In the new NBC television drama “Raines,” actor Jeff Goldblum stars as LAPD Detective Michael Raines who has the ability to have “lively” conversations with the deceased crime victims he’s called on to investigate the murders of. This unique “talent,” some might call it craziness, allows Raines to retrace the steps that led up to their murders, ultimately enabling him to solve the cases.
The series premiered March 15th and has four more episodes left in the season, including tonight’s episode titled “Stone Dead,” which features a comics connection – a 20 year old drug dealer is found dead, when Raines discovers he was an aspiring comic book illustrator trying to get away from his former life.
Why a comics illustrator? Who on the show is a comics fan? What’s the story behind the story? CBR News investigated and tracked down series creator Graham Yost (“Boomtown,” “Band of Brothers”) for questioning. We got our answers and along the way discovered that Yost has had run-ins with comics before, at one point attached to the development of a live action television series for “Kurt Busiek’s Astro City” and the British comic strip “Button Man.”
“Raines” airs Friday nights at 9:00 on NBC.
Briefly, before we get into a discussion about “Raines,” I wanted to note that I really enjoyed the 1998 series “From The Earth To The Moon” and the “Apollo 1” episode you wrote was one of the best of the series.
Well, I got incredibly lucky to have David Frankel to direct it. That was a great experience. It changed my writing life.
Well, when I wrote that I had been mostly an action film writer up until that point. I did half hour [sitcoms] way back in the beginning and some stuff for Nickelodeon, but really I was looked at as an action guy. When Tom Hanks took a chance on me to do that script, thankfully he loved it as did everyone involved. It changed my life because then I could do more stuff like that, then eventually it led to “Band of Brothers” and then into “Boomtown” and stuff like that. I was very proud of the action stuff I wrote, but this opened up whole new challenges for me as a writer and it’s been very gratifying.
Well, the Apollo One story is one of the most compelling – albeit tragic – space flight stories in US history and Astronaut Gus Grissom’s story alone is one worth exploring. You landed a juicy assignment.
I absolutely did.
So, I happened to watch an episode of “Raines” for the first time last Friday and it turned out to be a fortuitous occasion considering the teaser shown at the end of the episode for the next episode, which airs tonight, included a comic component – a 20 year old drug dealer, who aspired to be a comics illustrator, has been killed and it’s Detective Raines’ job to find out who did it and why. So, I had to find out – why a comics story? What’s the story behind the story, if you will?
The way the show started, I wasn’t going to run it originally. So, a lot of the storylines were generated by the writers during the summer before I came on board full time. I remember going in, sitting down and all these stories being pitched to me because at that point I was just a consultant on the show. So, I’m not entirely sure of the genesis of who pitched that particular storyline. If I recall correctly, the first notion, before it turned into a comic book thing, was the idea of a stoner gang. We thought that could be funny and potentially scary – this idea of a gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Then the question was, “Well, what else could they be doing?” At some point, someone hooked into the idea of comic books and that comic books could have great, inherent value. So, not only is it an interesting world, but they’re worth a lot of money, so that could be part of the story as well. You’re always looking for the answer to, “What is someone being killed over? Is it just cash? Or is it something else?” In this case we thought comics could be a good idea. Now, around this time I came on board and I brought in the idea of counterfeiting and how one would counterfeit a comic book and if it could actually be passed off successfully.
A big part of the episode, and I was also involved in this, was this notion that Raines has this imagination and what if he sort of imagined these sort of panels in a book coming to life, so that the panels paralleled the action of what really happened. When you see the episode, we kind of get there, but we ended up not really having the money, time or resources to do something like a “Sin City” or “300” type of thing where you’re really seeing a three dimensional representation of a graphic novel.
The script was written by Bruce Rasmussen and he did an impeccable job. Often as a show runner I have to come in and rewrite, but I didn’t have to do anything with Bruce. He’s a very funny guy and a very emotional writer as well.
So, we got Stephen Tobolossky to play the owner of the comic book store, this guy Wally. The biggest thing we had to be wary of is not making Wally too much like the comic shop guy from “The Simpsons,” but Bruce was not at all familiar with the character. You know, the guy who talks in a very supercilious way…
“Worst. Episode. Ever.” [laughs] I think they just call him Comic Book Guy.
[Laughs] Yes! When we in the writing room, we found ourselves sliding towards his character and Bruce wasn’t familiar with it, so we’d have to tell him to watch it and to stay away from Comic Book Guy. And we did successfully, although there are a couple of lines – there’s one where Tobolowsky says – not with the voice of the guy -where he says, “Well, you’re freakishly tall.” [laughs] When I read it on the script I could imagine the guy in “The Simpsons” saying that.
So, that was one the thing. The other thing was in the script’s description Wally’s store was described as “Think the Golden Apple.” We ended up shooting in the Golden Apple on Melrose.
The new location or the old one?
It must have been the new one because this was just in the past three months.
Now, Felix Alcala, who directed it, knew someone who lives in that world and did the drawings for “Raines” and did just a great job. At one point I called “Heroes” creator Tim Kring because I’ve known him for years and got the name of one of the guys they’ve been using on “Heroes,” but we ended up going with Felix’s guy.
It’s interesting that you brought up the counterfeiting of comics angle. Today that’s not as big an issue, but back in the ’80s it was quite a problem, especially with a comic called “Cerebus.” So, you tapped into something that has definitely been a problem in the industry.
Right and the reality is an intelligent buyer should be able to see through it pretty quickly and when you watch the episode you’ll see that the counterfeiting wasn’t very successful and that then led into where the story goes.
In doing some research on the show, I discovered there’s another reference to graphic novels on the show in an episode with a police sketch artist who’s on the phone with somebody talking about selling a graphic novel.
Yeah, that’s in the episode “Meet Juan Doe.” The idea came out of the fact I knew the character, Stan, was in the episode that would air second and when we decided to use him as well in tonight’s episode, “Stone Dead,” Bruce came up with the idea of using him as sort of the expert to look at these counterfeited books in. So, I figured why don’t I put an extra beat into “Meet Juan Doe,” our second episode, and set him up as a big fan of comic books who would like to be an illustrator. So, that’s the connection. As it turns out the actor, Matt Malloy, is someone I’ve worked with on a pilot three years ago and if we get to do more episodes of “Raines,” we’ll definitely see more of Matt.
If you get additional orders for the show, do you see that particular storyline being one you might expand upon?
I don’t know. It could be fun. He’s a fun character, especially given the conceit that Raines imagines the victims. If he’s dealing with a situation where he doesn’t exactly know what the victim looked like, then he might need the help of this guy Stan and any interaction between Raines, played by Jeff Goldblum, and Stan, played by Matt Malloy, is just fun and they’re very good together.
You have another connection to comics, somewhat tangentially – writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach worked on your show “Boomtown.”
I haven’t and he never sent me any and he told me that there were a couple of characters whose names he took from “Boomtown.” He swore he’d send me some issues, but he never did because he’s a bum! [laughs] I spoke with Javi a couple of months ago. He’s over on “Medium” now. We had a good chat. Javi’s an idea machine and he’s a lot of fun to work with.
Are you a comics fan yourself?
You know, I’ve been sort of in and out of it over the years. They intrigue me. In fact, I was presented with the idea of pitching a TV series based on “Astro City” last year.
Yeah, but I didn’t feel like I could crack it as a series. Every now and again something will come my way. I tell you, I’m a big fan these days of what people now can do when you take something like “Sin City” or “300” and bring that to life. And that whole aesthetic is pretty amazing and now it can be done. It’s odd if you think about the whole idea that you can take a graphic novel and bring these stories to life and make them look real, but the reality is people want to see them as they look on the printed page, at least for right now. That might get tired in five years. We’ll see.
Well, they’re certainly bringing a more stylized approach to films based on graphic novels these days, which I think is valuable as you might as well exploit the artistic excellence of the medium as you translate them into TV or film.
Yes. There’s a certain light and perspective to comics, so when you see some of those shots in “300” and “Sin City,” it’s stuff you’ve just never seen before.
As for “Astro City,” how far did you get into the production?
I don’t want to get into that very much since I ended up not doing it, but I read five or six issues and spoke with Kurt Busiek. I thought it was a great series, but part of my issue was this all happened last August and I knew “Heroes’ was coming on and at that point no one knew if “Heroes” was going to work or not. My fear was that in this business if “Heroes” didn’t work that no one would want to do it and if “Heroes” did work that no one would want to do it.
[laughs] So, you were pretty much damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Yeah. I think, though, with the success of “Heroes” you have more of a shot to do it.
Do you have any interest in writing comics yourself?
Right now, I don’t really, mostly because I don’t know what I’ll be doing for my filmed entertainment writing. We’ll see. The freedom of the medium does appeal to me due to the fact that the arenas have opened up so much in the past 20 years, truly. “The Dark Knight Returns” and all of that. It no longer has to be just super heroes or Betty and Veronica. It can be something weirder or different. Look at “History of Violence.”
I read [the British comic featured in “2000 AD”] “Button Man” years ago and actually that one went much further. I was with a group who had the rights and we were trying to put that together as a syndicated television series, but it went away for some reason. I understand it’s since resurfaced. That was a fun concept – it was dark!
Let’s close things out with a couple of final questions about “Raines.” First off, how many more episodes do you have before things come to a close?
Four more – this Friday, plus three more.
Any indications on whether it will be picked up for the fall season yet?
Indications are neutral to good. I could not divine those tea leaves right now. The two biggest positives are that we keep beating our lead in and in the past two weeks we’ve gone up at the half hour, so that’s good. They don’t want to see people going away. That said, our overall numbers, I mean, it looks like “The Black Donnely’s” is being cancelled and in the 18-49 demographic – which is all networks really care about – it had a 2.0, which is what we had last Friday. However, coming on even after a repeat of “Heroes” like they did, they should be doing better than that.
Yeah, those are lower numbers than “Studio 60” had, I believe. Good luck with that.
Thank you. I hope it comes through. Jeff Goldblum is a gift. He’s a great guy and he does a great job and is really just a pleasure to work with and to write for. We all hope we get to do more because we had a blast doing the seven we did.
Was the character imagined for Jeff?
No. My quasi-glib joke always has been the only person I saw playing Raines was me, but sadly no one wants to see me. [laughs] Jeff is just perfect.
Yeah, the character of Raines is a bit off and, no offense to Jeff, but he seems a bit off himself.
Oh, that’s part of his public personae, you know, so it’s just a perfect fit. [Pilot director Frank Darabont] and I knew it from the first day we were shooting. We looked at each other and said, “Oh my God!”
I bet. Thanks for your time, Graham. I’ll be watching tonight.
Thank you, Jonah.
“Raines” airs Friday night’s at 9:00 PM on the NBC television network.
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