Countdown to <i>The Event</i>, Part I: Creator Nick Wauters

Next Monday NBC launches its new sci-fi/conspiracy thriller The Event, and Spinoff Online is here to get you ready. The pilot was a hit in July at Comic-Con International, and readers haven’t been able to flip through a comic book for weeks without seeing ads for what the network hopes will be must-see TV.

The series follows Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), an everyman who investigates the mysterious disappearance of his would-be fiancé Leila Buchanan, and unwittingly begins to expose the biggest cover-up in U.S. history.

All this week, Spinoff Online will present interviews with the cast of The Event. But before we meet the players, creator and co-executive producer Nick Wauters shares his thoughts on the series, and teases viewers with what they can expect in the weeks and months ahead. And while he doesn’t tell us what "the event" actually is, he does share the secret origin of his creation.

Spinoff Online: The Event. The name alone raises expectations fairly high.

Nick Wauters: Yeah, I guess I never imagined it would become such a huge event. But it’s definitely become a major event, and the network has been amazing at promoting the show, as you probably know by now. So yeah, it’s pretty fantastic to see how much they’re backing us up. We’re trying our best to make sure the show is as good as the campaign. And the title.

Lost is done. 24 is done. How much pressure is there to be the next one?

Obviously, like I just said, this was never something that I expected. Or ever even dreamed of. Or imagined. It’s very exciting that so many people are looking forward to it. And just the buzz online has been amazing. I love getting involved in discussion groups. And Twitter and Facebook and all that stuff. It’s just been very exciting to see how people are looking forward to it. So, just that alone is very exciting. But it’s a lot of added pressure too, not only for the network but also for that fans that it seems we already have, even though the show hasn’t premiered yet.

Speaking of the premiere, I’ve seen the pilot, and while we don’t want to spoil too much about what happens in that first hour, out there in the ether is the fact that while this is a conspiracy thriller, it also has some sci-fi elements. Can you take us back to the origins of The Event, and perhaps share some insight into your original concept for the show and what differences, if any, viewers will see when they tune in next Monday (Sept. 20)?

I originally came up with the idea about four-and-a-half years ago, and I was just really starting as a writer and at the time, it was more of a straight-forward thriller. A lot of the characters were pretty much the same as we have now in the pilot and a lot of the story was the same but there was no element of science fiction at that time. So it was more of a conspiracy story, a Hitchcockian thriller. It was about a crazy conspiracy and trying to survive it and really, for [Jason Ritter] to find his girlfriend [Sarah Roemer]. And doing whatever he has to do to find her. He was sort of the reluctant hero. That’s really what I wanted to do, not just do your usual everyday hero. I love 24, but I wanted to do something different and not have your typical hero.

Jason Ritter is fantastic in the part. And exactly what I was looking for, but that was really the original pilot. And it got a lot of attention at the time, and it almost got made but I think that was the year that the market was really over-saturated with serialized shows and you know, it almost happened but unfortunately, it didn’t get made at the time.

It was the sample that I was using to get work and I never really imagined that it would make a comeback. And then last October, towards the end of development season, Steve Stark, who is a friend of mine and one of our executive producers, was talking to NBC and they mentioned that they had all the shows that they needed, all the pilots, but they were still looking for a big "event"-type show. And obviously Steve remembered the pilot, and he said, “I think I have something you’re going to like.” That was a Friday and they read it over the weekend and that Monday, we got the call that they wanted to meet and were very interested. It really happened very, very fast.

And the one thing that they wanted to do differently, they came to me and said, “We love it the way it is but what do you think about adding maybe a little bit of a sci-fi element to it?” And I’m a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, so to me it was even more exciting to be able to go into that direction. They really didn’t give me any direction past that, so I sort of went away for a little bit and then I came back with a new bible. And while the pilot remained very close to the original, the mythology behind it, and the mythology of the show, is obviously very different because of it.

So that’s kind of the evolution of the show. And after that it was just a very fun development process. And the network was very supportive throughout the entire process and pretty much on-board with all of my ideas. So we shot the pilot, it went really well and we got the series pickup. And now we’re shooting the show. I actually just watched the first cut of our third episode and so far, I’m kind of like a kid in a candy store. And every time I see a cut, I just get sucked in. Every time [laughs]. And I actually know what’s happening. Several months go by between when you write the script and you actually get a finished cut. Sometimes, I even forget what we actually shot. So it’s very exciting to see it all come together and to finally be able to, after all of these years, continue the story of these characters. I felt like they were frozen in time for so long. And now they’re continuing to live in new stories.

With all due respect to Jason Ritter, I’m not sure you would have said to yourself four years ago, “We need to go get Jason Ritter to play Sean Walker.” But as the cast began to come together and you started adding names like Blair Underwood and Laura Innes, why did Jason standout as someone who could carry this thing. Because I thought he was great in the pilot.

Jason really embodies the vibe that I was looking for the character of Sean. He’s a little bit geeky but still very mobile. And he can be very strong and powerful when he needs to be. But he came in and it was pretty much clear that he was going to be or guy.

As far as bringing in Laura Innes. Originally, her character was actually male and our casting directors knew that I was open to potentially making the character a female, so they had a couple of actresses come in. And Laura was one of the last people to come in for that part, at the end of a very long day. And she just blew us away. Again, sometimes, you wait and you wait and nobody really feels right. You’re hoping someone else will come in and blow your socks off, and she did. And we decided to make the character into Sophia. That was a major change for that character, obviously, and also changed the dynamic between her and the characters that surround her. That was one of the biggest changes that we made.

Blair Underwood’s character was always meant to be originally from Cuba, or at least his family was meant to be from Cuba. And we searched extensively for someone to fill that part and we didn’t quite find somebody who had the charisma and power that we needed and felt like a newly elected president. A lot of people actually referenced Obama when they were talking about the script but they don’t know the history because I actually came up with the story before I even knew who Obama was. So in terms of the character, and I hope it becomes more apparent once the show starts airing, I think Blair is doing a wonderful job and is really reclaiming that part. And it will be clear that he’s not in any way an Obama caricature. At all. But originally, I really hadn’t imagined an African-American or a black actor playing the part, but we couldn’t find a Latino actor that had all the elements that we were looking for, for the part. And somebody suggested Blair Underwood. And we had a fantastic chat about the show and I mentioned to him that I wanted to keep the character as President Martinez and keep the Cuban element to the character, and I was a little nervous before talking to him about it, but he was very excited about it. And it was pretty clear from that moment on that we had our president. He is so charismatic and presidential. He’s really fantastic.

I feel amazingly lucky to have all the people we have on our cast. We were never really necessarily looking for big names. It was actually, almost the opposite. Because there is a very naturalistic feel to the show and you don’t want to see a movie star or a TV star in your show because it takes people out of that naturalistic feel. And so, the people we cast ended up being the best people for the parts. And we really managed to make the parts feel like real people. And choosing these actors contributed to the feel that we were going for.

We’ve mentioned the sci-fi element of The Event. And we saw glimpses, or at least a glimpse, of what’s to come in the pilot. How long will viewers have to wait before we really get into the mythos of the show and some of its deeper, darker secrets? Will we be getting a big reveal every week?

Well, that was also one of the main things that happened when I went into NBC to talk to them about the concept. Part of it was that I really wanted to make sure that we answered things pretty quickly. The goal was really to keep the audience kind of hungry for more but not frustrate them at the same time. And that’s a fine line. Some shows have done a really good job of actually playing that card of a longer, more complicated mystery that goes on for seasons. But what I wanted for this particular show was to really give answers every week. So, you are going to get some answers every week.

There is obviously an overall arc to what the show is going to be, but you’ll get some major, major answers every few episodes, so you can sort of follow a story every five or six episodes. Same characters, it’s just something major gets resolved after a whole batch of episodes. That way you feel like you can join the show even though you may not have seen the show for several episodes. So it’s a combination of both. People definitely get answers. And as you said, something major happens in the pilot and you’re going to find out what that means, or at least what happens to the plane that’s involved in the show. You’re going to find out major answers related to that and find out who these detainees are in the second episode, within the first 10 minutes of the second episode.

There are some scenes set in Alaska early on and that’s where we meet the detainees. Do we go back to Alaska often in this first season?

It’s definitely one of our regular locations. And we have a story planned out that also takes some other detours. But it’s definitely a place that we’ll get back to on a regular basis.

Did you actually do some shooting in Alaska?

No, we actually shot it here in California.

So no snow problems?

No, no. But it [fake snow] sticks to your shoes for three days. That was the fun part too about shooting the pilot. There were some interiors that were CG and the interior in Inostranka when the president walks in was shot here in California. It was basically a green screen. Some elements of the exterior were real but pretty much everything you see in the pilot – the helicopter in the background and all that – it was all added later. So it’s really cool to see the before and after. It’s one of the many times that I geeked out during the entire process was just to see the transformation of the set.

The show hasn’t even started yet, so I hate to ask you about the end, but I will anyway. Lost is a perfect example that once it chose an end date, the intensity really ramped up and the show really came into its own. Heroes, another example, maybe lost its way a bit and now it’s been canceled without a proper ending. So do you have pre-conceived end date or a number of episodes that you have in mind that you’ll need to produce to properly tell your story? Or is this open-ended and you can tell any number of stories within this universe?

Time-wise, I can’t tell you how many seasons we want to be on. It’s not really something we can or want to get into yet. But I know what the major twists of the story are that we want to tell. And basically, in The Event, we’re going to follow our characters and their stories up to the event, during the event and after the event. So there are several parts to the story that we want to tell. And what we’re finding out is that our characters, there wasn’t a lot of room for character development in the pilot, just because there are so many of them and so little time. But I want to spend a lot of time developing these characters. We’re finding out that they’re so rich and we’re having so much fun developing them. And it’s kind of hard to tell that right now. Sometimes, we kind of have a storyline with something we want to do and we end up having to tell it over a couple of episodes because one of our characters became so much richer than we anticipated. We don’t want to shortchange the audience or our characters or our actors. So the story is planned out, but we’re also following anything that we discover in the process. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s like having a road map but taking a little detour every once in a while. But we definitely know where we want to go but as to how long it’s going to take, I can’t really give you an answer quite yet.

One last question, in the marketing campaign, the title, The Event, the "E" is stylistically flipped around. Should we be reading anything into that? Or does it just look cool?

All I can say is that our graphic designers did an awesome job. And there could be something there. Or not. It’s one of those things I can’t give away quite yet.

The series premiere of The Event airs Monday, Sept. 20 at 9/8c.

Riverdale Casts Once Upon a Time Star as Jughead Jones' Grandfather

More in TV