As you are telling us this is absolutely, positively not a show about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and Scientology, “could you legally tell us if it were?” a TV critic asked The Arrangement executive producer Jonathan Abrams, kicking off E!’s Q&A for its upcoming scripted series.
The 10-part drama follows aspiring actress Megan Morrison (Christine Evangelista), who lands a Cinderella-esque date with A-list movie star Kyle West (Josh Henderson), after which she is offered a $10M marriage contract with West and is introduced to the secretive self-help organization to which he belongs, The Institute of the Higher Mind. Megan, natch, has a mysterious past she is trying to keep hidden too. Sharp-eyed journalists noticed, back when the series was piloted, some plot similarities to various tabloid stories about Tom Cruise, his ties to Scientology and his relationship with Katie Holmes, leading E! to issue a statement insisting the project really most sincerely was not inspired by anyone in particular.
“Even if I could legally do it … I don’t have the authority to do it,” Abrahams (Mad Men) responded to that first question at today’s TCA panel for the show – then said, “I don’t know.”
“It doesn’t matter, because it really isn’t,” Abrahams added, appearing to change no one’s mind in the room. Including the critic who’d asked the question and who responded, “Sure.”
“I’m sure you’re going to get several more variations on that” question, the TV critic forecast.
Correctly, as it turned out.
“When you decided not to base this on Tom and Katie, did you ever consider flipping this and going with an actress who was not involved with Scientology.”
“I didn’t,” Abrahams responded.
“Did you research Tom Cruise’s career?” someone asked Henderson.
“I think we had only three or four phone conversations,” Henderson said, attempting a joke that did not land. “No, not at all,” he added, insisting the “cast is unique in their own right.”
“Were any of you approached by Scientology?”
And so the morning wore on.
Abrahams insisted the “whole self help” world was his inspiration in making this series, while making it clear he’d only had “experiences second and third hand” and naming other orgs and “in 12-step programs.”
Meanwhile, the actors on stage, also including Michael Vartan who plays West’s self-help-group minder, took turns answering a question as to whether they had been approached by Scientology, saying “not at all,” “no,” etc.
“Have you had experience with arranged marriages?” someone asked the panelists.
“I’m on my third,” snarked Vartan.
“I’d like to be your fourth,” the critic shot back, winning that round charmingly.
Asked if he had a secret he was hiding, Henderson joked, “So many demons in my closet!” which maybe was not the best choice of words when getting peppered with Tom Cruise questions.
“In this life you check your privacy at the door when you become an actor, especially if you have success,” he continued. “It’s a weird thing being an actor playing an actor.”
E! has slotted the premiere of The Arrangement for 10 PM Sunday, March 5. From Universal Cable Productions, the pilot was directed by Ken Olin and written by Abrahams.