Stars Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy joined executive producers Kevin Williamson and Marcos Siega at Comic-Con International to screen the pilot episode of Fox’s new thriller The Following.
The sophisticated pilot centers on former FBI agent turned true crime author Ryan Hardy (played by Bacon), who successfully captured notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (Purefoy). Years later, Carroll escapes prison in the hopes of finishing the grisly business Hardy interrupted, now with the aid of a network of followers he found on the Internet. Hardy is called back into active duty to help find the killer. In flashbacks, we learn Carroll was a frustrated novelist and admirer of Edgar Allen Poe who turned to murder when his debut novel wasn’t a success. We also learn Hardy began an affair with Carroll's wife. While Hardy chases Carroll and his followers, the killer plots his ultimate revenge on the lawman.
With a large dose of suspense, and more gore than one usually expects from network programing, The Following is something of a departure for Williamson, best know for teen dramas like Dawson's Creek, current CW hit The Vampire Diaries and the Scream movie franchise. The show is dead serious.
During the brief Q&A moderated by TV Guide Editor-in-Chief Debra Birnbaum, Williamson described the pilot as a birth of a new baby. "That's one scary baby" Bacon joked.
Asked what about the series appealed to him, Bacon said he was looking to making the transition into television after a long and storied career in films, and that the pilot script had everything going for it. It also offered him a chance to do something different from his recent film work. “I wanted to do something heroic because I wasn't getting much of a chance to do it in the movies," he explained. "I wanted a hero with complexity and something of a dark side.
"This is a guy who throughout his whole life has been surrounded by death," he continued. Focusing on that notion, Bacon said he thinks Hardy has come to feel responsible for all of those deaths. It’s an idea he hopes will be a running thread in the series.
"When you cast, you hope for chemistry," Williamson added. "And it turns out that Kevin Bacon has chemistry with everyone."
For Purefoy, best remembered as Mark Antony on HBO's Rome, the chance to play a villainous cult leader was too good to pass up. "The devil really has the best tunes," he said. "[The show] is something that will have a multicolor pallet and the super-objective of this guy is so horrific and gigantic." He's also looking forward to peeling back the layers of Carroll, under which Purefoy expects to find the devil himself.
Williamson and his writing staff are still working out those layers and the next part of Carroll's plan. "In the pilot we left a few loose ends and it could pick up a minute later," he said. With a kidnapping, Ryan's realization of Carroll's network and the killer's request to see his ex-wife, there is plenty of material to work with already. "It's like Joe [Carroll] says: He's writing a book, and every week will be a new chapter," Williamson explained. "And it's a love story."
While the executive producer intended that to mean a love story between Hardy and Carroll's ex, played by Justified’s Natalie Zea, Bacon pointed to himself and Purefoy and half-jokingly added, "Between us!"
"It is!" Williamson agreed. He also noted that for a narcissist like Carroll, Hardy's ability to not only capture him but to also steal his wife and publish a successful book generates an obsession in him to beat Hardy and show the world up for not realizing his brilliance. "You have this serial killer who has vengeance not just against Ryan, but the world," he said.
As the pilot ends, Carroll has a 1-0 lead on the world. Birnbaum asked if the good guys will ever win. "There is a scorecard," Williamson replied. "Hopefully, next episode, we'll see them get to 1-1."
The pilot's gore factor was something the producers discussed before filming. Siega, who has worked extensively in both network and cable TV, directed the pilot and said Williamson chose to shoot it "like a cable show" and worry about the more graphic elements later. Williamson added that his intent was not so much gore, but the threat of it. "You don't need to see someone kill with an ice pick, the idea is enough," he explained. The writer also praised Siega, saying, "Marcos has been a wonderful collaborator with this. I've done a lot of pilots and collaboration is hard, but this works."
Siega also devised the nature of the flashbacks that will feature throughout the series. "You're going to learn a lot about Ryan and Carroll [through them]," he said. One interesting choice Siega made was not to shoot them differently from the present-day material. While flashbacks are often "treated" with sepia tone or some other distinct coloring to tell the viewer they are watching events from the past, Siega said, "We trust the audience enough to follow along with us."
The Following premieres midseason on Fox.