It's not every day that a TV show kills off its leading man seven episodes into the first season. But that's exactly what happened on Monday's
Gale Harold's Det. Kelton got caught in a hail of gunfire - punishment for learning too much, too soon. Now, for the first time, exec producer Josh Berman explains why he made his star, um, vanish. (Note: Shortly after this interview was conducted, a tip came in that Fox was relocating
Vanished to Friday nights. No confirmation yet from the network. I'll keep you posted.)
Ausiello: So, why'd you kill him off?
The premise of Vanished is that no one is safe. When we were thinking about going into baseball [hiatus] and leaving the viewers wanting more, what better way [to do that] than to have our lead character get too close to the truth? On this show, anything can happen at any time.
Ausiello: The buzz going around is that Gale didn't exactly endear himself to the cast and crew. Is there any truth to that?
I think a lot of that is gossip. Gale was a consummate professional. I really enjoyed working with him. I don't think that's a fair assessment at all. I have heard that, but I didn't experience that.
Ausiello: How did he react to the news?
Really well. We had always talked about something like this happening to his character; we just didn't know when it would happen. But when we were writing the episodes, we realized that his character was getting close to the truth quicker than we had originally anticipated. So [fellow exec producer] Mimi Leder and I had a big discussion with him about how he would feel about doing this in Episode 7, leading into baseball. And he was really gung-ho about it. In fact, in the episode where he's shot, there's a scene where his [estranged] wife gives him his wedding ring back; that was his idea. He thought that if he was going to die, it would be nice to have closure with Ava. I thought that was a great, human instinct to have as an actor. He was on board. He loves the show, and he loves his character. Like his character, Gale had a lot of questions, and I think that it was very satisfying for him to get some answers before he left.
Ausiello: So, just to be clear, this was solely a story-line-dictated decision, and had nothing to do with Gale or his performance?
No. Fox told us to think outside the box from the beginning. We're not constrained by, "Oh, we have a [contract] with him for this season." We want this to be an edge-of-your-seat kind of show. And I think now, with killing off our main character, no one can guess what's going to happen next.
Ausiello: In casting Eddie Cibrian to replace him, were you specifically looking for someone completely different?
Absolutely. Gale's character was very tortured by the loss of a young boy six months before the investigation began. And even though he followed protocol, he still blamed himself for a botched ransom drop. He was a damaged soul, and he was seeking salvation through his work, whereas Eddie's character, Det. Danny Lucas, is much more relaxed, much more comfortable in his own skin. He rose through the ranks of the FBI extremely quickly, only to find out that he enjoyed fieldwork more than being stuck in an office in D.C. And the fact that he had a personal connection to Agent Kelton - they were roommates in Quantico was a good excuse for him to get down and dirty and help solve the disappearance of Sara Collins. And that's what brings him to Atlanta.
Ausiello: Let's talk about the ratings. They're not great. What are you hearing from the network?
All that I hear from the network is that creatively they couldn't be happier. I wish our ratings were higher, but at the same time, I think we have found a very passionate, loyal following, and I think Fox is happy with that. We just wish it were a little bigger.
Ausiello: Are you confident that one way or another, fans will see this story to its conclusion?
This isn't a show where one episode provides closure. We'll be providing closure in bits and pieces. As we turn over new cards, new questions will be asked. But we started this show with, "Who is Sara Collins? Where is Sara Collins?" And by the end of Episode 13, we answer both those questions. And then, of course, there are new mysteries to solve. As a viewer, I get frustrated when it takes forever to get to the answer, so that's not what Vanished is.
Ausiello: Will you be presenting a new mystery in Episode 14?
Not necessarily a new mystery, just new facets of Sara Collins' story.