Last Sunday afternoon at the “Jericho” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the room was packed for the producers and stars Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, and Ashley Scott. The cast and crew came complete with Season 1 outtakes, extras from the Season 1 DVDs, and exclusive preview footage from Season 2 and personal thank you from the on-site shooting cast and crew for rescuing the show.
In one of the last scenes of the season-ending cliffhanger of Season 1, Skeet Ulrich’s character responds to demands for surrender from the town of Jericho’s well-armed enemies with a World War II-inspired rejection, saying simply, “Nuts”, before the town charges into a seemingly hopeless battle. Inspired by this scene, the fans of the show successfully staved off cancellation by repeatedly sending back a message to the executives behind the cancellation: tons of bags of nuts.
Regarding the campaign to save the show, Ashley Scott said one silver lining to the cancellation was that that the “Cancellation brought out the audience.”
The panel then described what happened when they heard about the sudden renewal after the disappointment of the cancellation news. Producer Jon Steinberg said, “We all sort of knew something was going to happen. We heard something about cable, and then we got the news that we were coming back.”
Scott said, “I was so excited that I thought Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out.”
Skeet Ulrich said he could remember exactly where he was when he got the news. “I was in my garage and Ahsley said the business office had called,” Ulrich recalled, “and when lawyers get involved you know it’s official.”
Lennie James remembered how it happened as well. “I picked up the phone and Skeet’s voice saying,’ we’re back on’ and then just us screaming like little girls,” he said.
Executive producer Carol Barbee then spoke of where the show will go from here, given they only have seven episodes instead of the usual full season. “We had already pitched Season 2, and so we already had it arched out. We were going to tell a story from three different cities. When we got the short run, we decided we will tell it just from the Jericho perspective. A lot happens in those seven episodes.”
Commenting on the experience of filming all the combat scenes, Ulrich said, “There is a palpable glee from the crew.”
“I had so much fun shooting guns,” Scott said.
As to the plot of the upcoming seven-episode arc, Barbee said, “We start to show you the occupation of the town. That reformed government plays a major role now.”
Executive producer Karim Zreik then introduced a behind-the-scenes clip of the show from the Season 1 DVD, wherein the crew explained they couldn’t use a real town for the shooting because the town rapidly changes as power goes out and things get wrecked in battle and use. To solve this problem, they built a back-lot in eight weeks in the middle of summer, working around the clock, seven days a week.
The clip included the process of building the sets, the difficulty of creating both inside and outside sets in single building, facades and the aging process for the fronts of buildings and the individual carving out of brick shapes in each building wall, and seasonal changes for the town. They used dead trees and the use of silk leaves to demonstrate the changing season, and finally replacing these dead trees with real ones to indicate spring.
The difficult project of creating the town of Jericho was on a tight schedule, and at one point, where they were scheduled to start shooting in 5 days, they were still missing four important building facades.
The crew described a surreal moment behind the scenes, where shooting was gong on in 90 degree heat in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, while the cast was surrounded by fake snow and a tank.
After the first clip, the cast reflected on the death of Gerald McRaney’s character, Mayor Green. Scott said, “He was amazing to work with. I think it is a great loss, just on the day to day.”
Ulrich agreed, saying that he “Loved working with him. He’s such a unique individual, so giving. We really miss him.”
Turning to questions from the audience, Barbee was asked about where she was in the series arc at the point when the show was cancelled. “We had to deliver a show bible when we started,” Barbee explained. “We knew what that arc was and that was the story we were meant to tell, and that was the end of season one. We have several more seasons arced out.”
Asked about the challenges the cast faces with this show, Ulrich said, “I think not necessarily knowing the entire arc is a challenge. It’s kind of hard to decipher sometimes where things are headed.”
Lennie James, undaunted by the complexity of the show, explained, “Back home [in the United Kingdom] when we were doing episodic television, a season lasts about eight episodes. So I was really worried about being bored, and I would keep going into the writer’s room and say, ‘make this character more complicated,’ and that is sort of what they did. By the end of the 22 episodes, I was not nearly done with this character, so I just want to say again [to the fans], thank you very, very much!”
On the timeline between the cancellation and renewal news, and the state of the set during the cancellation period, James said, “Fifteen trucks of stuff had been brought out, and we said, ‘stop doing that!'”
Shotz put a specific time frame on it, saying, “I think it was only three weeks. You guys did this in only three weeks, that’s what was so amazing about this.”
Dreading to dwell on the negative, one fan asked if they had a contingency plan should the show be cancelled again after the new seven-episode arc to finalize subplots. James said, “We plan on coming back. I know what you are saying. Right now, we do not have a plan to wrap it up at the end of episode 7.”
Barbee, however, said, “I will say with the amazing support we have had, if we get cancelled, we will find a way to not leave you hanging.”
Concerning when the audience will find out if the show is renewed beyond the seven-episode arc, Barbee said, “I think that is up to the television gods. I do not think we could get on the air before we finish shooting those episodes.”
On whether the show will focus on the big political picture or the individual families and people, Steninberg said, “I think this season is going to be very fast, and very big. I think that the emotional story about these families will be very satisfying in the end.”
Regarding the long hiatus between episodes in the middle of the first season, Barbee said “Yes, I think we all learned that doesn’t work for our kind of show. Look, we are just happy to get on the air this time, but we’ve been told that once we are on the air we will have consecutive episodes and run all the way through.”
Zreik then addressed the general extended support they want to show the fans in the future, and explained that they are creating a lot more online content and a daily blog as a thank-you to the fans for their online support. And to highlight that thank you, the panel offered an exclusive clip for the audience, specially directed at thanking the fans. In it, the cast is displayed coming back hugging, thanking the fans for the rescue, along with the crew and producers.
In addition to some funny bloopers from the show, and the process of rebuilding sets, one c asting scoop was shown: Heather’s return.
Barbee confirmed that Sprague Grayden will be back for several episodes this season, to much applause from the audience.
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