The cast and creative team of CBS’s new action-procedural Scorpion appeared on stage at Comic-Con International in San Diego following a screening of the pilot episode.
Airing Monday nights this fall, Scorpion is based on the true story of Walter O’Brien, an eccentric genius with the world’s fourth-highest IQ who has created a company of brilliant misfits who use their mental muscle to defend the planet against complex high-tech threats of the modern age. Justin Lin Fast & Furious 6 directed the pilot.
The real Walter O’Brien was joined by cast members Elyes Gabel (who plays O’Brien on the show), Katharine McPhee (Smash) and Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, The X-Files) and executive producers Nicholas Wootton, Nick Santora, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to discuss the new series and answer questions from the audience.
Santora was asked to talk about the genesis of the show. “We’re sitting next to the genesis of the show right here,” he said, referring to O’Brien. “197 IQ, he’s saved the world several times over, most of which he’s not allowed to tell us about.”
O’Brien said he isn’t worried about seeing his life turned into a television series. “I’m left-brain dominant, so thankfully anxiety and nervousness are very minimal to me,” he said. “If I had feelings, yes, I would have anxiety.”
“Walter has the ultimate trump card,” Santora added. “If we write anything that annoys him, he will delete our identities.”
O’Brien explained why he agreed to participate in Scorpion. “For 25 years now, I’ve run a home for people I call the ‘mentally enabled.’ It’s for people with high IQ and low EQ [emotional intelligence],” he said. “We try to make them functional in society and useful. Finding geniuses is hard. A 150 IQ, which is our minimum, is 1 in 10,000 people. What we figured is, ‘What if they can find us? What if they saw themselves in the show, and Googled, and found our real company?’ Then the good we’ve done so far -- stop four terrorists, stopped two wars, saved a lot of lives -- if more geniuses joined us, more people could call us for help.”
He said he hopes that, like CSI encouraged countless young people to study forensic science in college, in five to eight years more students will be studying computer science and artificial intelligence because Scorpion made it look cool. “We may have helped our country a little bit,” he said.
Gabel said he’s looking forward to showing O’Brien’s progression from the beginning of his career to where he is now. “There is so much mileage we can get from that,” he said. “It’s a very interesting challenge for an actor.”
McPhee said she’s enjoying working on Scorpion because it’s a departure from her previous series Smash. “One of the things we all love about the show is that it has so much heart, and yet it’s funny and there are moments of high action, so for me it was something so different,” she said. “I play more of a grown-up character.”
The producers were asked how much of the show will be action-adventure and how much will be character development. “The show is about the characters at the end of the day,” Santora replied. “There will be action and adventure each week, and a problem and a conundrum that this incredible team will tackle each week, but that only exists to affect and reflect on these incredible characters. That being said, the action is going to be amazing.”
Kurtzman said the idea of people with higher IQs and lower EQs is interesting to him. “It’s one of the things that got us drawn to this from the beginning,” he said. “The things we take for granted as being normal, everyday things are impossible for these geniuses, and the things we think are impossible are normal everyday tasks for them. Watching them learn to raise their emotional intelligence and learn to adapt to the world makes them underdogs that everyone can root for.”
Wootton agreed, saying, “We will get into the characters’ backstories and get to know them as well as we can. All of the adventures that they go on will reflect on their personalities. Putting these people into situations where they are absolutely perfect and then putting them in situations where they are horrendously bad -- that will be the fun of the adventure stuff moving forward.”
Patrick said he enjoys playing the man who puts the team together. “It’s like herding a group of puppies. You have to dangle carrots and yell ‘Hey, look over here,’” he said. “I’ve been using the metaphor of Col. Tom Parker with Elvis Presley: I’ve got to let the guy do his thing and give him the room to do it.”
Santora said just as Patrick’s character serves as a father figure to the other characters, the veteran actor has become a mentor to the younger cast members. “When you’re working with Robert Patrick, it’s easy to turn to him and look up to him because he’s been so successful,” Santora said, “and Robert will openly give advice and be incredibly generous with them.”
O’Brien concluded by saying CBS has been generous to him and in its support of Scorpion. “They are really grasping the idea that it is really a celebration of intelligence,” he said. “We don’t do enough of that really anywhere, let alone on TV. It’s about time for that.”
Scorpion premieres Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.