Dennis Hopper by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
It's one of the more intriguing ideas for the fall season: turning the Oscar-winning movie
into a weekly series, which the pay-cable movie network Starz hopes will put them on the map the way
did for AMC a year ago. (It's scheduled to premiere Oct. 17.) But don't go in expecting a sequel. The characters are all new, although as in the movie, they'll reflect the racial and class tensions of Los Angeles as their lives intersect in unexpected and sometimes random ways.
"I didn't feel the need to go back to that movie and say, OK, what happens on the next day," says executive producer Glen Mazzara (
), who was hired to reinvent the movie into a series. "I knew instinctually what that movie felt like. So it really comes out of the emotion that I felt when I watched that film. It really was just a feel of that film I was going for."
A brief clip reel was all that Starz was able to show critics, but the producers (including the movie's co-writer Bobby Moresco and star-producer Don Cheadle) were on hand to lay out the basic framework. Leading the cast is Dennis Hopper (also on the panel, and colorfully outspoken as usual) as a recklessly flamboyant record producer who hires a young African-American limo driver (Jocko Sims) whom he attempts to mentor. Other characters in the diverse cast include an upscale suburban mom (
's Clare Carey), a Guatemalan immigrant (Luis Chaves), a Korean-American EMT (Brian Tee) trying to distance himself from his gang background, and a cop (Ross McCall) smitten with the sexpot (Moran Atias) he meets when their cars collide. (Ergo,
"One of the things that I think is very interesting is that this doesn't fit into any franchise," says Mazzara. "This is really a character-based drama. We are following realistic, interesting characters, hopefully with compelling stories, and how do they meet each other? What do they do? What are the choices they make? And that's what, to me, the show is. It's about those moments of human interaction." But don't look for a weekly collision to stir the pot.
"That's something that I really wrestled with," Mazzara says. "In the movie, you could have all of your characters intersect pretty quickly because you only have two hours. If we use that device in every episode, it will feel like a device, it will feel like a gimmick, and everybody will smell that it's false. Over the course of 13 episodes, you can plot out when people meet each other or if they meet each other. I consider that just good storytelling, where you have those surprises [where] we turn the corner and there's this guy, and sometimes they recognize each other, sometimes they don't."
As he talked, I couldn't help reflecting on NBC's late, still-lamented
, airing on an upstart network unafraid to take risks, will get more of a chance to find its voice and its audience without having to worry constantly about crashing and burning over each week's ratings. Time will tell.