I've got good news and bad news about last night's ABC press-tour party. Let's start with the bad news: I interviewed only two people the entire night. Wait, it gets better. The
good news is, the two folks I spoke to were
Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse, and Marc Cherry's new right-hand man at
Desperate Housewives, consulting producer Jeff Greenstein. And I don't know if it was the McSteamy martinis that ABC was serving, but both men were spewing major spoilers about their respective shows' new seasons. The complete transcripts from both interviews are below.
What can you tell me about the show's first six episodes?
Carlton Cuse: Damon and I are designing the show as a sort of miniseason. We almost view the first six as a miniseries. And it's going to answer what we left hanging at the end of the finale. Obviously, we're going to explain what happened to Locke and Desmond and Eko, and sort of deal with the fact that Sawyer and Kate and Jack are in captivity. We really love the idea of having this little six-episode [arc], and we have a whole story design with a conclusion and a cliff-hanger that will hopefully keep the audience curious and hanging and excited about coming back in January for the longer run of episodes.
Are you happy about the scheduling move?
Cuse: We're ecstatic. We couldn't be happier. Damon and I got so many complaints last year from the fans about frustration over the repeats, and feeling so confused about when Lost was going to be on. The impatience of having to wait two or three weeks before the story could continue. Now, when Lost is on, it's on.
Would you have liked to have gotten more than six episodes up front?
Cuse: The problem, ultimately, is that we physically cannot produce more than 22, 23 or 24 hours. We did 24 hours of the show last year, and it nearly killed us. We were simultaneously producing episodes 22, 23 and 24 at the end of the season with three different crews. It's such a hard show to make, and yet there are 35 weeks in the prime-time season. We wish we could make 35 episodes of Lost; we just can't. There are always going to be compromises in scheduling the show. And [ABC president] Steve McPherson decided, I think very smartly, that it would be way too long to wait until January to have the show back on again. That was the other choice: to come back on in January and run straight through to May. But I think it's better and more satisfying for the fans to have a pod in the fall. To not have to wait from May until January for the show to be back on. But we like it. We see those six episodes as a little miniseries, and it's going to be intense and hyped and high-octane.
Will Cynthia Watros (Libby) be back in flashback?
Cuse: We would love to tell more chapters of Libby's life, in the same way that you've got Jack's father's story. That character was dead from the word go, but that doesn't mean we haven't learned and seen his story over the course of the series. We would love to sort of finish up Cynthia's story, but if I were specific about that, it would spoil the surprise of our storytelling.
Will the Oct. 4 season premiere pick up where we left off?
Cuse: We pick up where we left off, but obviously there are different stories on different parts of the island, and, you know, we will get to all of them in the first few episodes. But like last year, we didn't deal with the raft survivors in the first episode. Not everything is going to be answered in the first episode. But the captivity story [with Jack, Kate and Sawyer] will definitely be addressed.
Where are you in terms of casting three new roles?
Cuse: We are right in the middle of it. We hope to have announcements next week. We're casting two female roles and one new male role. I can't tell you where [the characters] are going to come from, but obviously, one of the things we're doing this year on the show is... learning a lot more about the Others, and their society and their history. So it might be fair to say that you're going to learn more about some other characters who are also Others.
I hear we're finally going to get some romance on the show this season. It's the season of sex!
Cuse: Finally, yes! I wouldn't call it the season of sex, but I will say that romance will play a much more active part of the show this year.... We actually meant to get to it last year. We didn't really get to the romance as fast as we thought we were going to. So this year that's definitely on [our] agenda.
Are we talking Jack and Kate?
Cuse: I think actually one of these new female characters is going to be a romantic interest, possibly for Jack.
Is she going to be the third part of the triangle that was initially planned for Michelle Rodriguez?
Cuse: Yeah, exactly. And it's not going to be just one new romance. There will be several new romances on the show this year.... The second season was a little darker, a little more intense, a little more mythology-oriented, and I think that this year we're looking to make the show a little bit brighter, a little bit more vibrant, a little bit more on the action-adventure axis, a little bit more on the romance axis. We were interior, we were down underground in the hatch, it was very monochromatic. I don't think the show will be as dark and as intense this year. And it will be, I think, even more on the character axis than on the mythological axis.
Is the empiricism vs. faith issue still core to the show?
Cuse: I think it's one of those issues that's never really resolved. I mean, I think, in essence, the show is constantly about empiricism vs. faith. Many of the things that happen on the show are debatable on that axis. Was this something that was supernatural, or is there a logical explanation - and which one is the truth? That's part of what Lost is all about, and we actually like the ambiguity of those story choices that we make because it allows the audience to sort of participate and engage in that debate themselves.
How will Locke be different?
Cuse: John Locke will be a very different person in Season 3. All of his questions and his doubts and his uncertainty have been answered. In fact, the button did mean something. And there was something at stake. And I think that will bring about a change in that character.
How big a role will Penny have?
Cuse: Penny is an important character in the overarching mythology of the show. I don't want to say too much about how much she's going to be in Season 3.
Will the outside world play a significant role this season?
Cuse: Yeah. The interrelationship between the outside world and the island will be something that will be a part of Season 3.
And the monster?
Cuse: Yes, the monster will be a part of Season 3, as will the polar bear. People are asking what happened to the polar bear, so we will be doing some polar-bear stories.
People also want to know what happened to that thing that ate the pilot in the, um, pilot.
Cuse: That was the monster. He wasn't really devoured. When we saw Greg Grunberg he was hanging 70 feet in the air on a tree branch. He was dead, but he wasn't swallowed. The smoke creature and the monster are one and the same.
Are Walt and Michael gone forever?
Cuse: Not necessarily. They still remain a part of the overall mythology of Lost. But as to when we will revisit their story, that's not something I can answer. But we will not immediately be getting back to Michael's story.
Malcolm David Kelley will be getting older and taller. That has to be a consideration when you plan his story.
Cuse: It's something that we've accounted for.
What about Cindy, the missing flight attendant?
Cuse: She's a personal favorite of yours, isn't she? I hope Cindy shows up at some point. Let's just say we have many actors on our show; she is not at the top of the list of actors we're servicing.
Any firm plans for J.J. Abrams to write/direct any episodes?
Cuse: J.J. is going to cowrite the premiere with Damon, and our hope is he will direct Episode 7, which will be the first episode of the new pod.
Were you bummed about the Emmy snub?
Cuse: Obviously, we're disappointed. We feel like we did a really good season of the show. But in the bigger picture, Damon and I are so overwhelmed by the success of the show, both critically and ratings-wise.... I mean, it wasn't our year for that to happen, and that's OK.
Jeff Greenstein, Desperate Housewives
What changes did you want to see, coming in?
Jeff Greenstein: To me, as a fan, I want a more compelling mystery and I want the show to be funnier. We started months earlier than they did last year. We spent a lot of time working out the arc of the mystery, and you're going to get a better, more compelling mystery. It's smack-dab in the center of the show. It involves Bree and the man that she has married, Orson, played by Kyle MacLachlan. And at the same time, the show is going to be funnier. That's something that [former Frasier scribe and new DH producer] Joe Keenan and I have hammered away at a lot. So we're approaching story lines from the perspective of, "Yes, we want them to be compelling and dramatic and emotional and real, but we also want it to be funny."
I heard that the Orson mystery is going to be much different from what was originally planned.
Greenstein: I wasn't really privy to what last year's plan was. We were encouraged to come in with a bit of a clean slate and proceed from where we left off. Orson hits Mike with a car. Why'd he do that? A romance was ignited between Bree and Orson. Where are we going? So we really started with a blank sheet of paper and thought, "What would be the most compelling thing we could come up with and hook all the women into it? Mike's hooked into it; Susan's hooked into it; Bree's obviously very hooked into it; Bree's kids get hooked into it.
So Orson is at the center of all this?
Greenstein: Really, Bree is at the hot center of it. And Kyle is great. He can go from charming to enigmatic in the flash of an eyebrow. He's a great character to write for in that regard. And also he and Bree are two of a kind. They're both kind of compulsive, they love things done in a certain way, they're emotionally repressed.... They're fun to write together.
And what about Susan's new love interest (played by Dougray Scott)?
Greenstein: Here's how he figures into it: Mike is in a coma at the start of the year, so Susan has been dutifully attending to him. In the course of doing so, she meets a handsome man whose wife is in a coma across the hall. And the analogy Marc used, which I love, is that as she's dutifully attending to the comatose Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant walks in. So they become sort of coma buddies. It starts out with the two of them sharing coffee in the hallway, and it sort of blossoms into a romance. Obviously, that's going to get really complicated when Mike comes around.
Susan became unbearable last season. Your thoughts?
Greenstein: I think it is important that she have strong and relatable things to play. So we thought it would be fun to get her into a bona fide romantic-comedy kind of relationship that threatens her preexisting relationship with Mike. She's got a lot of really strong stuff to play. There is some physical comedy, 'cause I think she's adorable doing it. There's a wonderful moment in the first episode with her and Dougray.... He's really charming, very different from James Denton. So I think it'll give her some really good stuff to play and show you some sides to the character we haven't gotten to yet.
Where's Bree's son, and how long is it going to take him to find his way home?
Greenstein: He'll come back, and we learn what he was doing while he was away. We find out what he's been up to by the way Bree finds him. That happens early in the season.
What about Edie?
Greenstein: Her nephew, Austin [ Aaron Stanford, aka X-Men 's Pyro, was allegedly circling the role, but now I'm told that isn't happening], comes to town and begins a relationship with Susan's daughter, Julie. So that becomes sort of a Montague-Capulet sort of situation. It's fun seeing Edie in a parental context. We haven't really seen that too much.
Will Lynette still be in the office?
Greenstein: We're in the middle of working on the sixth episode, and we're not really doing that much with Lynette at the office. I think most of what you'll be seeing is Lynette's home life and how her life with Tom is threatened by the interloper Nora, and also the fact that she's got a new daughter to attend to in Kayla. Kayla's sort of an enigmatic figure, who becomes more and more interesting as the season moves on. Lynette's going to have some trouble integrating yet another kid into the family.
Greenstein: Gabrielle's got a great story. [When] we pick up at the start of the season, Xiao-Mei is eight and a half months pregnant, so the roles have reversed. Xiao-Mei has been put on bed rest, and now Gabrielle has to wait on her, which is really funny. At the same time, she's going through an increasingly bitter and acrimonious divorce with Carlos. They're trying to hold together the chards of their relationship because they have a kid on the way. So these two trains are converging, and those things will crash into each other early in the season.
How much time will have passed between the finale and the premiere?
Greenstein: Six months. It's a great thing. It's something we hit on early in the story-breaking process. It gives us the opportunity to throttle forward to the moment of maximum dramatic impact. Xiao-Mei is on the verge of giving birth; Lynette is reaching her breaking point with Nora; Bree and Orson are getting engaged. All of a sudden we're reaching a point of maximum drama. I think one of the things that we took away from last season was, "Let's get up and running fast. Let's get into the hot drama of these situations as quickly as possible." It felt like some of the early episodes of last season were in the business of setting things up. Now we forget the setup and go right to the crisis.
Did you consider getting rid of narration?
Greenstein: Never going to happen.
Last season it felt like the narration was forcing the writers to tie all the stories together, and it showed.
Greenstein: Theme is so important to the making of these episodes, from the moment that we break the story. We're never trying to artificially paste a theme on after the fact. We start with the idea of, "This is a story about baggage." So we talk about what everybody's baggage is in the story and how they try to escape from it over the course of an episode. And to me, it helps enrich the show, so when Mary Alice is talking, she isn't trying to force something that isn't really there.
What if all the stories don't fit together nicely?
Greenstein: We make sure [they do]. If we have a story that is about getaways and it doesn't fit into a particular episode, we move it down the board a little bit until it fits into a thematic hole in an attempt to make the show more unified. The women are checking in with each other more, there will be more group scenes, group crises. The show needs to be funnier, and theme is really important - high drama but also high comedy. And an edge. That edge of wickedness and perversity that characterized the show so much.