“Cult,” the CW’s new midseason thriller, is taking viewers to some very scary places. And two very scary shows.
At the TCA winter press tour Sunday (Jan. 13), the cast and producers fielded questions about the unprecedented super-meta series about a reporter Jeff Sefton (“The Vampire Diaries” casualty Matt Davis) investigating the link between his brother’s mysterious disappearance and the rabid, dangerous fans of the TV show “Cult.”
1. Shining a light on shippers: “We have the advantage of putting a magnifying glass on” the phenomenon of fans’ zealous devotion to television shows, notes creator Rockne O’Bannon (“Farscape”), which has intensified through social media like Twitter.
Executive producer Josh Schwartz, who experienced the phenomenon firsthand from assaults by “Gossip Girl” fans (RIP, #Chair vs. #Dair), notes: “The level of fan passion you get — whether it’s storyline or shipping — fans have a tremendous amount of investment and have such access, you also feel you can control that conversation. When things don’t go the way you have tweeted to a show’s writers or actors, there’s a certain level of animosity that can grow.”
2. Nothing is too meta: “Part of the fun for me,” says O’Bannon, is “creating a visceral experience and breaking it down — taking the glass away between the show and the audience.” And the network’s marketing department is playing along. “What we see inside the show promoting ‘Cult’ is what people will see outside… It isn’t just social media being used to help promote show, it’s about social media, the opportunity to break down the fourth wall and create a sense of how real is this interaction with fans, and which show are we promoting. The CW’s been fabulous about letting use CW logos and bugs on screen.”
3. Two for the price of one: “The inside show has arcs similar to the outside show,” says EP Len Goldstein. “You’ll find yourself getting lost on the inside show. It does feel like all the arcs they go through are as real as anything the outside show goes through.” And O’Bannon has no problem with fans who prefer the “inside” show over Matt Davis’s storyline. “If that’s the case it’d be great — I’d love that,” he tells Zap2it. In fact, he shares, “When we were shooting the pilot a lot of us were going, Maybe we should just shoot the inside show and make that the show!”
4. Casting coups: The producers are thrilled that they were able to cast two of their “ideal” actors for the lead roles. Robert Knepper (“Prison Break”), who plays fictional cult leader Billy Grimm, has an “incredibly charismatic presence — not a mustache-twirling villain [but someone who is] able to inspire followers,” praises Schwartz. “You feel like he is talking [directly] to you, with a level of commitment that is arresting.”
O’Bannon says landing Davis was “an added bonus”: “From the beginning, we said, ‘Bring me a Matt Davis type,’ and then we got word that they were going to kill his character on ‘The Vampire Diaries.’ So we got really excited and made a deal very quickly. My daughter is a very big ‘Vampire Diaries’ fan and when I got home, I said, ‘You can’t tell anybody, but guess who I got to be the lead in “Cult”: Matt Davis!’ It was amazing to see her reaction. At first she was so excited: ‘You got Matt Davis!’ And then she was horrified: ‘He’s leaving “The Vampire Diaries”?!’
5. Nonstop roller-coaster ride: All 13 episodes of “Cult” will air on consecutive weeks, without interruption. The CW’s “specific intent,” reveals O’Bannon, was to produce a “more serialized show than they normally would … Audiences can tap right into it and not have to wait a couple weeks to catch up” — something “that’s caused trouble for more serialized shows on various networks in the past.”
“Cult” debuts Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 9 p.m. on The CW.