Kevin Williamson is no stranger to defending his work. At the Television Critics Association tour this summer, the creator of The Following and CBS' new thriller Stalker raised eyebrows by encouraging a critic to just "change the channel" if he didn't like what he was seeing on screen. ("I think some people are still kind of raw over The Following," Williamson admitted to TVGuide.com after the panel. "They're fair questions.")
Several viewers have opted to do just that with The Following, which has drawn criticism for its stomach-turning violence and gruesome torture/murder scenes — and whose ratings, perhaps as a result, have steadily dropped in its first two seasons. "I'm so proud of The Following ... and I wouldn't change it for the world," Williamson says. "I like the genre and I do respect it and appreciate it. ... I enjoy scaring people."
And there's no question that Stalker won't be for everybody. Accusations of excess violence and even misogyny have been leveled at Williamson based on the pilot, whose opening sequence shows a woman screaming as she getting burned alive in her car. But he insists that Stalker is not as violent as The Following, and appeals to a different sense of fear.
"It's apples and oranges," according to Williamson. "That's a very violent show. This is a scary show. It's psychological. ... It is about what lurks in the dark, what's peeking through the window, what's in your closet, what's under your bed. That's the scare here, and a lot of people are more terrified by that than just watching people run around with knives and stab people. So in that way, you might find it scarier, but it won't be as violent. It'll be creepier and eerie and sort of haunting I think, more so than the violent, visceral [tone] of The Following. ... But they're both equally scary in their own right."
Williamson says the idea for Stalker, which he describes as "a unique spin on a cop show," has been percolating since he was working on Dawson's Creek back in the 1990s. "I first became aware of TMU, the Threat Management Unit of the LAPD, back in 1998. And I sort of researched it back then thinking, oh, this would be a really great idea for a TV series," he tells TVGuide.com. "Every crime in the world has a stalking element. It seems like every murder, every attack, every assault, or any sort of scary true crime story, there's a stalking element to it. ... With the evolution of the Internet and social media, that stalking has escalated fourfold since 1998."
Though the show will feature a crime-of-the-week element, the larger story will follow Lt. Beth Davis (Maggie Q), the head of the Threat Assessment Unit, and her new subordinate, Det. Jack Larson (Dylan McDermott), who's recently transferred to the department from the homicide division of the NYPD. "They're kind of cut from the same cloth. They both have secrets," Williamson says. "They have a mutual respect because they're both really good at what they do, and they seem to work together so well. ... Let's see if they can let their guard down and see if she can actually open up to him."
That may take a while, however. Both Beth and Jack have their own personal experiences with stalking (on both sides of the coin, we eventually learn) and, upon first meeting, share a mutual distrust — to put it mildly. "It's genuine dislike," Q says. "There's a distaste across the board, and it's real. ... Their personal journey is so pivotal to the show and how they actually conduct themselves in the workplace. It's big. It affects them. Beth is focused, because she's had to deal with this. There's something really, really dark about her past that she's facing through her work."
Adds McDermott: "It's a dark show, but there's also humor in it. There's fun in it."
Find out more about Stalker from Williamson, Q and McDermott in the video below. Will you watch?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
Additional reporting by Robyn Ross