How 'Farscape' led to the mystery of CW's new 'Cult'
Rockne S. O'Bannon's sci-fi show Farscape was the first time he saw how a show could create an online fan community, who would communicate with each other about characters, plot points and other aspects of a popular cult series.
In his newest TV creation Cult, however, he's delving into some much darker places in that regard as well as introducing a truly creepy cult leader.
Screened for fans at Comic-Con, the midseason CW drama stars Matt Davis (The Vampire Diaries) as reporter Jeff Sefton, whose brother Nate is overly obsessed with a TV show called Cult, which follows the investigation by LAPD detective Kelly Collins (Alona Tal) of a strangely charismatic man named Billy Grimm (Robert Knepper).
When Nate goes missing, Jeff begins looking into the show and finds a web of disappearances and other weirdness, with only a young research assistant on the show – played by Jessica Lucas – wondering the same things that he does.
Unlike his past shows seaQuest DSV and Alien Nation, where O'Bannon would hear from people through fan mail, Farscape created "one big family inside and outside the show" because of the scope of fandom who would talk about and rally around the series, he says.
"But as imagination tends to do, what's the worst case scenario of that? What if the show wasn't an upbeat sci-fi adventure show but was something a little darker and more edgy? What kind of fans would that draw? And what's the evil extension of that in terms of those more extreme fans able to not only rally around a television show but also communicate with each other and also share their mutual proclivities."
The show-within-a-show character Billy Grimm is seemingly at the center of what's going on, and Knepper was always the prototype for him, specifically with what the actor did with his homicidally eccentric Prison Break role, Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell.
"The thing that made T-Bag so chilling was that he was someone who clearly in his head was absolutely doing the right thing and being on the right track," O'Bannon says.
And fans will also get to meet the actor who plays Grimm on the show, Roger Reeves (Knepper again), as well as others the more Jeff goes down the rabbit hole.
Another key character of Cult is Steven Rea, the mysterious unseen creator of the Cult show itself. Certain people speak for him, though, and O'Bannon says there will be hints and clues to his identity but also a slow burn in revealing who and what exactly he is.
"Steven Rea and I worked together on this pilot. I created part of it and he ceated the other part of it," O'Bannon says with a knowing smile.
"He's a guy who shuns the spotlight, likes to write from wherever he is and e-mail in pages, that sort of thing. He's not someone who shows up very often."
Each episode of Cult will feature scenes of episodes from the Cult show the characters are watching, and O'Bannon breaks that show down separately from the CW series. While this may seem like double the work, it actually works out well for O'Bannon.
As the man with the shortest attention span in global history, it's perfect for me," the executive producer explains. "The inside show, I want it to play as if it's a real show itself, but what we'll be portraying are the greatest-hits moments. As you watch an episode of Cult, you'll the inside show and see it play and get a sense of what the story is.
"To me, that's a great way to watch TV - here are the best scenes of this intense show."
O'Bannon is looking into filming scenes from that inside show that will only be available on websites or other forms of social media. He's still in the planning stages of what he wants to do with that, but he intends on having Cult fans talking about his show on different platforms as much as they do on the TV show itself.
Just without all the brainwashing and disappearing people.
"The whole thing for me with Cult is it's not just a show you watch," O'Bannon says. "It really is a show you experience because we attempt to break down the fourth wall and really immerse you.
"I've lived with the pilot script for a long time and have been chomping at the bit to roll it out. I couldn't be more excited to get this opportunity to show everybody what I've got in mind."