Monday, September 23, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' Hostages

Mondays at 10 PM Eastern/9 PM Central,
Premiering September 23

With its similarly intense mix of political intrigue and personal drama, Hostages is obviously harboring hopes of becoming the next Homeland.  After all, the two series have more in common than merely the cleverness of their blonde heroines; both action thrillers have origins in Israel, which is fast becoming fertile ground for growing America’s future TV hits.

Showtime’s series, adapted from the Israeli Hatufim, captured critical raves and swept the Emmy Awards in 2012.  Now, CBS’ high-concept Hostages, based on a previously unproduced script out of Tel Aviv, has nabbed both a top-notch cast and one of TV’s highest-profile launching pads for a drama, the network’s Mondays at 10.

Hostages stars Toni Collette in the juicy lead role of Ellen Sanders, a Washington, DC surgeon whose family is taken captive by team of rogue FBI agents on the eve of her operation on the President of the United States.  Commanded to kill her political patient, Sanders is tested in her resolve as a medical professional, as a wife and mother, and as a patriotic citizen.  The scope of the story, says producer Alon Aranya, who teamed with writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff to tailor the original script for an American audience, reaches beyond that of the typical television procedural.  The intricately-plotted, surprise-rigged Hostages “will be like a feature film designed for TV.”

In another way that Hostages will be notable for the network, the series will, following its September premiere, run for 15 straight episodes with few repeats or interruptions, before ceding its timeslot in early 2014 to another hotly anticipated drama. (Intelligence, which stars Lost’s Josh Holloway as a government intelligence operative whose brain has been implanted with a supercomputer microchip and CSI’s Marg Helgenberger as his agency boss, is scheduled to debut February 24.)  Such shorter seasons have long been the norm on cable, but as network president Nina Tassler explains, this is a first for CBS:  “We’re normally in the 22-episode business, because our fans don’t want less of their favorite shows – they want more.”  But Tassler and her team were soon won over by the Hostages producers’ detailed plans for a nailbiting first season, which she describes as “fifteen really terrific episodes, jampacked with big events and plot twists.”

The twists were what lured actors like Collette, who remembers that “when I read the pilot script, it was unlike any other show.  I loved that I didn’t know what was happening -- although I thought I did.  It really was a page-turner, where I couldn’t put it down.”  Collette is joined by Tate Donovan as Ellen’s less successful – and less-than-faithful – husband Brian, Dylan McDermott as Duncan Carlisle, the erstwhile Fed turned conspirator and kidnapper, and James Naughton as the President targeted for assassination.

But both Hostages’ producer and leading lady warn not to blindly accept these simplified descriptions of the show’s characters.  “The show is a conspiracy thriller – and as such, all is not what it seems.  There’s always another layer,” Aranya teases.

“People keep asking Dylan, ‘How is it to play the bad guy?’” Collette adds.  “But he may not be entirely bad.  All of these characters have their reasons for doing what they do.  And those reasons will slowly be revealed.”

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