(This is a verbatim conversational transcript, just as it occurred. So it may
sound a little... casual.)
RACHEL PETERS: Good morning, everybody. I'm going to go ahead and start
The Sentinel session. I'm Rachel Peters. Welcome to our session for the
back-by-popular-demand series, The Sentinel. The timeslot for The
Sentinel is Mondays at 9:00 pm, and we've revised the airdate order
recently, so I want to clarify it for you. We're airing the original show
pilot on Monday, January 18th, last season's cliffhanger on January 25th, and
the first new episode, the conclusion to that cliffhanger, on February 1st.
We have a clip of The Sentinel, and then I'll introduce the panel.
PETERS: All right, our Sentinel panel is going to come up.
Okay everybody, from your left, we have executive producer Danny Bilson - no
we don't, we have executive producer Paul De Meo. We have stars Richard Burgi,
Bruce A. Young and then Danny Bilson, executive producer, Sentinel. The
panel is open for questions.
DANNY BILSON: [after pause] Okay, next question! [smile] Good
QUESTION: Good seeing you guys back. Who do you credit for bringing
you back? I mean, is it the fans, an overwhelming thing? Is it a result of
fans on the Internet? What brought you back?
BRUCE A. YOUNG: I credit our overwhelming talent. [laughs]
BILSON: I like to credit the fans.
BILSON: I love that. I would love to just lock onto that and say to
everybody, that's what brought us back. So I like to believe that. That feels
really good. So there's a huge fan element that is very loud and has put a lot
of pressure on everybody. I contact some of them sometimes on e-mail. But
having an audience like that that's vocal like that has been really great in
the face of cancellation and stuff like that. And if they brought us back, to
me that's the best scenario for what could have happened. So I like to think
that that's what happened.
QUESTION: How exactly did they do it? Was it a letter-writing
campaign? Was it --
BILSON: I think they tortured the network. I really do. I mean I
heard stories where they had to, like - they were jamming the phone lines, and
they were sending them so much mail that ultimately they started turning the
mail back, the fan mail, there was so much. You know, I can't tell you how
many letters each fan is responsible for.
PAUL DE MEO: It's pretty extraordinary. We had - just in my office
alone - we had a notebook about that thick with literally thousands of e-mails
BILSON: We had 1,500 e-mails in the first 48 hours of the
DE MEO: Yeah, it was - and I think the Internet definitely is a tool
that's become incredibly important.
YOUNG: And played a big part.
DE MEO: Yeah, absolutely. It certainly revolutionizes this sort of
fan-based support for any show. And in particular, our show. I think it really
did make a big difference. And there's a lot of Web sites for the show. Every
so often I'll go on and go through them just to see what's happening and what
people are saying and putting on the show. And every time I look, there's
another ten or 15. It's pretty amazing. We've never had that experience
before. It's very gratifying.
QUESTION: Yes, watching that clip, it looked like there was an
incredible amount of stuntwork, and I'm wondering, 1) how difficult is that?
The shooting looks like it would add a great expense. And also, do any of the
actors do any of their own stuntwork?
DE MEO: Well?
BILSON: I'll answer the expense part. [panel laughs] It's very
challenging, and we pride ourselves in sort of organizing our unit in
Vancouver to be able to produce that kind of stuff. A combination of stuntwork,
live action and digital effects combine to make it cost effective and give the
audience some big thrills two or three times an episode.
As far as the stuntwork for the actors goes, it's a yes and no thing. I
think they can tell you.
YOUNG: We do as much as we can, of course. So anything that's truly
dangerous, I don't - we try to avoid. But, I mean, I personally enjoy doing
anything that requires physical activity. It's just fun. And it's always much
more fun when you see the real actors doing it. And Dickie has to do much more
than I do, so... [laughs]
RICHARD BURGI: Yeah, I think week after week it gets a little
taxing, and I try and do as much as I can that would support the material, and
essentially the end product of the film. But I also need to look at the
long-term, you know, and try and protect myself. [laughs]
BILSON: I think what it is with them is that we will ask them to do
it if it makes a difference to the shot. We'll never put them in a shot where
the stunt guy or the digital guy could have done it just as well. And a lot of
times we'll have those conversations out of respect for their health, like
Richard's talking about, where I'll say, "Are you comfortable with
this?" And they'll say yes or no. And if he says no, we find another way
to do it.
BURGI: There are certain things I am more comfortable with than
others. And sometimes it looks like - you know, the bus thing that was done in
the pilot, I have a permanent scar on my chin. I love doing stuff like that
and I don't mind. But other things, I'm a little more leery about.
YOUNG: A few things not. [laughs]
BURGI: You know, after having my hair burned and almost losing an
eye, you know, I am a little more leery about gunshots and pops and explosions
QUESTION: I have two questions. Could you clarify first, had the
production completely shut down, people been released, sent home and gone
before you got the word that this was going back?
BURGI: I'd kind of like to go back and address the other question
sort of in line with this. I think that one of the things we might have
overlooked is that, you know, in the event that this was a mistake that the
show was not put on the air, I'd like to think that one of the reasons it's
back on is the people that are running the network are flexible. And I think
that in order to be flexible in this day and age is a very necessary quality,
to admit you've made a mistake and look at something that's a good product and
support it as such.
So I think that's another element of why we're back on the air.
QUESTION: Had you completely shut down? Had everybody been sent
home, actors released? And the second question goes to that. Garett's not here
today. Is that a sign that he's not going to be back?
DE MEO: No, it's a sign that he's on vacation. [panel laughs]
BURGI: In another time zone.
DE MEO: No, we're not breaking up the set.
BILSON: No, but your question was what happened when we were
canceled, right? Back in May?
BILSON: We had shut down. And we had filmed part one of a two-parter
that was going to spread until September. And Garett died at the end, and it
was very - we had always planned - for a year, we'd been planning on this two-parter
that was going to split the season --
YOUNG: Big cliffhanger.
BILSON: -- like Star Trek does. We had it approved way back
in September. So, to answer your question, we were all completely shocked when
we were told we were canceled. We were completely - well, the words you get
are, "You're not on the schedule." Those are --
YOUNG: We didn't get canceled. We got, "You're not on the
BILSON:[overlapping] "You're not on the schedule." And
then there was a lot of work that went on behind the scenes over the course of
six or seven weeks, behind closed doors, with fan pressure and a lot of people
at the studio and the network working to get something back on the air to keep
- The Sentinel's numbers for UPN were relatively good.
So the cancellation - we felt that because of - I mean, us - I'm just
talking about us in Vancouver and in L.A. who were making the show week after
week - we felt that we had come that far, we had come through 57, we had s
split over the holiday, and that our studio is partners in the network and our
show already had been sold to back-end, to syndication, so we felt there's no
way we're going to get canceled. It just didn't make financial sense. So we
were all completely shocked and then felt completely grateful and blessed when
we got the eight. Because anything, at that point when your family is being
ripped apart - because we are like a family, for better or worse - when it's
ripped apart, it was [great] getting the eight.
And to follow up on what Richard said about their flexibility, I'm very,
very grateful that we're sitting here today from where I was in early June
trying to figure out if we were back on or not. I'm really glad to be here
having a press tour today. And if it's only eight, whatever it is, I'm just
happy that we have another shot to get on the air and let the people come and
watch it. And hopefully, I assume our numbers will be what they always were,
and that'll be strong for this network.
QUESTION: I've got a quick question on that. You're only doing
eight. And will there be a resolution at the end of the eight? Are you
planning these eight as if that's it?
BILSON: We did - and I directed it - a finale, the eighth episode of
the eight - that allows the show to continue but wraps up the first 65
episodes in a lot of ways, both emotionally, and some of the situations that
were set up in the pilot three years ago. We felt that for the fans and for
ourselves, if we're not going to go on beyond the eight, we wanted to have
something that would work as a series finale, and not just walk away after
what happened with the cliffhanger.
So I'm actually cutting it right now, and I think it's one of our best
episodes, this finale. It's extremely emotional and it's about their
relationship and the characters, and it's a really nice episode.
DE MEO: But because we can't predict what's going to happen with the
fate of the show at the end of those eight, there is definitely an opening at
the conclusion of that episode.
BILSON: Oh, wide open to continue. It's set up to continue on.
DE MEO: But if not, it's a nice closing, or could be viewed as a
nice closing episode.
QUESTION: Danny and Paul, what is the budget of The Sentinel?
And also, how much is produced digitally?
BILSON: The budget of the show - you know, you have to understand
one thing, that the amount of episodes has to do with - if we only do eight,
it'll make the budget higher than if we had done 22, because you amortize
costs over 22.
BILSON: So this year, we made them for about $1.8 million apiece,
which would have been a lower number if we'd had 22. A bit lower. I think it
was $1.85 million, actually, this year.
QUESTION: So if they give you another order, is that going to impact
BILSON: It's only good. The best thing that could happen to this
show is an order for 22 next fall. It's good for us, it gets our numbers up
for syndication, it's a bigger number for the studio to amortize their costs,
the show is already doing well financially, so everybody's in good shape as
long as UPN is in good shape with it. At Paramount, we're all in good shape
with the show, so our budget is not going to be reduced in any way.
It just keeps - it's kind of the same, but it grows with built-in raises,
and stuff like that, with the crew and unions, and all that, every year, and
costs of going into further years, but we're financially extremely sound, this
show. Even though we spend a lot of money on it, it makes it back and it's all
been working really well for us and for Paramount over the years.
DE MEO: Also, shooting in Vancouver gives us a great benefit of the
dollar stretch --
BILSON: Bang for the buck.
DE MEO: That's why we're there.
BILSON: To do that show here would be a couple of million or
something. [laughter] So we do save money by going there.
QUESTION: To follow up on this reduced order, when you know you only
have eight to do, at first glance it might be a depressing thought, but since
you're - you have eight instead of 22, does it give you the incentive to
really give it your best shot in the writing department and post and in
acting, too, or is this just a tangent that --
BILSON: No, I said, you know what, this is not going to be a death
march. Period. We are going to go out with dignity and pride and we're going
to make these eight to our best ability, and Paul and I actually spent more
time on these eight than we did on the previous 44, I would say. As far as - I
directed two of the eight myself, Paul and I created or were involved in most
of the stories and the rewriting, and stuff like that. The actors can speak
for what if felt like to them.
BURGI: What was the question?
BILSON: The eight. The eight.
QUESTION: Could you put more into eight episodes knowing that this
is your chance to really impress the network and the viewers that you want to
come back for the year 2000? Did that come into play, or was that just a
tangent to doing The Sentinel?
BURGI: I'd like to think that all of the episodes that we've done
have had the same integrity and work involved, but, yeah, it was probably a
little easier looking down the barrel at eight and having, ah, more breath to
explore and expand on the material. So, yeah, I think it was easier.
BILSON: I think it was harder too.
BURGI: On some level, it was harder, as well, because emotionally
you are looking sort of at a finite quality, and that brings up a lot of
stuff. And there was a lot of interesting feelings that ran from top to bottom
in terms of all the departments because it was a finite thing. And there was
some uncertainty in terms of the show's support from the network, and clarity
of support, obviously, from the fan base. But that doesn't always make sense
in terms of everybody's future. So it was a mixed feeling and essentially a
quality that we hadn't had prior.
YOUNG: But, you know, as actors, you never are depressed about work.
I mean, for myself, any chance to get out and, once again, recreate what we
felt was a very good product, was a pleasure to do, to get back into.
DE MEO: I think that these eight, looking at this group of episodes,
I think that there are among that eight some of the best episodes we've ever
done for the show, seriously. And some unusual ideas that we wanted to do,
some different concepts and stories that we had wanted to do for quite a
while, that when we got to this eight, we said, look, we've done, you know,
over 50-some episodes now, let's stretch into these stories that we've wanted
to do for some time --
BILSON: What we said was, let's do them for ourselves. That's what
we said. And I think that there is an interesting note in that, and what we
are saying is, is that the pressure of the eight, of us all wanting them to be
perfect and all wanting to save our show, created a lot of heavy, sort of,
emotions and dramatics that went on, and I would say that everything was a lot
more important this year - it felt more important and urgent, and it caused a
lot of - everybody had expectations - we're going to make this great - and
then you come up against all the normal TV series stuff, and it was a very
intense few months, making these eight episodes.
BURGI: It was also a time where we could take chances, and I think
that the final episode that Danny directed opens the door for the show to go
in a completely different direction, and, you know, many different directions,
DE MEO: But you also - you know, there's also a personal and a
people equation, I guess you could call it, in this, in that doing this eight,
there was a finish point, which was much earlier than there would have been
for a normal season. And we're looking at several hundred people who work on
the show and have worked with us for years now up in Vancouver and down in Los
Angeles as well.
So you're kind of looking at that as, you know, the last day of school, so
to speak, that everybody's going to be going off their separate ways because
we can only expect that it'll be a few months at least before we know whether
we will be back again or not. And we wouldn't start shooting until July or
August or something, anyway. So these people that we've had working with us
all this time, now, as of, the first of the year, need to go out and support
their families and find other work. And we don't like breaking all that up.
But it's - you know - it's part of the deal - it's part of the business. So
that's an angle that we're also looking at - that emotional angle with our
friends up there.
PETERS: Okay, we have time for one more question.
QUESTION: How are you going to personally - You have to be very
grateful to the fans for bringing it back. How are you going to personally
thank them? Do you get invited to, let's say, these conventions for shows?
Have you attended - do you have a secretary to write letters back to these
people who have responded overwhelmingly?
BURGI: Well, I was initially - my response - how I was going to
thank the fans - I was going to go to the top of the World Trade Center down
in Manhattan and set myself on fire, and, ah [laughter], see if I could hit
the Hudson to put myself out in time - no, I -
YOUNG: We nixed that idea.
BURGI: I've had - we've had some conventions, we've had some time
with the fans. I'm actually going to establish, because I am computer
illiterate - my wife is the one who is online - I wanted to establish my own
website so I could interact/interface with the fans on that level, which I
think is probably the most potent level that they're really expressing
themselves on. But, we've had time with them and, you know, I just feel so
grateful that they've responded that way, and all I can do is really talk from
my heart and give them my sense of gratitude.
BILSON: Well, and you have. They visit Vancouver, they visit the
set. We've had a couple of conventions. They guys have really spent a lot of
time with the fans. I mean, some of the fans feel like they know them, whether
that's good or bad. We've had a convention where there was, like, 200 people
and they raised $53,000 for charity in one day, from this show.
DE MEO: But these are people from all over the world - literally,
all over the world.
BILSON: But I think 200 of them are here. They were going to stand
outside today and hold banners. They flew in from all over the world. There's
people from Germany, from France - and they were going to have banners outside
- and I think that they were moved into a room at 3:00 pm where they were
going to be shown one of the new episodes, and we were going to come back and
the four or us are going to spend some time with them - with the 200 that
QUESTION: Really, today?
BILSON: Really. Here, at 3:00 pm.
BURGI: I was hoping the network would get behind it, as well, I
wanted to put out a Sentinel doll that was a life-size figure, you
know, that [laughter] people could take home, and who would know your
feelings, and would hug you a lot, you know --
YOUNG: Hold you, and -- [inaudible under crosstalk]
DE MEO: It's pretty amazing, you know. The whole fan experience,
like I mentioned before, is really a first for us - for Danny and myself, in
particular - with this much vocalizing and reading the mail and seeing the
little things they do on the Internet - the pictures, the stories they write,
the fan fiction, and all that --
BILSON: The gifts that come in the mail --
DE MEO: The gifts, I mean, you know we've gotten a lot of it,
personally - it's pretty amazing.
BILSON: I want to end with this, because I know you want to get to
the other one. The most interesting effect of the fans to me was that they
absolutely effected the show creatively this year. Because we were getting all
this input of what they like and what they don't like, and it had an absolute
effect on choices that I made creatively of what we did in these eight
QUESTION: Quickly, say what those choices were.
BILSON: They loved the mythology. One of the things they love is the
mythology - the back story of the jungle and the cats and all that, and that
had a big effect on the -
DE MEO: Yeah, baby -
BILSON: They love those cats - [laughter]
BURGI: The swinging cats.
BILSON: That's one. One of the things that they come back with a
hundred times is the friendship, the friendship, the friendship. What they
react to is the relationship between Ellison and Sandburg, and we tried to
play more and more organic stuff about that and about the concept in these
PETERS: All right, and on that note - thanks very much, everybody.
(With thanks to UPN for providing this transcript)