no other reason than that a lot of people worked really hard on it, and it’s always nice for them to be able to see it and share it with their families and friends. And not just that, but…I mean, it’s not going to win any awards, but it’s really good television. Those are solid hours. So we’d be eager to share it. I guess it’s just a question of what the right delivery mechanism is at this point.
BE: Because, you know, if nothing else, there are a lot of TV critics out there who’d like to see them.
KK: Yeah, and, ironically, where we ended…in the original schedule, we had a break for post-season baseball, so we sort of wrote the first six episodes as a chunk that ended with a little sort of mini-cliffhanger, and we would’ve come back from baseball with the answer to that. So the chunk that we actually completed, it actually ends in that cliffhanger, so in a way, it serves as a short little 6-episode season.
BE: Well, as long as I’ve got you on the phone, I should ask you if you’ve heard any updates on the status of “The Beaver.”
KK: Uh, well, I think I’ve only heard what you’ve heard. (Laughs) It looks like it is going to get a release, it looks like it’s going to be next year, and the rumors that I read and that you can read are that there may be a European date locked down, and…it seems like nobody quite knows about the Stateside plan.
BE: Have you seen the final cut yourself?
KK: I have not.
BE: Have you seen enough to get a feel for whether it lives up to the script that you wrote?
KK: You know, I saw it back in the spring, when they were still very early in the cutting process, but the thing you could definitely get a handle on was that Mel’s performance is… (Hesitates) It’s an arresting performance, and for good or bad, there’s an overlap between the character that he’s playing and the situation that he’s sort of in, and ultimately some of the circumstances in his personal life…certainly not in specific ways, but the idea of a man who’s coming apart is the story of the movie, and it’s, uh, really hard to watch that without feeling something that you wouldn’t get with another actor.
BE: So what else do you have in the pipeline? Are you working toward another series, or any other scripts?
KK: I think I’m going to take another shot at television. I enjoyed every part of it except for being canceled. (Laughs) And I’ve got a feature that I’m doing for Working Title.
BE: So now that you’ve worked in both drama and comedy, do you have a preference?KK: Nah, I don’t really have a preference. I love them both. They both have a different rhythm, and as long as they let you play in both sandboxes, I’m all for it.