There's a crisis on the set of Crisis: Although the NBC drama is filming indoors on this late-January day, the high temperature outside the Chicago set is zero degrees (and with the wind chill, it feels like 30 below). Even inside, it's frosty, and star Gillian Anderson huddles for warmth by wrapping herself in a full-length parka between takes.
As she shoots a scene in which her character, superrich CEO Meg Fitch, consults with her lawyer, she stumbles over a phrase. "This is unbelievable," she says of the weather. "It's shocking."
The polar vortex has forced series creator Rand Ravich (Life) to make some on-the-fly adjustments to his story about a group of D.C. teens — including Fitch's daughter and the son of the U.S. president — who get kidnapped during a field trip in sunny September. "It makes you want to write and shoot indoor scenes," he says of the cold. "But that gets very claustrophobic, especially on an action show. We need to go outside, and it's been difficult."
That's not the only obstacle the showrunner has faced. Midway through filming the complicated and fast-paced thriller's 13-episode first season, production was temporarily shut down so the writers could tweak the storylines. "Serialized television is very difficult to conceive," says Ravich. "The network was very gracious in allowing us an extra two weeks to take a beat and decide where we wanted to go."
When word of the unplanned hiatus hit the Internet, "it literally sounded like there was a crisis going on," says Dermot Mulroney, who costars as Francis Gibson, a class-parent chaperone who's not as innocuous as he first appears. "But it wasn't real. It was just a story for the sake of a story — the snoops would rather talk about a TV show that's having problems than one like ours that's running smoothly."
The challenge has been finding the right balance between a Law & Order-ish procedural with a resolution to each episode and a 24-esque serial featuring weekly cliffhangers. "As much as possible," Ravich says, "we have a story you can enjoy from beginning to end in every episode while you're going along for the serialized ride."
That high-octane formula has fueled NBC's freshman hit The Blacklist, and the Crisis cast and crew have taken notice. "We've watched them be successful out of the gate," says Rachael Taylor, who plays Fitch's FBI-agent sister. "And it's taught us the temperature we should be at."
If all goes according to plan, Crisis will help the network keep heating up its ratings. "I like how NBC is manning up," says Mulroney, citing shows like Hannibal and Believe as well as The Blacklist. "Suddenly, in less than a season, they've really turned up the volume on how they're approaching their dramas."
Everyone involved hopes Crisis's virtually real-time storytelling will dovetail with the changing ways viewers are consuming TV in the age of DVRs and streaming services. "My feeling is this is a good show to binge-watch," Taylor says. "And that's how I watch TV these days — I binge it, hard."
Anderson, who's been bingeing on Breaking Bad with her 19-year-old daughter, Piper, says the quality of Crisis's scripts convinced her to sign on for her first regular U.S. series role since The X-Files. "It's such a smart and intense story," she says. "It felt like something I hadn't entirely done before."
In addition to her recurring gig as the titular cannibal's shrink on Hannibal, Anderson stars in the British drama The Fall (available in the U.S. on Netflix) as a Scotland Yard detective tracking a serial killer. She's been jetting back and forth between the U.K. — where she lives with sons Oscar, 7, and Felix, 5 — and Chicago. "On the whole, it's worked out remarkably well," she says. "Gratefully, their father [ex-boyfriend Mark Griffiths] is a very good, hands-on dad."
For Mulroney, the chance to play a complex character like Gibson inspired him to take on his first-ever weekly television role. "I've been looking for a good show for a couple of years, to be quite honest," says the August: Osage County costar, who was set to headline NBC's ill-fated Rockford Files reboot in 2010. "I felt like there was great potential in Crisis's first episode, and they've more than delivered."