Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
During today’s TCA panel on Fox’s midseason time-travel series Alcatraz, executive producer J.J. Abrams was quick to defend November’s decision to tinker with the show’s existing episodes, as well as make a change in creative leadership at the top. Both, he said, were opportunities to improve the series before it went on the air, rather than being indicators of a show in trouble. In early November, the series put filming of new episodes on hold to do reshoots on some of the completed episodes. Then, mid-month, co-creator/executive producer/showrunner Elizabeth Sarnoff departed the series over creative differences, leaving it to be co-run by Jennifer Johnson and Daniel Pyne.
Johnson and Pyne joined the TCA panel with Abrams, executive producer/director Jack Bender and series stars Sam Neill, Sarah Jones and Lost veteran Jorge Garcia. In an answer to questions about changes in the pilot episode, Abrams said being a midseason show allowed time to actually make changes, rather than thinking after the fact, “It would have been cool if we had, [but] let’s suck it up and move on.” Abrams was also nonchalant about the change in showrunners. He said he persuaded Sarnoff to come on board after reading the original script and she “helped the pilot get to a place that was extraordinary,” but Sarnoff stepped down after she became aware of planned creative changes. “She didn’t feel like she was the right person to run the show,” Abrams said. Asked about the fact that the Lost co-creator was moving from one island to another with Alcatraz, Abrams joked: “In theory, any land mass is an island, and you could argue that any show is on an island. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a lot like Lost.”
In Alcatraz, crimefighters must deal with the return of some of the prison’s most notorious inmates 50 years after they disappeared from the island. Bender colorfully described it as a “crazy ass premise.” Neill described the show’s tone as “less a comic book world than a graphic novel. It is surreally cruel, to have such isolation in full view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”
Asked after the session for an update on his series Fringe, always threatened with cancellation, Abrams said: “We’ve been asked that question for a long time, and we just keep making the episodes.”