The end is nigh for Sleepy Hollow's first season. And it looks extremely...busy. It's a stinging-cold December morning at Wilmington, North Carolina's EUE/Screen Gems Studios. In the nearby woods, a stuntwoman wearing a low-cut, corseted frock is being pulled through the air on a thick cord and dropped nose-first onto a safety mat. "Can she be yanked even harder?" director Ken Olin (thirtysomething) asks the crew member at the other end of the rope. Yes, she certainly can. Yards away, set dressers attach unruly branches to a quartet of white trees that will represent the show's deadly Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a trippy upcoming scene. Stars Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie are suited up as Revolutionary War hero Ichabod Crane and modern-day detective Abbie Mills (he in his wig and long military overcoat, she with her standard-issue Glock) and heading to a clearing in the loblolly pines that will double as a portal to purgatory. Now, it's where guest star John Noble (Fringe) is having coffee and a cigarette. And Orlando Jones is in police captain Frank Irving's civvies, giddily grilling his lunch in front of a visiting cameraman from The Rachael Ray Show.
At the studio, Victor Garber has arrived for his fitting to play Ichabod's estranged father. Derek Mears, the second man to portray supreme demon Moloch, is preparing to squeeze his naked 6-foot-5 frame into the previous actor's much smaller bodysuit and ram's horns. "Oh, my arms," he moans, only slightly joking. About a half-dozen other middle-aged men are milling around waiting to get tricked out like 18th-century Oxford professors. "We're adrenaline junkies," says head costumer Kristin Burke about her crew. "We go for it."
The only "person" sitting still is the nude dummy of the man immolated by a witch in Episode 2, who is drolly perched outside the stars' trailers. The fact that his torched genitals are still intact (and on display) is just slightly more disturbing than the gift from a child fan that hangs in the production office's hallway — a drawing of a fire-haired, eye-patched hell spawn that reads: "To Sleepy Hollow. Kill Ichabod Crane! Go Hedluss [sic] Horseman! From Ava."
Dear Ava: TV's gonzo, gothic success has even wilder plans for its two-hour season finale on Jan. 20. "I don't think anyone sees what's coming," Beharie warns. "I was completely thrown. There are so many twists, turns and ways that all of the different storylines start to make sense. It's definitely up there with the big stuff you get in a series finale." Says Jones, "The show's a rebellion on all levels."
For the heathens who haven't been watching, the sci-fi/horror/historical mashup has little in common with Washington Irving's 1820 short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," about a spindly schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane, his busty baker crush Katrina and the cloaked, headless ghost of a mounted Hessian soldier. The show's Crane is a former redcoat who unknowingly became Col. George Washington's special emissary in a secret war against the supernatural. Two centuries after his death on the battlefield, he's resurrected in upstate New York along with his noggin-bereft nemesis. There, Crane meets nail-tough Abbie; they are the "two witnesses" that Revelation prophesies will prevent the world's end. Together they fight Moloch's beasties, such as the nightmarish Sandman and a giant plant monster, while uncovering the crazy truth behind major historical events.
"I like being called a surprise hit," admits writer-producer Damian Kindler. "It's better than 'bat-s--t crazy,' which is in every review. I've pitched some of the most out-there ideas, because why not? The show allows for it." When he spitballed that the Boston Tea Party was really a Navy SEAL-like exercise to steal a magic box, Kindler says executive producer Roberto Orci responded, "Great, perfect, write it down."
Sound nuts? So do Sleepy Hollow's stats. The series increased Fox's ratings in the Monday 9pm slot more than 100 percent over last year's Mob Doctor. A total of 22 million viewers watched the pilot live, on DVRs, online or on demand. It's the network's biggest fall drama since 24 launched in 2001. Sleepy Hollow collects the most tweets per minute of any current Fox show and is the second most popular new series on social media after The Originals, with nearly 1 million fans across Facebook and Twitter alone. It took only three episodes for Fox to greenlight a second season. "At San Diego Comic-Con in July, [executive producer Alex Kurtzman] and Bob [Orci] were on the panel, and then some weird British guy — me — and the beautiful Nicole," Mison remembers. "We were basically saying, 'Please watch our show. It's really good.' Three months later at New York Comic Con, just three episodes in, we filled the second biggest hall. Now I can't wait for San Diego 2014."
For more on Sleepy Hollow, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, Jan. 9!