When brothers Glenn Kessler and Todd A. Kessler and producing partner Daniel Zelman—often referred to as KZK—created Bloodline, observers wondered if the moody Netflix thriller, centered on three brothers, marked a deliberate U-turn from their female-centric drama series Damages, which explored the relationship of ruthless attorney Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her young protégé (Rose Byrne). The longtime friends say the change is less about gender and more about a move from workplace power plays to examining complex family dynamics. Production on season two begins in August for a relaunch next spring. The early Emmy buzz is on for Sissy Spacek, who portrays the family matriarch to Rayburn siblings Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz and Ben Mendelsohn.
It’s refreshing to see a brooding murder story set somewhere besides the Pacific Northwest.
Glenn Kessler: The Florida Keys was something that we had not seen explored. Whether its Albuquerque or the fantasy realms of Game of Thrones or the ’60s of Mad Men, each of these shows has found a world.
How different are the gender politics of Damages and Bloodline?
Daniel Zelman: There is a reason why we chose to center Damages on two women. We thought it was a more interesting way to explore a power dynamic than with male characters. There have been many series about men and power. With this, we weren’t consciously trying now to do a show about men. We all come from families of three brothers. We’ve known each other for 25 years. Our immediate gravitation was to go first and foremost to brothers, but it was also very important to us to put a sister in the mix.
Glenn Kessler: Having operated in the thriller genre for more than six years now, I don’t think plot in and of itself is the thing that gets us excited. Family dynamics is very important—finding a way to marry that to plot and story.
It’s a family drama, but it’s not, say, Parenthood…
Zelman: We knew that in this landscape of television it’s hard to do just a straight-ahead family drama of the kind we had when we were kids and make the show pop and have a level of intrigue. When we came up with the idea of combining a family drama with some kind of thriller, that’s when the idea seemed to come alive.
It’s no spoiler to say that black sheep brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) is murdered because we see it in the first episode. How do you maintain suspense for 12 more installments, as well as additional seasons?
Todd Kessler: When the three of us went to sell this idea for a series, we were able to conceive of six seasons of the story. The granddaddy influence in many ways is Crime and Punishment, and in that story the murder takes place at about page 60 and there’s another 400 pages of the book to go. The tagline that we use for promotion—“We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing”—is very much the fabric of the series. The first season just gets us to the starting line.
Glenn Kessler: Suspense is usually about a murder. Our twist is that we don’t look on this as killing off a main character. Ben Mendelsohn’s character will be back in the next season because we are continuing to deepen the family story. We have many things up our sleeves.
Do the critics get that?
Zelman: One thing I read I found frustrating: After seeing three episodes (a critic wrote) a comment about the whole season that was so uninformed—the kind of things they said were only true of those first three episodes. I’d be very interested to know what this person thought after they’d seen all of it.
Todd Kessler: I think Netflix learned on this one. They sent out the first three episodes to critics. They realized after doing that and getting some very positive reviews, some mixed reviews and some reviews that were tentative—“let’s see where it goes”—they should have sent out the whole thing. If you were going to send out Fatal Attraction to be reviewed you wouldn’t just send out the first 20 minutes. (When we were asked) what episodes would we like to send out in an Emmy mailer, we decided to send out the first two and the last two.
Has the Netflix model worked for you? Viewers can watch any way they want, including backwards.
Glenn Kessler: If you do watch it backwards there are hidden messages coded into it—no one’s written about that yet. (He’s joking.) When Damages was being rolled out, there could be almost three months between a pilot and a 13th episode—that’s very different from knowing someone could be watching (the last episode) 13 hours later. In the Netflix model everybody I know who starts a series watches them in order. There’s a great luxury because it feels like a novel. Not many people start a novel and skip around between chapters.