In April we told you about the new mini-series "North Wind" coming this June from Boom! Studios and writer David DiGilio. This post-apocalyptic tale features a world buried beneath hundreds of feet of ice, with society having split into three distinct groups that don't exactly get along well. It's a nasty look at the future in the tradition of "Star Wars" and the "Mad Max" trilogy which is sure to take readers in unexpected directions.
Comics alone can't contain the imagination of DiGilio, though. The writer's been working in Hollywood for the past six years and has hit gold with the new series "Traveler," making its debut on the ABC television network tonight. While both "North Wind" and "Traveler" will take their audience's in unexpected directions, the similarities end there. "Traveler" is firmly based in the present, taking viewers on a wild ride dealing with issues of terrorism and conspiracies that don't seem all that out of place in today's world. Call it a 21st Century "Fugitive" with a Jason Bourne type twist thrown in for good measure. With its debut tonight, CBR News spoke with DiGilio to find out just how wild that ride will get.
"'Traveler's' about three friends from graduate school who go on a cross-country road trip together. But at the first stop in New York, one of the friends, Will Traveler, frames the other two for a bombing," DiGilio told CBR News. "These two guys are then forced to go on the run and figure out who the hell was this guy they spent two years of their lives with and why did he do this."
Those three friends, Will Traveler (actor Aaron Stanford who's familiar to fans of the "X-Men" films as the character Pyro), Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomer) and Tyler Fog (Logan Marshall-Green), begin their cross-country adventure with a proper prank - Jay and Tyler throw on some roller blades and skate around the fictional Drexler Museum while their friend Will videos the ensuing chaos.
Except the moment Jay and Tyler take off, Will disappears as the museum blows up, with Will presumably still inside, and things go sideways fast from there.
"Our title is not just one of the character's last names. We are a road show," explained DiGilio. "Jay and Tyler leave New York at the end of the first episode and their search to answer the question 'Who is Will Traveler?' takes them up and down the Northeastern seaboard. It gives the show a great sense of movement and pace. And each time they find a piece to the puzzle, it's offset by the fact that their lives and relationships fall apart a little bit more. Also, I want to point out that the question is 'Who is Will Traveler?' not 'Who was Will Traveler?' For the fans out there that love Aaron Stanford in the 'X-Men' movies, you've got a real treat coming. He's fantastic and this is a character you haven't seen on television."
While "Traveler" is an adventure/thriller at heart, the series will also explore timely and tough issues that we as American's struggle with today. "We definitely live in the golden age of conspiracy theory right now. The events happening in the world today are so hard to digest, and the explanations we receive from our government are so simplistic (best example: 'Mission Accomplished'), that we need conspiracy theories to help create some sense of order in an otherwise senseless world," said DiGilio. "This show is about people coming of age in that world. These guys are innocent, they're idealists and then wham! The rug is pulled out from under them and they have to learn to stand on their own and survive in the real world. The show is really more about these characters' journey than it is about the conspiracy that started it."
As for the larger mystery of "Traveler," DiGilio said his job is to provide answers and says he has an advantage other failed serialized dramas like "Vanished," "Kidnapped" and "The Nine" didn't have - an eight episode season. With those other programs, the mystery had to last long enough to fill an entire seasons worth of episodes, but as DiGilio sees it, a shortened season offers a lot of advantages. "This [eight episode season] allows us to answer questions and raise new ones at breakneck speed. It allows for a much faster, more cinematic storytelling style. It's something I think 'Heroes' did really well this year and something 'Lost' has started to do now that they have an end date. So, those afraid of the serialized genre, 'fear not,' because you only have to commit eight episodes to answer the question 'Who is Will Traveler?'"
As for how to keep that story going, DiGilio says it's all about answering old question while raising new ones for the future. "I'm a huge fan of 'Lost' and I loved the season 3 finale," said DiGilio. "It was great to see those flash-forwards instead of flashbacks. It's no longer about what happened before the Island. Now, it's about what happens after they're rescued. That's wide-open territory. For 'Traveler,' you will learn Will's role in the Drexler bombing at the end of season one. But the moment we answer that question, we raise a new, larger question for our guys and our audience to explore in season two."
An unusual aspect of "Traveler's" first episode is that it was filmed on location in New York City, a costly endeavor for any show and certainly unusual for a new one. "Filming in New York was an awesome experience. The city becomes another character on screen," said DiGilio. "It makes you realize how lucky Woody Allen was to film so many movies there. But it is costly and with the traveling nature of the show, it just wasn't feasible to shoot the series in NYC. We needed a place that could double for rural locations like Maine and Connecticut and cities like Boston and D.C. There was really only one place that had all of that in one city - Vancouver. So, we shot there last fall and literally finished the day before a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the city."
One of the highlights of the pilot is the rollerblading scene that takes place in the museum. It's a fast paced sequence that takes the guys down crowded halls and down marble stairs, where you're sure one will end up tripping and breaking his head wide-open. "The rollerblading sequence was originally intended to be down the famous corkscrew ramp of the Guggenheim museum," explained DiGilio, "but since the Guggenheim was none too pleased with the prospect of being blown up on national TV, we had to create the fictitious Drexler Museum. Our art department worked overtime to turn the New York Public Library into something that looks like the Met and we scored. First off, it's next to impossible to film in the Library. Even 'The Day After Tomorrow,' which has about a third of the movie set in the Library, did not get to film there. Then, we ended up with the added bonus of guys rollerblading down steep marble staircases, something that had never been seen on a show like this before. But that's usually how the best things in film and television happen - by accident. We pulled the sequence off without injury thanks to some great camera shots, some impressive stunt doubling and the fact that both Matt and Logan got on rollerblades early enough to learn some real skills."
It's during this sequence you may first notice Blake Neely's score for the series, an Emmy nominated composer who's cooked up music that's a hard-driving mix of techno/electronica with classical music references thrown in. "We knew from the beginning that we wanted 'Traveler' to be a scored show," said DiGilio. "'Source' music feels a little too 'TV' these days, though we do use it sparingly in the show. We always wanted to give 'Traveler' the feel of a movie. And when David Nutter introduced us to Blake's work, we knew right away that we had something. Blake has the ability to take the driving electronic sound of a 'Bourne' action sequence and combine it with emotional themes he's created for each character. And he does an amazing job of evolving the sound with each episode of the show. If you're a soundtrack fan, Blake's work is something to look out for."
The Pilot was previewed earlier this year on ABC and performed well in the ratings, winning the hour in the key 18-34 demo against an original episode of "er" and the season finale of "Without A Trace." "The network was so happy that they immediately gave us two hours of programming on May 30th, tonight. The Pilot re-airs at 9pm and Episode 2 is on at 10. So, folks who missed the first episode already have a chance to catch up."
The pitch process went very fast for "Traveler." DiGilio initially sold the series to Warner Bros. TV in 2005 with Executive Producers Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen attached, Oscar winners for "American Beauty." This was during a time where "Lost" was coming off it's very successful first season and serialized dramas were hot, so ABC snatched the series up quickly.
A year ago the genre was huge, but the fall of 2006 wasn't kind to serialized dramas. With the death of so many serialized shows last fall, ABC held "Traveler" until now, giving the show a chance to breathe and make its mark. "The same things that caught ABC's initial interest are the things that fans responded to after seeing the pilot. This show is about ordinary people placed into extraordinary circumstances. It's got fresh young faces. It's got action and character. And there's a great serialized mystery. You could say the same thing about 'Heroes,' which is the one serialized show from last fall that succeeded."
DiGilio's a huge fan of thrillers like "Three Days of the Condor," "Enemy of the State" and "Parallax View," which were all inspirations for "Traveler," but he noted you can't just create a show about people suspicious of their government - that's just too much like real life. "I was looking for an angle that would make the story unique and I found it at my 10th college reunion," said DiGilio. "I looked around and saw how much people had changed since school. I started wondering how well do we really know people in our lives? Our friends? Our neighbors? And that's when the character of Will Traveler was born. Someone living a complete lie for two years to frame a group of patsies. It opened up all kinds of themes to explore in the series, namely friendship, betrayal and loyalty."
The show is filled with a number of new faces and long-working character actors that should be familiar to many viewers. "I owe a lot of thanks to our casting directors and to our amazing pilot director David Nutter. David is the best in the business. He's helped create 'Smallville,' 'Without A Trace,' and most recently 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles.' The guy is 13 for 13 in converting pilots to series. When we were casting, actors not only loved the script, but they also loved that it was in such good hands. We ended up getting Matthew Bomer, Logan Marshall-Green and Aaron Stanford to play our leads. Each of these guys were getting offers to star in their own shows and we got all three in one. Then, we rounded out the cast with gifted veteran actors like Viola Davis, Anthony Ruivivar, Steven Culp and William Sadler, who really bring a level of depth to their roles and dramatic weight to the series. And, spoiler alert, keep an eye out for the Mystery Man behind the bombing who appears in Episode 2. He's an actor that can smack you down just with his eyes. Total badass. This is an awesome ensemble."
With buzz building on "Traveler," things look positive as you peer into the future. "Long term, if we get a good audience, we'll either return in January with 'Lost' or perhaps become a summer event series for ABC. People can jump into 'Traveler' at any point because each episode is a mystery unto itself, but as with all serialized shows, it's more fun if you jump in early."
The first episode of "Traveler" is repeated tonight at 9:00 PM Pacific/Eastern on ABC, with the second episode to follow at 10:00.