John Billingsley, Tim Daly and Kim Raver, The Nine
Tonight at 10 pm/ET, ABC dials up The Nine, a serialized thriller that quickly stages, and then picks up during the aftermath of, a bank hostage situation that has a profound effect on the strangers involved. Among the many familiar faces filling out the cast are Tim Daly (Wings), Scott Wolf (Everwood), Kim Raver (24) and Chi McBride (Boston Public). TVGuide.com grabbed nine minutes with Hank Steinberg, who cocreated The Nine with his sister K.J., to get an exclusive preview of the drama ahead.

TVGuide.com: I want to start off by asking you where the idea for The Nine came from. Was it a news story you read, were you waiting in a long bank line while watching Lost on your iPod...?
Hank Steinberg:
I had always wanted to do a movie about two people who were in a terrible situation, a train accident or something, and examine how they went back into their lives after they had been through what they'd been through and dealt with how they behaved in that moment of crisis. It was the fourth year of Without a Trace and I was trying to figure out what my next TV-show idea was going to be, and my younger sister, coming off of Judging Amy, was pitching pilot ideas to me. She said, "I want to do a show about nine people who have been through a traumatic event together." We spent like five hours that day talking and started to come up with what the show would be, from the bank robbery to who the people were.

TVGuide.com: And such bonding between people who share in an event like this does happen.
Steinberg:
Yeah, we've read about the Stockholm syndrome, the attraction between people and their captors, but also if you talk with people who went through 9/11 together, they're indelibly marked in each others' lives. We then decided to set it in L.A., because the people are so disparate. Plus, Dog Day Afternoon was one of my favorite movies, so I always thought it interesting how people inside the bank start to relate to each other.

TVGuide.com: We saw that in Inside Man, too.
Steinberg:
Yeah. I had also done the Season 1 finale of Without a Trace, which was about a guy who holds people hostage in a bookstore. I kind of put that idea in the back of my mind, how people being held hostage start to relate to each other and to the gunmen.

TVGuide.com: Here's my concern: The unseen hostage situation lasted 52 hours, and you reveal maybe 60 seconds' worth per episode. I did the math and this series could ostensibly run for 135 seasons.
Steinberg:
[Laughs] Well, we're going to jump forward in time. In the first few episodes you'll see the first five minutes, the next five minutes, and then by like Episode 5 we're jumping forward an hour or two, and then another hour or two.

TVGuide.com: I didn't realize that — the flashbacks are being shown in chronological order?
Steinberg:
Yes, roughly. Usually. We're going to break the format sometimes, but we don't want to confuse people by jumping around too much. The idea is to gradually let people see how [the situation] evolved.

TVGuide.com: Much is made of what happens with Scott Wolf's character, so I assumed we'd get his flashback to what happened, and then someone else's, with a different interpretation.
Steinberg:
You may get something like that but not in the first few episodes. We don't want to give it away just yet.

TVGuide.com: Are we to presume that maybe something supernatural happened inside that bank, or was it just godawful?
Steinberg:
No, nothing supernatural. Nothing supernatural. [Chuckles] I can guarantee you that there is no hatch, no. This is a show totally grounded and based in reality. The idea was born from the question of, "What do you do when your life is put to the test?"

TVGuide.com: In your and your sister's minds, how many of the 52 hours are already mapped out?
Steinberg:
We know pretty much most of what happens. You allow yourself some leeway to make adjustments, but we pretty much know.

TVGuide.com: What's your personal beef with Fox that you cast not just Kim Raver but also Prison Break's John Billingsley and Camille Guaty? Were you out to single-handedly decimate their ranks?
Steinberg:
[Laughs] I just try to get the best actors. If I accidentally hurt them, I apologize to [Fox Entertainment president] Peter Liguori, who is a friend.

TVGuide.com: Which was the trickiest role to cast?
Steinberg:
Egan Foote (John Billingsley) was the hardest, because he's such a quirky character that is both the source of comic relief and...

TVGuide.com: There was a risk of him being too cartoony?
Steinberg:
The risk of him being cartoony or too sad, because he's this lovable funny guy who's also suicidal. It really has to be right in the middle and played with a lot of nuance. We saw like 50 people and finally found John.

TVGuide.com: Some have said that Invasion had trouble with its ratings because the after-Lost time slot is a mixed blessing: Yeah, you're after Lost, but there's some viewer fatigue, physical and cerebral, by the time 10 o'clock rolls around. Were you cognizant of that going in? Worried at all?
Steinberg:
I've heard people talk about that.... I've had pretty good success with Without a Trace coming after CSI without having too much of a problem, so I'm not that worried about it. I really try not to worry about things I can't control. [Laughs] ABC has three great shows to platform behind — Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and Lost — and we were hoping we would get one of the three. I think they paired us with the right one.

TVGuide.com: At the end of the pilot, one of the hostages arranges for a surprising face-to-face with one of the robbers. Will we get to see that conversation?
Steinberg:
You will, in the second episode.

TVGuide.com: It had to be an interesting conversation when you spoke to the actor who gets killed in the pilot, but who actually does have a job....
Steinberg:
Yeah, "You're a series regular, but you're dead." And every time I see that person, I get this rush of guilt. "You're so beautiful and alive and vivacious.... And you're dead." It's a visceral response. I also have a visceral response to Jeffrey Pierce, who plays [bank robber] Randall and is the nicest guy. I see him on set in character and in tattoos, and I don't want to be around him. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: In closing, give us a tease about the one character to really keep an eye on here at the beginning.
Steinberg:
The character who you least expect to do something out of control might just do that.

Additional reporting by Kathleen Gallagher, who will offer weekly TV Show Commentary on The Nine for TVGuide.com

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com.