“That’s what’s so interesting about the show, is all of these storylines, and all of the historical components are really reflections, and a mirror to the characters finding out more about themselves,” Timeless star Abigail Spencer reflected last night, discussing the human element behind NBC’s time travel drama. “It’s really just a journey for each of these human beings to find out what they’re made of, and what they’re not made of—their mettle, and their foibles, and also kind of the chance to see their heroicism [sic], which has been a big journey for Lucy.”
Last night at Landmark Theaters, the starring trio behind the NBC series—including Spencer, Matt Lanter and Malcolm Barrett—found time to sit down with Deadline’s Dominic Patten as part of the ongoing AwardsLine screening series, joining series creators Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield) to discuss defining moments in the series’ first season.
Premiering on NBC last October, Timeless follows the exploits of history professor Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer), scientist Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) and soldier Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), who battle against time, traveling to some of the most remarkable moments in world history to stop enigmatic criminal Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić) from changing the natural order of the world through time travel.
Kicking off the evening’s discussion, Kripke discussed the genesis of the series, which stemmed from a simple and somewhat vague idea. “All we knew was that we wanted to make a World War II episode, and we weren’t quite sure what story to tell outside of it had to be a spy story, because we couldn’t afford a battle story,” Kripke explained. “That was really all we had, and Jim Barnes, the writer, pitched a lot of different versions of this one.”
Tackling a historically-based sci-fi series, Kripke and Ryan brought a historian into the fold, asking him to dig deep into period research, which resulted in some surprising and series-defining revelations. “It was one of those great moments on the show—I remember when he comes like running into the room super excited, and he’s like, ‘There was a spy, in Germany, at that time, who’s famous.’ And we’re like, ‘Who?’” Kripke said. “And he’s like, ‘Ian Fleming.’”
“It’s just one of those stories where you’re like, ‘What? Come on, that’s crazy,'” the EP continued. “But it was real, and suddenly, we knew we were making a James Bond story, and the history kind of led the way.”
Season 1 of Timeless—which concluded its 16-episode run in February—watches as the trio follow Flynn to the 1937 site of the Hindenburg disaster, the date of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and 1944 Germany, where the group believes Flynn is attempting to give nuclear weapons to the Nazis.
Given the exciting and unpredictable mixed-genre elements that are integral to the series, it’s difficult for the actors involved to pin down their favorite episode thus far—though Barrett did highlight one episode—titled “The Murder of Jesse James”—which allowed him to live out his childhood cowboy fantasies.
“One of the most fun times I had was doing the Western one, only because we completely even flipped that genre on its head, by doing sort of a winter Western, and the fact that I got to ride on a horse—and I’m pretty frickin’ good on a horse,” the actor said.
“Malcolm was asking me to go halvesies on a horse farm. Like two days into that episode, he was like, ‘I look really good on this horse, right?’” Lanter joked.
As a creator of a series like Timeless, with so many elements at play, it might seem easy to lose your way—but for Ryan, the essential rule is to always come back to real emotion, and real human stories, picking up on the opportunities presented in the characters’ complex and entertaining zig-zag through time.
“Our season finale took place in the McCarthy Era, and dealt with Lucy discovering that her grandfather—who she never knew—was a gay man, and so figuring out the story that we wanted to tell—to take the whole idea of what it was like to be closeted in the 1950s—it’s usually much better to do that, than to try to pick a historical event first, and then try to create the story around it,” Ryan said. “I think the best episodes come from when we’re really trying to tell the best emotional stories, and then we find what fits best.”
Considered one of NBC’s hottest commodities long before the series came to air, Timeless is produced by Sony TV, also starring Sakina Jaffrey, Paterson Joseph and Claudia Doumit. The series is currently awaiting a Season 2 renewal.
To view Deadline’s conversation with the Timeless team, click above.