Morning Becomes Endless on 'Day Break'
Writers try to keep their stories straight as drama begins its repetitive dayLOS ANGELES --
On Wednesday, Nov. 15, ABC premieres the first two installments of "Day Break," a 13-episode thriller about Los Angeles narcotics detective Brett Hopper (Taye Diggs), who ends the worst day of his life by waking up and realizing he has to live it all over again in new and increasingly dangerous ways.
"The season is a day," creator Paul Zbyszewski says. "So in 13 episodes we have a payoff, a big payoff. The following season would be another day. It could be three months later, it could be six months later, the point being that Hopper would be at another crossroads in his life, different set of circumstances, and chaos happens."
On this particular day, Hopper wakes up with girlfriend Rita Shelten (Moon Bloodgood), whose ex-husband, Chad (Adam Baldwin), is an Internal Affairs detective who dislikes Hopper. As the day goes on, Hopper winds up accused of murdering an assistant district attorney. He realizes it's a frame-up and goes on the run, but he soon discovers that others are either in danger from or involved in the conspiracy.
Also starring are Meta Golding as Hopper's sister; Victoria Pratt as his partner, Andrea Battle; and Ramon Rodriguez as gang leader Damien Ortiz.
As each version of the day unfolds, Hopper learns that every choice has its own consequences and that, while everything else restarts at dawn, Hopper's memory and body bear the slings and arrows of every misfortune.
So, unlike Bill Murray in the hit film "Groundhog Day," who lived the same day over and over but was unable to be permanently injured or killed, Hopper should keep a ready supply of first-aid supplies.
"He's not invulnerable," says executive producer Jeffrey Bell ("The X-Files," "Angel," "Alias"). "He can die. ... Yes, you can be patched up, but those stitches don't carry over. He can bleed out."
While Diggs was a TV leading man before, in UPN's "Kevin Hill," "Day Break" represents a new direction.
"Taye brings a likability to this character," Bell says. "It's important that this character not always be right or do the right thing, but because of who Taye is ... when he does the wrong thing, it's OK, and you forgive him.
"It's a big thing. He's always done romantic comedy or musical roles. I know he's very happy playing a cop, and he's doing a great job of it. It's all him, and he carries it."
"As an actor," Diggs says, "we're always looking to do things that we haven't done before, challenge ourselves, stretch our muscles. The idea of being forced to go all these different places emotionally under the amount of stress this character is under, I thought, was something that, one, I'd never done before, and two, I was definitely up to the challenge."
The challenge for the show's writers will be to keep their stories straight as Hopper lives through multiple editions of his bad day.
"This is the hardest thing I've ever done," Bell says. "It's not just a puzzle that has to be different every week, but it needs to be emotional. The thing that people will respond to, beyond the delight of how the day is repeated in different ways, is the character of Hopper. They're going to be invested in him."
On top of all this, restarting each day requires bringing actors (except for Diggs) and locations back to square one, from hair to makeup to props. Over 13 episodes, that's easier said than done.
"Many people on our staff," Bell says, "on our crew, hate us because of that. You'd think wardrobe would be very simple, but all of it is very tricky. For us, what's interesting as the season goes on is we fill up more and more slots of where each person is on each day.
"You're forced [to say], 'Oh, now we know that he's there; now we know that she needs to be here by this time,' where there used to be some flexibility. It's like painting yourself into a new corner each episode."
Of course, all of this raises the question "Why is this happening?"
"We're wondering," Bell says, "is he chronogenetically deficient? Is that why he's having this problem with time?"
"There's this monkey," Zbyszewski says. "He's in a closet. He's got this time-travel glove, and every time he shakes it, the day starts over again. But you can't tell anybody."
Seriously, though, is it a rip in the time-space continuum, or is God really angry with Hopper for some reason, or is the whole thing the work of mischievous aliens?
"Those are all things that he and somebody in the show has to ask at some point," Bell says.
But, points out executive producer Matthew Gross, "it's not so much the why, it's the how. How is he going to get out of this day? The show, ultimately, thematically, is about decisions and the consequences of those decisions. It's going to be these decisions that are going to help him play out this day differently."
If Hopper somehow manages to make all the right decisions, he gets to wake up on a new day. If he doesn't, anyone but Hopper who was injured or killed the previous day restarts. But if he does, what happened the previous day stands.
"That's the big thing," Bell says. "He has to act every day as if this could be it."
One also has to wonder if Hopper is the only person experiencing this bizarre phenomenon.
Asked about this, Bell laughs and says, "Maybe."