FOX Kicks Into 'Drive'
New series follows participants in an underground race
Or, more importantly, "Why is he screaming?" or "Why is she crying?"
On Sunday, April 15, FOX hits the open road in the two-hour premiere of "Drive." Then on Monday, April 16, the drama settles into the former "Prison Break" slot, right before "24."
Created by Tim Minear ("The X-Files," "Strange World," "Angel," "Firefly," "Wonderfalls," "The Inside") and Ben Queen ("Century City"), and executive produced by the same two, plus director Greg Yaitanes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Prison Break"), "Drive" follows a diverse group of ordinary folks participating -- willingly or otherwise -- in a very secret, highly illegal cross-country road race. It has been going on for decades, and its inner workings remain a mystery even to the racers.
"The metaphor is," Minear says, " 'This is America. This is life.' People are on the move. People live in their cars. Every car is its own private little universe that smells, sounds, looks, feels different. Here we have these little universes of people in their little private pods, pinging off each other and coming into conflict. It's about life. Life is a road ...
"Please don't make me talk about the metaphor. I just thought it would be cool."
Starring as the competitors are Nathan Fillion ("Firefly"), Kristin Lehman ("Strange World," "Century City"), Kevin Alejandro ("Ugly Betty"), Rochelle Aytes ("Madea's Family Reunion"), Dylan Baker ("Spider-Man 3"), Michael Hyatt ("The Wire"), Melanie Lynskey ("Two and a Half Men"), Taryn Manning ("Hustle & Flow"), Mircea Monroe ("Nobody's Watching"), J.D. Pardo ("The O.C."), Riley Smith ("Joan of Arcadia") and Emma Stone ("The New Partridge Family").
Veteran actor, writer and director Charles Martin Smith ("Kingdom Hospital," "The Untouchables") plays race official Mr. Bright. Coming in after the pilot are Amy Acker ("Angel") and Katie Finneran ("Wonderfalls," "The Inside").
"Drive" has had a bumpy ride to prime time. An ambitious pilot shot for the 2006 fall season was eventually shelved. Then last October, Minear was asked to take another swing at the idea by rewriting and reshooting the pilot and revamping the cast.
The exact reasons for this reside in the executive offices at FOX, but entertainment chief Peter Liguori is said to have always been a champion of "Drive."
Also, it may not be a coincidence that NBC had a runaway freshman hit with "Heroes," another ensemble drama about ordinary folks caught up in an extraordinary situation -- in this case, having superpowers -- that's part of a larger, mysterious plan (and having Minear's "Wonderfalls" compatriot Bryan Fuller on its writing staff).
However it happened, Minear was in a pattern of hurry up, wait and "then really hurry up. We didn't have the normal eight to 10 weeks of writers prep that you would have after they order the show. ... [We're] always behind the curve, because we were also reshooting the pilot at the same time we were going into production on the show."
While driving is an integral part of American life and culture, doing a show about it is extremely difficult, especially when a good portion of each episode features people talking in moving cars.
So during work on the first pilot, Minear, Yaitanes and their team developed a green-screen technique that allowed the actors to sit in a car on a soundstage, surrounded by green curtains, and later, in post-production, be wrapped with a 360-degree photographic plate shot by a camera car.
It turns out that if you take away the road part from filming on the road, the filming part gets a whole lot easier. This isn't to say, though, that the rubber will never actually meet the road.
Fresh off a morning behind the wheel, Fillion, who plays landscaper Alex Tully (he's in the race to find his missing wife, played by Acker), says, "I had a list of things I wanted to do on TV. One was shoot a gun; one was ride a horse; the other was get shot by a gun. Today I realized I didn't put something on my list, which was beat around in a fancy car.
"Today I got to do that. I got to burn up and down this deserted piece of highway out in the middle of nowhere in a big old Dodge Challenger. It was awesome."
Tully starts the race in a battered Ford pickup, so exactly how he winds up in a Challenger is an open question. Other cars include a 1998 Ford Taurus, a new Dodge Charger, a late-model Dodge Caravan, a late-'70s Pontiac Firebird, a new Land Rover SUV (the only foreign vehicle in the race), and a "pimped-out" '64 Chevy Impala.
As it turns out, it's fortunate that many of them spend the bulk of their time in the studio.
"Many of our cars don't actually have reverse," says Lehman, whose enigmatic character hitches a ride with Tully. "Sometimes we blow out the transmission. It's true. It takes crew members to push us backwards instead of using reverse."
"But that doesn't play on film, though," Fillion says.
Like "Heroes," with its strong visuals and easily grasped concept, Minear thinks "Drive" is a show viewers can hook into quickly.
"You can see an ensemble photograph in a magazine of my cast and the cars," he says, "and you will get a sense of the color and the fun and the intrigue and all that. It is exactly what we told you it was, only -- and be sure to write this down -- better."