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Surfacing with Josh Pate

By David Michael Wharton     October 10, 2005


Jonas and Josh Pate.
© NBC
There's a long-standing tradition of storytelling brothers. The Grimms. The Coens. The Wachowskis (although that should now actually be "the Wachowski siblings", I suppose). Add to that list the brothers Pate, Jonas and Josh, formerly of Sci-Fi's short-lived GOOD VS. EVIL (or G VS. E if you're into the whole brevity thing). They're the creative minds behind NBC's genre entry in this season's race to find the next LOST, SURFACE. I got the chance to chat with Josh a few weeks ago, just before the show's premiere, to find out his thoughts on Spielberg, sci-fi, and serialization. Check it out.

TV Wasteland: Just to get started, tell me a little bit about how SURFACE came together. How you and your brother got involved, where the concept came from, that sort of thing?

Josh Pate: It was a summer tent-pole idea that I played with a couple of years ago. And then I thought that after 24 was a serialized show, LOST was a serialized show that worked, so I thought that networks were more open to that type of storytelling. It isn't the sci-fi thing, it is that they are open to serials, that is the big thing. Anyway, I showed them the first 20 pages of the script and they bought it.

TVW: Quick and easy, it sounds like.

Josh: Yeah, we sold it really late in the season. They said they were closed for development, which is why I sent the pages instead of pitching it.

TVW: From the get-go, was it a pretty clear vision of what you wanted to do with it, even transitioning it from a tent-pole idea to a serialized concept?

Josh: The tone was clear, and how broad the degree of realism. I wanted it to be realistic, like in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, rather than stuff that can get really broad. Like, the government response isn't really believable, and that is what I was most intent on trying to avoid. The tone stayed the same, but I had to add a couple of characters and switch some stuff around.

TVW: Were you always intending to have the broad canvas of the multiple characters, or did you have the original concept more focused back when it was a feature concept?

Josh: It was a bunch of people in different parts of the country. It was like that from the beginning.

TVW: Well, that lends itself well to the series concept.

Josh: Sometimes I tell the network, it is an ensemble show; it's just that the whole ensemble isn't in the same place. Sometimes they interact and sometimes they don't.

TVW: When you talk about the success of LOST, how much do you attribute the upswing of all these genre shows this season? Do you think that is largely pertaining to the success of LOST, and to some degree even DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, or do you think that it was just time for that genre to come around again?

Josh: Again, it's just that the creative community has a lot more ideas than the executive community feels comfortable with. Before this year, I would have never thought to… I might have thought to pitch a script [like this one], but I would know it would never sell, no matter how good it is. The executives are so conditioned. They don't take huge risks. Usually they will take one risk a year, a baby risk. And everything else is going to be pretty ham-and-eggs. Which sucks, by the way.

TVW: Obviously we had the glut of reality shows a few years ago, and there have been serialized shows before, but it seems like it has been an awful long time since there has been this big a resurgence of it.

Josh: The technology of DVD is number one. Studios make most of their money by getting shows to syndication, and serialized shows don't syndicated. But the market is open to where they are selling a lot of DVDs of TV shows, so the serialized shows sell really well on DVD. So all of sudden they're all realizing, "Hey, we can do serialized [shows], because we can sell DVDs and make money on it."

TVW: How much of it is a DVD mindset when you are in production? This being a brand-new show, are you already thinking about the DVD set down the road?

Josh: I am, just because I think of it as straight filmmaking. I don't think of any distinction between the filmmaking of TV and the filmmaking of features. Features just have more time. You still try to not suck.

TVW: I read an interview with one or both of you where you talked about the CGI characters you're going to work with. Just from the pilot, you have already shown more of those creatures than we saw of the "jungle monster" in LOST's entire first season.

Josh: Wait until you see episode 2

TVW: You guys obviously aren't relying on the mystery of teasing people with "Are we going to get to see it this episode or not?" It sounds like the show is going to be more "Why are they here and what is their nature"?

Josh: Yeah, I want to see them. You know the old adage about not showing the shark in JAWS, and less being more? Spielberg could show them and they didn't look stupid, just like in JURASSIC PARK. As long as the effects are good, show them. I don't know I'm on board with the whole "cheat" thing, so I think we played teases in the pilot to a greater degree then [we] would have liked, to be honest with you. But I think we started to convince [the network]. Once we had enough of the digital effects, where the network executives started to realize that showing the creature could be a good thing… but we had to convince them. It was a battle.

TVW: With this being a serialized show, how do you find the balance of how quickly to reveal answers or solve mysteries? How do you avoid a situation like with LOST last season, where some fans were annoyed that they opened the Hatch and we waited an entire season for a freakin' ladder?

Josh: I think you have to build a really broad mythology, and you don't want to make it too complex, because that's annoying too if you can't follow it. So you have to build a broad mythology and peel away the layers to the onion. That is what we have been working on since we got picked up, to broaden that so that we can have the answers. I like to play stuff kinda face up. The mystery stuff is fun, but you will get a lot of answers too. I think it is more compelling when you give the audience the answers but you keep it away from the characters. Like in VERTIGO. We know Novak is still alive, but Jimmy Stewart doesn't know that. That's what makes it interesting to watch.

TVW: It almost sounds like it is more in the vein of something like an ALIEN NATION, where it is more a matter of, "They're here, so how do we coexist with them?" As opposed to, "Maybe they're here, we don't know what's going on."

Josh: Ah, but we don't know [the creatures are] aliens!

TVW: That's true. Wherever they're from, whatever they are, they're here. One thing that struck me watching the pilot… you already mentioned CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, but there were two things that struck me. Obviously any time you do undersea creatures, the first thing that comes to mind is James Cameron's ABYSS, and the opening seemed reminiscent of that with the investigation of the sub. And there was also a little of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, with the scientist finding the craft with the crew missing. Are those homage, or are they just inherent in the type of story that you are telling?

Josh: I grew up in a red state where that is what you went and saw. I didn't govern it. When we wrote the script, we wanted to have fun, and we just let it rip. Those movies were the movies that made me want to go to the movies. It was just an honest story.

TVW: Going back to the landscape this season, there are a lot sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows out there. What would you say is your advertisement to the viewing audience that doesn't have time to watch each of them? What would you tell them your show has to offer?

Josh: I would say we are a family adventure show. I think it will be suspenseful, but it won't be gory. I want it to be something that families can watch together. That doesn't mean it's BAMBI. A family can watch CLOSE ENCOUNTERS together, a family can watch RAIDERS, a family can watch GHOSTBUSTERS, a family can watch THE ABYSS. I am just not interested in doing anything that is easy sex-and-violence stuff. I want it to be a show that families can watch.

SURFACE airs Monday nights on NBC.

* * * * *


The Week Rerun


Another Job Boch-ed? - In a switch sure to incite Tinseltown watercooler gossip, COMMANDER IN CHIEF showrunner Rod Lurie is handing over day-to-day running of the show to Steven Bochco.

Hollywood Death Watch - The Great FX Comedy Experiment of 2005 has come to close with FX nixing STARVED and re-upping IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. Meanwhile, the WB isn't frightened of SUPERNATURAL, UPN shows some love to EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, and NBC allows MY NAME IS EARL to keep writing wrongs.

OPRAH, EAT YOUR HEART OUT - After a brief apperance on LOST sales of Flann O'Brien's surreal, little known novel THE THIRD POLICEMAN has surged in sales.

The Only Drawback is that It Will Give You The Munchies - Taking a page from Ron Moore's BSG podcast episode commentaries, Showtime will soon begin podcasting original interviews for its show WEEDS.


Send all questions, comments, and amusing stories about your own eating disorders to tvwasteland@cinescape.com. Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks…

* * * * *


MONDAY, OCTOBER 10


SURFACE (7 PM CST, NBC) Laura enlists an old flame in her hunt for the mysterious sea creatures.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (7:30 PM CST, CBS) "Return of the Shirt." Ted tries to reconnect with an ex he once dumped on her birthday.

MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "Light Sleeper." Allison's search for a missing billionaire is complicated when she begins sleepwalking into perilous situations.

WEEDS (9 PM CST, Showtime) "The Godmother." Nancy's son Silas gets nabbed by the fuzz while high on ecstasy. Somebody cue up that old "Just say no" ad: "From you, alright! I learned it from watching you!" (Season finale)


TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11


GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "We've Got Magic to Do." A CHARMED crossover, perhaps? Of course, if Lauren Graham were on CHARMED, I might actually watch it.

NOVA (7 PM CST, PBS) "Einstein's Big Idea." John Lithgow narrates an investigation into the scientific advances that led up to Einstein's theory of relativity.

PRIVATE SCREENINGS (7 PM CST, TCM) A look at the life and career of director Sidney Lumet. To be followed by his film 12 ANGRY MEN at eight.

MY NAME IS EARL (8 PM CST, NBC) "Faked His Own Death." Earl confesses a wrongdoing to a girl whose heart he broke. Lot of aggrieved women this week, thanks to this and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. Of course, better dumped than sexually violated and ritually murdered, as on, oh, every procedural on television these days.

SUPERNATURAL (8 PM CST, WB) "Bloody Mary." The brothers take a trip through SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK territory as they investigate that mythic vengeful spirit that supposedly appears if you recite her name before a darkened mirror.

THE OFFICE (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "The Fire." Michael tries to impart valuable business lessons to Ryan during a fire evacuation. Ten will get you twenty Michael makes some incredibly inappropriate "Chinese fire drill" joke before the night is over.

BOSTON LEGAL (9 PM CST, ABC) "Finding Nimmo." Shore and Crane head to the Great White North for a fishing trip. Meanwhile, back home, a former Golden Girl cops to murder-by-frying-pan.

NIP/TUCK (9 PM CST, FX) "Rhea Reynolds." The wife of an Alzheimer's patient goes under the knife, hoping her newly youthful looks will spark her ailing husband's memories.


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12


LOST (8 PM CST, ABC) "Everybody Hates Hugo." We learn more about Hurley, watch the Others play with pointy sticks, and another appearance from Rose. And maybe her might-not-be-dead husband?

VERONICA MARS (8 PM CST, UPN) "Cheaty Cheaty Bang Bang." Beaver hires Veronica to find out if Kendall is cheating on his dad, which may mean an end to Logan's afternoon delight with the former Miss Cordelia Chase. And if you're too busy watching LOST tonight, be sure to check out the Saturday-night airing of this episode.

GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Shawshank Prison/Lizzie Borden." TAPS investigates locations famous for fictitious tunnel diggers and real-life ax swingers.

INVASION (9 PM CST, ABC) "Alpha Male." Three words: contagious runaway baboons.


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13


ALIAS (7 PM CST, ABC) "The Shed." Sydney hunts Rachel, and Sloane is allowed to try and find a cure for Nadia. Wow, she's still on this show?

SMALLVILLE (7 PM CST, WB) "Hidden." Tonight, Clark is officially not faster than a speeding bullet.

NIGHT STALKER (8 PM CST, ABC) "Three." Kolchak investigates deaths on a college campus that may have ties to a secret society. Or, more likely, to binge drinking.

THE FOG (10:30 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Before the "new-and-improved" version rolls into theaters, here's a chance to catch the Carpenter original.


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14


GHOST WHISPERER (7 PM CST, CBS) "Mended Hearts." A dead guy wants to find the organ recipient who now has his heart. It'd be cool if he wanted to rip it out of them, but I'm sure he just wants some touchy-feely closure.

THRESHOLD (8 PM CST, CBS) "Pulse." The alien signal turns up in Miami nightclubs. What's worse, it's been remixed together Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U."

MAKING OF 'DOMINO' (8:45 PM CST, Cinemax) A peek inside the upcoming Tony Scott/Richard Kelley picture wherein, as the commercials have told us, Keira Knightley "is a bounty hunter, is a bounty hunter, is a bounty hunter, is a bounty hunter."

NUMBERS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Calculated Risk." A key witness is a stock fraud case is murdered in a crime that can and will be solved through the wonders of math.


SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15


RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: NECROPOLIS (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) It's Zombie Night on SFC. Braaaaaaains!

VERONICA MARS (7 PM CST, UPN) "Cheaty Cheaty Bang Bang." Same episode as Wednesday, but now you have no excuse not to watch.

FIELD OF DREAMS (7 PM CST, AMC) If you build it… well, you know the rest.

TEEN TITANS (7 PM CST, Cartoon Network) "For Real." Control Freak attacks Titans Tower and finds himself facing down Titans East (better them than the Great Lakes Avengers).

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: RAVE TO THE GRAVE (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) More or less exactly what it sounds like.


SUNDAY, OCTOBER 16


CHARMED (7 PM CST, WB) "Desperate Housewitches." Given how Teri Hatcher is looking these days, I could totally believe she's the victim of some malicious hex.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." Gabrielle has an explosive visit with Carlos in the big house; Lynette learns young Parker has an imaginary friend…and it's Jack Nicholson! Okay, no, but it should be.

ROME (8 PM CST, HBO) "Caesarion." Julius Caesar gives birth with surgical assistance.

EXTRAS (9:30 PM CST, HBO) Andy lands a part in a Samuel L. Jackson flick. The best part of this show is watching celebrities play reprehensible versions of themselves.


This concludes our broadcast.

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