Last Resort at TCAs: Shawn Ryan Is Ready to Tell an Epic Story... Plus Nukes!

Hi everyone! Today I sat in on ABC's sessions at the Television Critics' Association press tour in Los Angeles. Here's what I saw and heard at the network's Last Resort panel.

Who among us hasn't taken an unexpected travel detour only to wind up in an uncomfortably tense situation? That's basically what ABC's Last Resort is about, except with a submarine, nuclear weapons, and treason. Other than that, it's very relatable! The new fantasy-sci-fi-thriller-drama from Executive Producer Shawn Ryan tells the harrowing saga of the crew of the U.S.S. Colorado, who defy some questionable orders to spark a nuclear war and subsequently find themselves on the run from a possibly post-coup U.S. Government. It's one of the most-anticipated shows of the fall, basically.

As it turns out, this was a story that Ryan might've wanted to tell all along, but it took some babysteps entitled The Shield, The Unit, and Terriers before he felt ready: "My ambitions have grown. When we pitched this to ABC last summer and fall, I described it as the show I couldn't make five years ago because I didn't possess the skill set. But the ongoing serialization of The Shield combined with the production value of The Chicago Code... All this stuff got me to this place where I felt like I could do something this ambitious." Among the biggest challenges Ryan faces, "This is a really difficult show from a storytelling standpoint, from a production standpoint. It's a big budget, very huge, monstrous-scope show that I don't think I would've been capable of doing before."

The pilot tells a very specific specific story with some very driven storytelling, but it's unclear just where a show like Last Resort could be headed. Without giving too much away, Ryan explained thusly: "There's going to be a Tom Clancy-esque component to the show. But TV is about relationships. TV is about characters. So it will become characters first." He also compared it to a number of war-themed classics: "We describe this as not a show about war but people in a time of crisis. In the same way that Casablanca and Gone with the Wind and Reds and Dr. Zhivago were personal stories of characters dealing with crisis."

Generalities aside, he also described a show with much forward momentum: "There's not going to be a monster of the week situation but there will be high stakes. The crew find themselves in a precarious situation, they find themselves with major external threats. Threats on the island [where they take refuge]. And most interesting to me is the internal threats. The submarine starts off with 153 people in the crew and there are only 130 by the end of the pilot."

When asked whether the subject matter of Last Resort might hew uncomfortably close to the current international climate, Ryan said he believes the time is right for a show like this: "The world's a crazy place right now and the country is divided in a number of ways. The Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement both share a distrust of government. I hope that what we're portraying doesn't come too close to reality, obviously."

Executive Producer and series co-creator Karl Gajdusek also wanted to make clear that Last Resort is definitely not a military-bashing story. "We believe our crew and captain are patriots. They do what should be done, it's just a question of following orders and before they know it they're on the run. It's not the United States as a nation that chases them out, it's a portrait of an executive branch gone wrong." Gajdusek reiterated a little while later, "We're very kind and caring in our portrayal of naval officers and seamen."

Ryan agreed that Last Resort probably won't rankle members of the U.S. Navy, mostly because they're too busy doing valuable stuff to even notice the show. But there was definitely a reason why they never sought permission to use actual U.S. Military resources. "This isn't the kind of show where we want to get script approval from the U.S. Military on. We certainly did not film on any active or retired U.S. submarines." In other words, while they respect the armed forces, they'd prefer to carve out a creative niche for themselves away from those who might boss them around. Much like the crew of the Colorado!

One understandable concern someone brought up was whether Last Resort's 8pm time slot would somehow defang its storytelling. Ryan admitted that he originally shared that concern but that "I was assured that our content wouldn't be affected." He added as point of reference, "Lost started off as an 8 o'clock show, after all."

Star Andre Braugher expounded on the source of much of Last Resort's drama: "What we have on the submarine is our own tight-knit family. But it's a basis to test those loyalties as the series goes on." But as leader of that family, would Braugher's character remain of sound mind under such duress? Gajdusek teased that would become a major plotline: "It's one thing to be captain of a submarine. It's another to become captain of an island. Will it be a Colonel Kurtz situation?"

Ultimately Last Resort will appeal to an audience thirsting for a rip-roaring serial, but just don't pigeonhole it into too narrow a genre. "We're not a political thriller," Gajdusek emphasized. "We are an epic story."

Last Resort premieres Thursday, September 17 at 8pm on ABC.

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