Nazis. Kidnapping. Secret religious societies. Doomsday. And clocks. So many clocks.
That's Anthony Edwards' new drama Zero Hour (premiering Thursday, 8/7c, ABC) in a nutshell, one that's as far away from the halls of County General as you can get — and that's exactly why the ER alum chose it as his TV comeback.
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"This just felt new," Edwards tells TVGuide.com. "I was reading something that felt really different that I wasn't seeing on TV and that I've never done before, and you always want that as an actor."
In the Da Vinci Code-esque thriller, Edwards plays Hank Galliston, a skeptics magazine editor who finds himself pulled into an age-old conspiracy when his wife, Laila (Jacinda Barrett), an antique clock shop owner, is kidnapped by the nefarious White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist) after she purchases a clock that contains a diamond that contains a hidden treasure map. (Still with us?) The enigmatic timepiece was one of 12 made in 1938 when Rosicrucian priests were being persecuted by Nazis. If all 12 clocks fall into the wrong hands, it could bring about a cataclysmic "storm" called "zero hour." There's also a mysterious object underneath a church moat, a creepy baby with demonic eyes, and the pilot ends with a half-buried Nazi submarine in the Canadian tundra. "There is a lot going on in the pilot. It's pretty insane," Edwards says with a laugh. "But we have to set everything up. I hope people will find it entertaining and be intrigued by what we establish."
Edwards sure was. The actor, who left ER in 2002 after eight years (he made a guest appearance in 2008), took a decade-long break from series TV to spend time with his family and didn't consider returning to the small screen until 18 months ago.
"ER was so crazy successful and I was so associated with it that I knew that I definitely needed to take a break, which I did," he says. "When I came back, I didn't think I'd come back in the hour drama format, but what excited me about Zero Hour is what excited me about ER in a similar way. Those are the kind of risks that are fun to take because when ER was made, NBC was not doing well and they took a big risk in their mind. After we made the pilot, they got behind it and supported it, but the idea of telling that story was a risk. To [ABC Entertainment President] Paul Lee's credit, he took a risk. They can develop any type of story they want and they developed this. I didn't overthink it. I just trusted my instincts."
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Edwards' interest was piqued by Hank's everyman persona, one not unlike the beloved Dr. Mark Greene's. "I joke on the set, 'Alright, bring in the next old lady to beat me up.' He's not a superhero. I think that's good for the audience," he says. And he was officially convinced after his conversation with co-creator Paul Scheuring, who laid out his whole Season 1 plan down to the final scene. "I was like, 'Holy moly! We're going there?! OK!'" he says. "Those were kind of big broad strokes of what was going on and the fun comes in the details. It's one thing to say you're going somewhere, but how do you do that in 13 different stories? That was their challenge and it made everything really intense."
Since the first season is only 13 episodes and because we live in a post-Lost world, answers will come quickly. For one, Hank, who recruits the help of his staff reporters Arron (Scott Michael Foster) and Rachel (Addison Timlin) and FBI agent Beck Riley (Carmen Ejogo), will find Laila sooner rather than later. "The kidnapping is built into the mystery, which is the story itself, not the mission to find her," Edwards says. "We're not spending 13 episodes looking for my wife. All the players you see will interact. ... Storytelling is always changing. I think people are watching TV more now in different ways and writing about it. They're downloading an entire season; they binge-watch. Homeland is a great example. You watch 12 episodes and it's a year before we see it again, but we'll be ready for it. So we don't hold back here."
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By the end of the finale, the clock conspiracy will be all wrapped up and, should the show get renewed, it would reset, so to speak, with a new arc. Edwards remains coy as to whether the Season 1 finale will set up a new mystery ("It depends who you talk to") and whether Season 2 would include any more ominous tick-tocking. "We may have used up our clock quota," he quips.
So were any clocks harmed in the making of Zero Hour?
"I don't think so," Edwards laughs. "They're a big part of it, but it's not episodes of clocks. I think the clocks made it out OK."
Zero Hour premieres Thursday at 8/7c on ABC.