Hi everyone! Today I'm pretending to be a real journalist and sitting in on ABC's sessions at the Television Critics' Association press tour in Los Angeles. Here's what I saw and heard at the 666 Park Avenue panel.
They say you can take the temperature of an era by the popularity of its horror entertainment. Entire dissertations have been written that link Dawn of the Dead with late '70s social anxiety or Scream with mid '90s pop culture exhaustion. If the theory holds true, then what is even going on with our society these days? Basically everything is horror now! From The Walking Dead to True Blood to Teen Wolf to American Horror Story to a huge swathe of the upcoming 2012-2013 TV season, it's pretty clear that we like our entertainment frightening. ABC's 666 Park Avenue hopes to insert itself into the modern pantheon of horror serials with its straightforward, camp-free take on a satanic apartment building in Manhattan.
But unlike many of the current hit shows that traffic in horrifying subject matter, 666 Park Avenue must deal with network television constraints: less of the blood, nudity, and intensity that cable series regularly bask in. Executive Producer David Wilcox believes those ingredients aren't necessarily essential for good suspense: "We don't have the tool of gore and blood and that kind of spectacle [at ABC]. But it's forced us to be more clever. Like in Psycho, so much of that story plays in your head even when you're not seeing violence on screen. We're telling a different kind of horror. It's driven by suspense and mystery. Which is not to say there won't be shocking, visceral moments. There always will be."
Wilcox went on to explain why the show should also appeal to longtime horror aficionados: "There's absolutely a Stephen King influence. Who can't be influenced by him when you're working in this genre? But it's more than that. Rosemary's Baby, films of the '70s and '80s, much more psychologically driven horror. Movies like The Shining, The Omen. Films like Blue Velvet and Jacob's Ladder. This was for us sort of the juice that we were looking at and trying to pull together into a twisted, fun, dark show that still has an edge of wish fulfillment and all with a great twist."
That being said, Wilcox was quick to clarify that the mythology of 666 Park Avenue won't be your run-of-the-mill satanism. "We're really trying not to lean into the expected elements of that kind of world. It would've been very easy to have a mosaic in the basement of a pentagram, but we want things to be off-the-nose. We're not interested in creating a formula, we want to create a very rich mythology and delve deeply into the characters. I think the only thing that will tell you that the show is about the devil will be the title. And the Faustian bargains. But nobody will ever say 'devil' or 'deal with the devil.'"
For her part star Vanessa Williams has drawn from real life to play the ritzy Olivia Doran, wife of Terry O'Quinn's sinister building owner Gavin Doran. "I thought about the Madoffs immediately. They were extremely wealthy, had amassed a great amount of land and wealth, and we all saw the dark side of how they created their empire." Clearly looking even further into the abyss, Williams also cited one particularly frightening character as an inspiration: "Also a little bit of Donald Trump, where he is known to be a realtor plus the power and mystique of his buildings. So I saw that kind of power as part of Gavin and Olivia's world."
Executive Producer Matthew Miller explained what exactly to expect from 666 Park Avenue with regard to mythology vs. spookiness of the week: "It's basically the title. This show is a little bit of 666, a little bit of supernatural Faustian bargain, and it's a little bit of Park Avenue. It has soap, it has seduction, it has wish fulfillment. It will have a slightly serialized element, but we're also going to explore different residents' Faustian deals along the way. And whether those deals last one episode, three episodes or all season, we'll see how it plays out." But as for the primary antagonists played by O'Quinn and Williams, it's best not to expect answers right away. "We want to unfold the Dorans' story slowly over the course of a season. Or for however many seasons we can be on for.
As much as all involved seemed pretty excited about the characters of 666 Park Avenue, everyone agrees who the true star is: the incredible building. As Wilcox put it, The Drake is "like the Overland Hotel from The Shining. It has a presence. It may be more powerful than anybody knows."
666 Park Avenue premieres Sunday, September 30 at 10pm on ABC.