Terminator Producers talk "Sarah Connor Chronicles"

Following conversations with Executive Producer Josh Friedman and performers Shirley Manson, Summer Glau, Garrett Dillahunt and Thomas Dekker, CBR News concludes our spotlight on "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" with Executive Producers James Middleton and John Wirth, who discuss with us the show's second season, beginning September 8 on Fox.

Executive Producer James Middleton has been a part of the Terminator franchise since 2003, when "Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines" was released in cinemas. Middleton wanted to bring the character of Sarah Connor back and thought the small screen would be the perfect outlet, although it took four years and a very long road to get what became "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" on the air. Outside of the Fox series, Middleton is also involved in the upcoming "Terminator: Salvation" feature film as an associate producer, living two lives in each of the Terminator timelines .

Played by Brian Austin Green, the character of Derek Reese was a breakout success among fans of the show. Considering Derek's popularity and Middleton's involvement in both the Terminator television series and the forthcoming movie, fans have been wondering if John Connor's Uncle Derek might make an appearance in the films as well. "There is not a Derek Reese in the movie timeline," Middleton confirmed. "That is an invention of [Executive Producer/writer] Josh [Friedman's] and John [Wirth's] as writers that is specific to our mythology and there are many other things that are specific to our mythology as well. Our characters all know the value of self sacrifice and perseverance and they have a great calling thrust upon them, but there are certain things in our show that are necessarily going to be different than the movies."

During last year's Writers Guild strike, James Middleton, the only non-writing executive producer on "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," was left with the task of completing the show without Josh Friedman and John Wirth's involvement. "The episodes had to be finished, so it was personally very difficult because they had become my colleagues and my friends and I also felt a great responsibility to try to continue to execute what I knew was their vision," Middleton explained. "I think I got pretty close to doing what we would have done together but it was a difficult time. The good thing about it was in the end that we -- although they were outside the studio lot and I was on the inside -- stayed in constant communication so when they came back it was like we had never really been separated."

With all the talk of the imminent death of a character in the new season, fans have been asking whether this person will end up being another "red shirt" -- or weightless death, in genre television terms -- or will the producers actually take the life of someone the audience has grown attached to? "Let me just say that when you're living in a universe where there are Terminators, it is not a safe place," Wirth said. "Anyone can die at any point in time. What's happening this season is people are starting to come together. Last year, everyone was very isolated. Well, 'everyone' was the Connor family last year. We expanded it out this year because they're rubbing elbows with the world, so as people come into contact with the Connor family things get dangerous. If anyone comes up to you and says, 'Hi, my name is John Connor,' I think you should consider running in the other direction."

Middleton was quick to also point out that the doomed character would be that of one of actors at the "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" panel at Comic-Con -- Shirley Manson, Summer Glau, Garrett Dillahunt and Thomas Dekker -- and that there were no "red shirts" on the panel that day. "You'll see in season two that people that come into proximity with Sarah Connor will have very bad results. So yes, characters are gong to die besides even the ones that you're referring to."

As the show deals with time travel, any death could have the possibility of being negated by going back before it happened. "That's a good point, that's a very good point," Wirth said.

Not wanting to cause a fan uproar, Middleton added that using time travel to reverse a death is not what they have in mind for the show. "In the Terminator universe, that personal sacrifice and the sacrifice of life for the sake of humanity is very important," Middleton said. "We don't want to get into a situation where we create a character and minimize their sacrifice or their death, so that's very important to us. We show that each individual human is important and they've sacrificed the greatest thing that they have for the sake of mankind."

Fans of "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" will remember that when we last saw John Connor's protector Cameron, the female Terminator was in a car that was engulfed in flames. The promotional material for season two seems to show Cameron in good shape, which has left fans asking what exactly happened in the explosion. "The car, there was an explosion with a big fireball," Wirth explained. "But she wasn't engulfed in flames for a long period of time, otherwise I think her Terminator skin/shell would probably burn off. I just don't think there was that much fire on her."

Middleton was quick to add that while she is a machine, Cameron isn't invulnerable. 'We're going to see how as a machine she is fallible," he said. "She can be damaged and because that affects her programming, it can have very dangerous results. But she also does know how to repair herself, so that's something that we'll see this season as well."

The action element of the series has made "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" unique, depicting a level of action that television audiences haven't seen every week, one-upping most shows by adding the element of the Terminators. "James has said often when a Terminator walks onto a set, it's a big deal," Wirth remarked. "I mean, if a Terminator is going to blow the hell out of you that's going look different then if I was going to blow the hell out of you. You're going to really fly if a Terminator hits you. It's a question of trying to think creatively about how to stage action in a way that is going to be satisfying to your audience and us as writers, because most of us have been on lots of cop shows, we've done all this action stuff and you've kind of seen it and you've played it and you've written it so how do you do it that's unique."

One of those creative decisions was to film the climactic battle between a Terminator and the FBI from underwater, watching as the dead and bloodied bodies fell from above. "In this particular instance, Josh came in one morning and he said, 'I think we should do that action scene from the point of view of underneath the pool,'" Wirth recalled. "I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'Let's just put the camera on the bottom of the pool and the whole thing plays out.'"

While some may have thought the reasoning behind filming the scene in such a way was completely, the producers say money had nothing to do with it. "We didn't come at that scene from a point of view saying, 'How do we shoot this action in a way that we can save money?'" Middleton said. "We came from the standpoint of we wanted to show a tableau of death in a different way. We could have shown stuntman after stuntman flying off the railing, we had them there. We have one of the best stunt coordinators in the business, Joel Kramer, and we had twenty stun men in SWAT gear. We could have done the standard coverage of that scene but we wanted to show the terrible beauty of this attack and kind of create a solemn nature of what has happened to these SWAT officers with that Johnny Cash song playing. The song is about Judgement Day in a way; the lyrics say there will be a time when there is a reckoning and it may not go well and that's what we see with these SWAT officers is it's not going well."

One of the prevalent themes of genre television whenever a robot or android is a principal character, is the search for being human. Viewers won't be finding that aspect on "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," as the creators have decided to take that classic set up and give it a bit of a twist. "One of the things that the Cameron character is going to go through this year is as opposed to learning what it's like to be human, she's going to be learning what it's like to be a robot, if you can get your mind behind that," Wirth said.

"We are trying to transcend that dynamic, that the machine simply wants to feel emotion," Middleton elaborated. "We're thinking that she's perceiving her existence as unique from that of human beings, and what she can experience and how she relates to the universe is unique to her, and that causes a lot of interesting conflicts between her and the human beings in our cast. So it's not about making her be more human, it's about how she becomes more Cameron."

Another thing the producers are looking to add a twist to is the war between the humans and the Terminators. "What we will see also is the war between the factions in the present time and in the future is much more complex and mysterious then anybody could have imagined from the first two movies," Wirth said. "There are factions with competing and contradictory agendas and that's going to be part of what Sarah has to contend with as well [as] the sands shift beneath her. She goes in one direction to stop this rise of Skynet, but another problem can come up from a different front."

The character of John Connor's love interest Riley may have been a suggestion from an executive at Fox, but James Middleton thinks she will be staying around for a while because she adds an interesting element that he says was lacking in the cast. "It goes to this issue of being so isolated," he said. "If you can imagine, you have a mother, a son and a robot. So the mother is not going to confide to the robot because she doesn't trust the robot. The boy is getting to the age when if the robot was a person he actually might be very attracted to the robot, so he's got issues with the robot. The robot is a robot. So there weren't a lot of ways for those characters to open up and express themselves because in a way no one had anyone to talk to. So by creating the character of Riley for John, it gives him a vehicle as it were; it gives him someone to talk to about what he is going through. You know, obviously he can't tell her what is actually in his life, but he can speak in emotional terms, he can talk about the emotional truths that are real to him, and she serves a very, very good purpose in that way. So that's the reason I think she'll be around for a while, to sort of allow us to kind of open him up a bit."

Looking towards the show's future, fans will definitely be seeing more of the future in the coming season. "Well, I will say this about the future, last year we did a really big episode where half of it was in the future and we kind of put all our eggs in one basket and that was our future episode," Middleton said. "This year, I would say the future is kind of a character in the show. We go to the future a lot to sort of do some fill-in, some background so that you can understand what happened in the past even though it's the future -- it's the past for us, you know?"

If that isn't enough to give fans goosebumps -- or make their heads explode as they try to wrap their heads around the concept of time travel -- Middleton and Wirth also promise to debut some new Terminator models.

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