"A Six Million Dollar Man for the modern age. Brain over brawn, although there's plenty of brawn to go around."
That's how executive producer Michael Seitzman sums up CBS' new drama Intelligence, which stars Lost alum Josh Holloway as Gabriel Vaughn, an intelligence asset with a chip implanted in his brain that allows him to access the World Wide Web. It makes Gabriel part man and part machine, which also makes him simultaneously America's best hope and worst nightmare; the machine side of him can access a wealth of data, but how he acts on that information is governed by his emotional human side.
"I love this role because he's a lot more man than machine," Holloway tells TVGuide.com. "He's a Delta Tier 1 Operative, which means he's no stranger to hardcore missions. He's been a soldier his whole life, this is just an addition. With the enhancement, he has a lot more accessibility to information. It's like that Han Solo line, 'Never tell me the odds, kid.' I always have the odds with me, I just go against them."
Gabriel, who has a special mutation that allows the chip's implantation, enlisted in the Clockwork program, headed up by Lillian Strand (CSI's Marg Helgenberger), after the apparent death of his wife. She was also an agent working undercover who switched sides and perished in a terrorist bombing, but Gabriel aims to prove that not only is his wife alive, but she's also not a traitor. That's where former Secret Service Agent Riley Neal (Once Upon a Time's Meghan Ory) comes in. She's tasked with keeping the often gung-ho Gabriel in check and protecting America's probably billion-dollar asset. It's a computer, after all, and we all know how susceptible those can be.
"Our characters and our stories are constantly measuring the distance between man and machine and trying to figure out what it means to have a chip in your brain, what the dangers are in terms of whether that chip could be hacked or accessed, whether it can malfunction, how does it interact with you?" says Seitzman. "What does it mean for the character when he's facing the fact that he's not completely him? We thread that through the whole season."
Outside those pesky emotions, Gabriel has limitations as well. For instance, Gabriel can't use the chip to turn off the lights -- "He's not a clapper, but that would be a really good gag," Seitzman laughs. "Note to self..." — nor can he show anyone else what he visualizes when he renders a crime scene, which allows him to walk through a 3D realization of an incident. The chip also can't make him physically stronger — "We have a character ask him if it helps with his golf game, and he wishes it would," Seitzman says — but he can pull up schematics of a building, position satellites and pull infrared to see where all the bad guys are located. Basically, if it's connected to the global information grid, Gabriel can access it.
Though the writers drew some inspiration from The Six Million Dollar Man, they decided against bestowing Gabriel with enhanced physical strength. "In a world where you can press a button and a drone five miles up can kill a man on the ground, does super physical strength matter as much? It probably doesn't," Seitzman says. "While we have a very strong, athletic, military-experienced character, the idea of being able to access the same information grid in a different way the rest of us do is incredibly compelling."
"In very early incarnations when it was in the early stages of development, the character we had initially played around with did have physical attributes like strength and speed," executive producer Tripp Vinson says. "Michael rightly pointed out that was going to be a really familiar area to go down, especially given the things we see with Marvel and superhero movies. The great challenge is when we started to talk about finding something else that would make him special; a different type of power that we hadn't seen before. That's how this all began."
The distance between man and machine will permeate throughout the season, giving viewers a chance to relate to someone we all could end up being in the future. "If we're constantly pushing the idea that he's a human with this ability, then he becomes just like all of us," Seitzman says. "You want to feel, at the end of the day, that you could also be Gabriel or hang out with Gabriel. In a lot of ways, we live vicariously through Riley. What would it be like to be with him all day? The more he's like us, the better."
Intelligence premieres Tuesday at 9/8c on CBS. It moves to its regular timeslot on Monday, Jan. 13 at 10/9c.
If you're at CES, check out sister site CNET's Intelligence-themed party where Jane's Addiction will be playing Tuesday night at 9pm at Tao in the Venetian.
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