Time travel is obviously a hot sub-genre for TV these days. With NBC’s Timeless, Fox’s Making History and the not-quite-cancelled-yet Frequency from The CW, ABC’s Time After Time will become the fourth broadcast show playing with time to premiere during the 2016-2017 season.
But that doesn’t frighten creator and executive producer Kevin Williamson, who’s used to delving out scares of his own with a resume that includes the Scream franchise, Vampire Diaries and The Following.
With Time After Time, a series based on the 1979 film of the same name starring Malcolm McDowell as the author H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper (itself based on a book), the Dawson’s Creek creator is turning back to love.
Daily Brief spoke with Williamson as part of a roundtable about the love story at the show’s heart and his vision for the show.
DAILY BRIEF: What are the challenges of turning Time After Time into a show?
WILLIAMSON: It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I saw it and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a storyteller. Nicholas Meyer’s movie had the sort of meta-sensibility that became my sensibility. He’s a genius for that. And it was in the Warner Bros. library.
When I thought about toying with it… I didn’t want to do a remake. I thought about it as a TV series, so you could go further. We live in the age where you could do a limited series. You can take this movie and expand upon it. Time After Time deals with a time machine and just one aspect of that novel. But what happened to The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds and all of those great classics that H.G. Wells was going to write? What a great stepping off point.
We take Jack the Ripper, who gets lost in modern day New York City, H.G. Wells on his tail, and then build a mythology from there. Then we have a mash up of H.G. Wells’ greatest hits. We’ll start to meet characters in the coming episodes and you’re going to start going…oh wait, is that Dr. Moreau? Is that the Invisible Man? He may not be invisible but…
H.G. Wells was trying to show the good and bad in humanity as it related to science and technology. We’re in a really important time right now. We have all this technology, it’s both good and bad. One of the most profound moments from the pilot is when H.G. is sitting there watching the news and he sees…he believed in utopia, he believed in a society that was going to perfect itself. He thought there’d be no war, no famine, no disease and everyone would be living together as brothers and sisters in sweet harmony. That was his dream for the future and he knew technology would bring that. So you can imagine his disappointment and that’s the show.
H.G. of course finds this one human being [Jane Walker, played by Genesis Rodriguez] who shows him kindness. H.G. latches onto her because it’s going to take a really strong, independent person to help him through this. He turns to Jane and she discovers what she’s capable of.
You’ve done a lot of horror recently. Will Time After Time take after that sensibility?
WILLIAMSON: It’s not a violent show. We’re not going down that road. I purposefully wanted to move away from horror. The last few years I’ve been doing that and it’s been great but it’s time to flex some other muscles. I can do other stuff! It’s a little more in line with Vampire Diaries, but more an adult sensibility for ABC, and not even that kind of violence. Because that can be a very violent show at times with the vampire blood and the werewolves head-chewing.
Time After Time isn’t about violence. It’s a love story. There is death here and there, but that’s not the focus of the show. It’s not what the show is meant to be about. In fact, one of the things we do with Jack the Ripper in the very beginning is…he’s the Jack the Ripper in 1893. He was killing prostitutes in the alleyways of Whitechapel and now he comes to modern New York. It’s an opportunity for him to change and become something different. He’s a crazy man. The first thing [Jane] tells him to do is Google himself, and he doesn’t quite like what he reads, and that he was anonymous in the process. The world’s most famous serial killer and he didn’t even get a name? His name’s unknown? Meanwhile H.G. Wells is the father of science fiction? That can’t sit too well. So he may find an opportunity to be a different person and change. Of course, he’s crazy, so we’ll see how far he gets but it will be a fun journey. It will go beyond what we think we know about Jack the Ripper, so we can move away from all that.
You mention you’ll be delving into H.G. Wells’ other books. Is the time machine the only fanciful element to this show or are there others?
WILLIAMSON: Yes and no. This chapter, this season, does deal with the time machine and we delve into The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Invisible Man and seeds for War of the Worlds in a five minutes in the future way. It’s not science fiction in which we’re going to bring in vivisection and aliens. It’s what could really happen with science in the future. It’s going to be grounded. It’s going to be the inspiration for those fanciful ideas.
Remember, H.G. Wells wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau because vivisection was very controversial in that time and it was in the news back in 1893. What would that be today?
WILLIAMSON: I don’t want to start spoiling. But yeah. Stem cells, cloning… that’s part of the story and the fun of the show. We’re creating all these characters you’ve seen in all of his books. They exist in some form or fashion in the show. It’s ambitious. You’ll let us know if we pull it off or not. But we’re going to try.
Why do you think time travel is so popular right now?
WILLIAMSON: Boy, I wish I knew! I don’t know. When I was thinking about this, I thought, what if we did a really sexy H.G. Wells in modern New York? It could be on Starz after Outlander! Then we started talking about it, so here we are. But we’re on ABC!
Is that a good place fit for a show like this?
WILLIAMSON: I hope so. They’re playing it after Once Upon a Time on Sunday nights. I can see it fitting; it would flow, it’s a fantasy show, fun, romantic. Or it could come on after The Bachelor! At its core it’s a romance with a lot of stakes involved. It’s all about how these two find themselves and fall in love.
How are you pacing the romance between Jane & H.G.? The spark happens quickly.
WILLIAMSON: They click, it’s electric. They come together, but it’s a doomed relationship because his goal is to return to England in 1893. He has to go back. He has to write his books. He’s H.G. Wells but he’s an unknown right now. He has to go back and become the father of science fiction. She’s going to have to say goodbye to him in that classic way. When we start to learn about Jane, we learn she comes from a family of loss. She has her mother but she’s lost her father. She understands loss, and knows how to put up a barrier and not let people in. She can take care of herself emotionally, financially, every way known to man. She’s good on her own and needs nobody. It’s going to be nice to see how a woman like that, when a man needs her, what it means for her. It’s a love story about two people who find each other at the worst time, when they are out of time.
She comes back with him in the movie.
WILLIAMSON: It was Amy Robbins in the movie. We chose Jane, because H.G. nicknamed his wife Jane. Was it because she went back with him or is it because she stayed in present day and it was his only way to remember her? There’s your endgame. That will be the final episode of the series.
Spoiler alert. We know the endgame. Witness the beginning, Sunday March 5 at 9/8c on ABC.
[Images courtesy of TV Guide and St. Louis Today]