FBI agent Mark Benford is in the middle of a high-speed car chase when all of the sudden, he blacks out and sees eerie and unfamiliar visions of himself in the future.
When he awakens on the street in a scene of mass confusion, he finds out the whole world went unconscious at the same time for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, and they all saw a glimpse of their own life six months from now.
What the visions mean and what people do with the knowledge of their own future becomes the driving force behind the new ABC show “FlashForward,” which premieres Thursday.
“The premise of the show, I thought when I first heard it, was incredibly thought-provoking and imaginative,” said Marc Guggenheim, executive producer for “FlashForward” along with David Goyer and Brannan Braga.
Starring Joseph Fiennes (“The Escapist”) as Mark Benford and John Cho (“Star Trek”) as his partner Demetri, “FlashForward” also has two alumni of the ABC show “Lost” in lead roles, with Dominic Monaghan as Simon and Sonya Walger as Mark’s wife, Olivia.
Besides borrowing from “Lost’s” cast, “FlashForward’s” mystery-filled style is so similar to ABC’s other serialized ensemble thriller that creators recognize there will invariably be comparisons. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Guggenheim said.
“We’ve learned that we have to write the show in what we keep calling a ‘post-‘Lost’ world,’” Guggenheim said. “We recognize that shows that come after ‘Lost’ have to basically write for an audience that is really familiar with the clues and the conventions and mythologies that ‘Lost’ perfected. So it’s kind of like learning to play basketball or joining the NBA once Michael Jordan has been in the game. He changed the game. ‘Lost’ changed the game. So we’ve just come into the show knowing that the game is changed and we’ve written and produced the show accordingly.”
The answers will come sooner than you think
However, the show’s producers also emphasize that they do know where this series is going and how it will end — something that “Lost” viewers were beginning to question when that show’s story seemed to be stretched out to fill more seasons.
“This show is different from ‘Lost’ in that respect,” Guggenheim said. “We plant a very firm and deep flag in the pilot that by the end of the season our characters will catch up to their futures. They’ll catch up to April 29, 2010. In fact, they’ll catch up to April 29, 2010, on April 29, 2010. So as a result, there’s no treading water. You’re not gonna see the six months of story be stretched out into six years of story.
“We ask a lot of questions, but you’ll start getting answers very, very soon and very, very quickly. So there’s this constant feeling as you go through the first season of payoff and a constant feeling of the plot is actually developing,” he said. “You’ll get that huge payoff by the end of the first season.”
Yet there is the potential for the series to stretch its finite story into an extra season or two. While Goyer has said that it will take a minimum of three seasons to tell the complete story of “FlashForward,” he also left the door open for more seasons because there are potentially seven million people who experienced flashes of their future — all with unique stories to tell.
“We don’t mean that there are billions of years of ‘FlashForward.’ “Neither David nor I want to overstay our welcome,” Guggenheim said with a laugh. “It just means that unlike ‘Lost,’ where there are a limited number of people on that island, and unlike ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ where there’s a limited number of people working at the hospital, every person on the planet had a flash forward, and all of those people have potential stories to tell.”
One way that “FlashForward” is similar to “Lost” is that even small details from the pilot are clues to the bigger mystery — something that should attract fans who like paying attention to details.
“There’s meaning behind everything,” Guggenheim said. “Nothing is put in the show randomly. There are ‘Easter eggs’ throughout the pilot and in pretty much all the episodes since the pilot. Everything has some sort of significance and everything has some sort of payoff. In some cases, you’ll get the payoff within the first 10 episodes. In other cases, you won’t get the payoff until the very last episode of the series. But everything that has been selected in the show is intentional and has had thought put behind it.”
For example, Guggenheim confirmed there is an answer for why the world blacks out for exactly 2 minutes and 17 seconds. There’s also meaning behind why April 29, 2010 is the date people see.
“There are answers to questions that you don’t even know are questions,” he said. “(There are) things that are being laid in that you won’t even recognize the significance of until deeper into the seasons and deeper into the series.”
Guggenheim credits this clue-weaving technique to the “comic geek cred” of the show’s creators — Goyer is a former comic book writer and co-writer of last summer’s monster box office smash “The Dark Knight,” and Guggenheim as a current writer for “Amazing Spider-Man” for Marvel Comics (click here for a preview of the newest issue) and co-writer of the script for Warner Bros.’ upcoming “Green Lantern” film.
“Here’s the thing. David and I are both geeks. I mean, in all honesty, we both — we love comic books,” said Guggenheim. “We love it when other people give that kind of attention to things. So one of the very first things David and I bonded about was our love of geek culture and those sorts of elements, whether it be a comic book, TV series, a movie, whatever. So we certainly brought that to the show. And that’s one of the many, many fun aspects of working on it.”
Another similarity to “Lost” is the big-budget quality of the pilot’s special effects and production.
“The effort honestly, is to make cinema-quality everything, from visual effects to the way it’s shot, to the way it’s written, to the way it’s acted,” Guggenheim said. “I think that this show really raises the bar in terms of how good a TV show can look.
“We’re constantly pushing the envelope and we’re constantly spending every dime that ABC gives us,” the producer said. “And in some cases, a little bit more. But the goal really is to provide as close to cinema-like experience as possible.”
But even with the big cinematic effects and strange underlying mysteries, the show is really about the struggle of average people to understand the visions they’ve been given of what will happen in their futures.
“It’s 100 percent a character-based show,” Guggenheim said. “I mean, it’s basically a character drama. It’s set against this big scope. And yes, it has mystery elements to it, but at the end of the day, all the mystery elements are all about illuminating our characters and their specific problems.
“I think the TV shows nowadays, especially on broadcast television where you’re not going after such a niche audience as you are on cable, you have to be able to have a canvas big enough to tell that kind of size story that can go in all those different directions and can hit all those different types of notes,” he said. “It’s just too competitive for viewers to do it otherwise.”