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Last Updated: 18 October 2000


 

THE UPN WINTER PRESS TOUR - January 8, 1999

THE SENTINEL

Richard Burgi - Star
Bruce A. Young - Star
Danny Bilson - Executive Producer
Paul De Meo - Executive Producer

The Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel, Pasadena CA

(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.

    [CLIP SHOWN]

    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 Morning.

    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.

    YOUNG: Yeah.

    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 cancellation.

    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 around me.

    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.

    YOUNG: Totally.

    BURGI: Yeah.

    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?

    QUESTION: Yes.

    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 schedule."

    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.

    QUESTION: Right.

    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 your budget?

    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, at that.

    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 came.

    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 episodes.

    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 eight.

    PETERS: All right, and on that note - thanks very much, everybody. [Applause]

    (With thanks to UPN for providing this transcript)

 


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