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Grant Rosenberg, executive producer of Poltergeist: The Legacy,
throws open the doors of Legacy House to Nick Joy.
AS ONE of the Executive Producers for Showtime's Poltergeist: The Legacy, Grant Rosenberg's duties include writing original episodes, editing scripts submitted by staff writers, and assisting in the casting of actors. As Xposé found out when visiting the show's Vancouver Bridge Studios in late April, the job also involves sorting out day-to-day technical problems.
"Take a look at this," he sighs as we are ushered into his office. A large-screen television is playing time-coded footage of season finale The Covenant. Derek Rayne appears to be in a convent and is talking to a character off-screen, whilst a nun is nodding at appropriate junctures. Everything seems fine for a while, but then suddenly the speakers go mute. "Can you believe it? Nobody knows what happened, the sound just stopped." Grant is trying to work out how to get the scene looped extra-quickly, but still takes time out from his busy schedule to discuss season three of the show, and his hopes for next year.
"It's been a good year for us, and will be remembered for two changes. Most prominently, we have introduced a new character, Kristin Adams, played by actress Kristin Lehman. It was a complete fluke that we hired someone with the same name as her character [trivia buffs will no doubt recall another cast member sharing a name with their character - Derek de Lint as Derek Rayne] and I guess it makes things easier for directors!" he laughs "The only thing we had to do was change the spelling from 'Kristen' from 'Kristin' to become consistent with the actress. She is a semi-regular on the show this year and will have done nine episodes out of the 22.
"The other change, which is more subtle but equally important, was a new direction for the stories. They are now more character oriented, and we delve deeper into the personal lives of the people at The Legacy, giving them more of a life away from the house. We've also deliberately introduced a certain sense of humor that was missing in previous seasons. For the last two years the shows have been very story driven with the guest villain having a more prominent role than the Legacy members. In season three we really spent a lot more time with our folks, which has been more fun for us to write, a lot more fun for actors to play, and the episodes have a tone that is more accessible to a wider audience. We haven't lost anything in the process, we've just tried to turn our characters into people that you want to invite home for dinner. One of the key drivers in American television is to create characters that the audience will consider a friend, and I think that we've got that right this year."
Semi-regulars Father Phillip Callahan (Patrick Fitzgerald) and William Sloan (Daniel J Travanti) do not return this year, and Rachel's young daughter Kat (Alexandra Purvis) only appears three times. The numbers are bolstered by the introduction of Kristin, but Grant has no problems with a smaller cast.
"We have found that the shows work better if we focus on two or three characters at any one time and give them the platform on which they can really shine. We find that our actors like that better too. All of our characters are equally popular in our eyes, and it is contractual requirements that will determine when and how often a character appears All of our main cast are obliged to appear in a certain number of shows per season. Helen [Shaver Rachel Corrigan], for example, appeared in only 12 episodes this year because she has a blossoming directing career, and she wanted to take time off to direct episodes of The Outer Limits. In fact, we gave her three or four strong episodes to really star in, and she is happy to be able to both act and direct. We are very careful to make sure that everyone has a couple of episodes each season that are purely about them, and then it's a matter of fitting in with their availability. It's quite a logistical nightmare at times."
Grant pauses for a moment before recounting which of this year's shows he is happiest with. "There are so many. Let me think," he ponders. "We did our first two-parter this season [Darkness Falls/Light of Day], and plan on doing two or three more next year due to its success. Two-parters work for us on a number of levels, not the least of which is in giving MGM the flexibility of being able to market them as Poltergeist: The Legacy movies on video cassettes. You might recall that Alex [Moreau] got bitten and slowly turned into a vampire over the course of the two hours. The great thing for us is that we got to write it as if it were a movie, and this allowed us to write a little bigger, build larger sets, and generally have more fun. It also gave our actors a bit more to chew on."
"Martin Cummins [Nick Boyle] had a couple of strong episodes devoted to him, including one where he met the ghost of his father [Father to Son], played by Michael Moriarty. This character has obviously been a strong influence on Nick in his past, and it was a very emotional episode with some wonderful acting. Helen did an episode called Metamorphosis where she is infected by a satanic virus that turns her into a killer, and she had great fun in stalking the people in the house. We also did an episode earlier in the season called Irish Jug, which co-starred Rene Auberjonois [Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine] and Derek de Lint. After drinking from an ancient jug that they find in the house, they are taken over by the spirits of two Irish rascals who were born several hundreds of years ago. It was Martin's directing début and he played it very much for the humor, something totally different to what we have done before. I could go on listing other shows, but I'd guess that there are at least 10 episodes this year that I would say really stand out. The rest are also acceptable, but fall into the category of 'standard,' and reflect an average show made in any given week."
As an Executive Producer, Grant is involved in developing the series' characters, although actors do sometimes have different opinions to his.
"The actors all have ideas and suggestions about what they want their characters to do, and where they want to go, and we do find this very helpful. We sometimes find that after they have read their script they react to it by saying, 'I don't think that this is what my character would do.' Well, I've been here for part of the first season, part of the second season, and all of the third season, and Executive Producer Garner Simmons has been here the whole time. I would like to think that even though the actors 'act' these characters, we actually 'breathe' these characters, and that we are pretty good judges as to what they would or would not do or say. Sometimes it gets into a bit of an arm wrestle, but we get there in the end. The actors are always very smart about knowing what they want ."
Whilst mediating disputes about character development. Grant also keeps a watchful eye over the production of the individual episodes. "At any one time, there's always one show shooting, one prepping, and generally about five in various stages of post-production. Those five are being edited, being fixed with visual effects, added with sounds or getting a score. It generally takes six weeks after the show has been shot for it to be finished and delivered to MGM," he says. "I'm not completely hands on at all times during this process, but I am at least supervising everything that's going on. On a day-to-day basis I'm also looking at casting decisions, talking to the props people, interacting with the actors, and plenty of other stuff!"
As with most shows, the producers of Poltergeist: The Legacy do not have any wide-ranging plans for the series beyond the next season.
"We are currently looking at season four now, having just recently been picked up for next year. We'll all have to get together now with our bosses and partners at MGM and Trilogy and discuss what is going to be the arc for this new season. We'll try to map out how we can move the characters in an interesting way in the next 22 episodes, not dwell on what could be happening in seasons five and six," Rosenberg explains.
He also admits that a long-running show does inevitably start to run out of fresh ideas. "After 66 episodes you do have to dig down a bit and say, 'OK, what sort of new demon can we have in the show this week?' It really forces you to expand your parameters in storytelling and allows you to take a few more chances with shows like Irish Jug. Maybe we'll do a black and white episode at some point, but I'm sure that on Poltergeist we'll never do a musical or a Shakespeare show! I don't doubt that it will be challenging to come up with 22 good stories for season four, but I'm sure we'll do it."
As expected with a horror show, the series does feature frequent scenes of gore and violence, but this did not present a problem with censors in the first three seasons. "The first 66 episodes were developed for Showtime, so we had a lot of leeway in terms of sex, violence and language. We could have experienced problems when the shows went into syndication at different times of the day, so we always shoot two versions when violence and nudity are involved. We don't get too carried away with the language because we don't know the words we can't say, and you just learn to be more creative with your writing. Now that the show is being made for the Sci-Fi Channel next year, we don't what their parameters are going to be yet, so we'll have to test the water and find out what they want. Apart from a couple of scenes of disrobing and partial nudity, we haven't done much this year to be worried about."
Grant concludes his meeting by discussing how the show might actually be competing with itself in certain markets. "At the beginning of January it will still be on Showtime, it will be débuting on the Sci Fi Channel, and will also be on first run syndication. When they have 88 episodes MGM can also package it up and take it out to other markets. As far as viewing figures are concerned, we are going from Showtime, which has 15 million households, to the Sci Fi Channel which has 50 million households."
Things are looking bright for the supernatural show that many predicted wouldn't last beyond its initial run, but will Rosenberg continue his in-depth involvement? "Poltergeist gives me the opportunity to write something horrific and gothic, and they are fun stories to weave. It's not a problem for me working in the genre, it's actually going to be harder when I want to break out of it at some point. I produced Lois and Clark for 2 ½ years, wrote a couple of episodes of The Outer Limits and created a series called Time Trax, so I guess that I am very deep into the genre of fantasy. It's the area that I like working in, but I have to imagine that quite soon there is going to be a thinning out of shows, with certain weaker ones falling by the wayside."
The meeting concludes; series creator Richard B Lewis has been calling from a plane and there are more rushes to look at. Now what's the availability of that nun to re-dub her lines?
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