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'Awake' Creator Revisits Complexities of Dual Realities and 'Lone Star' Woes (Q&A)

"If all you get is that he is a guy who doesn't want to give up his wife or son then you get enough of the show to see whether or not you're interested," executive producer Kyle Killen told THR of his new NBC drama, "and I hope people are."

Jason Isaacs Awake Pilot Episode - P 2012
NBC
"Awake"

On March 1, ambitious dual-reality drama Awake premieres on NBC.

From the mind of Lone Star creator Kyle Killen, the hourlong stars Jason Isaacs as Detective Michael Britten, who finds himself living in two worlds: one in which his son is dead and another in which his wife is.

Killen spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about what he's learned from Lone Star (more close-ended stories, a clearly defined lead character), the lofty goal he set for himself with keeping viewers tuned in to Awake and the his biggest challenge.

The Hollywood Reporter: It's safe to say you gravitate toward stories relating to dual realities and lives. When did that fascination first start?

Kyle Killen: As fas as we know we all live once. We're fascinated and intrigued by the places where our lives could have gone one way or the other. At some point I became really interested in characters who instead of just thinking about what if, were either forced to or choose to explore what that other side might look like.

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THR: Was that how Awake came about?

Killen: Awake really grew out of Lone Star to be honest. My wife is an ER doctor and she once had a patient whose chief complaint was that they were covered in worms. And she went in to to see him [and] it was a 23-year-old guy who seemed completely sane, who remembered his name, what year it was but was totally convinced he was covered in worms and couldn't understand why other people weren't reacting to that. It stuck with me how reliant you are on this little piece of material between your ears and what it tells you is real is what you think is real. I had the idea and been interested in someone who couldn't tell the difference between their dreams and reality. And I think I had a lot of stuff I was still playing with when Lone Star went down. 

THR: Several critics see potential with the series, however it's ultimately up to the broadcast audience and how they react to it ..

Killen: I tried really hard to make sure everything you need to know, the show has told you in the first 10 minutes. After that, it is tricky and there's a lot going on. You know you might benefit or catch things if you watch it a second or third time but that first 10 minutes really lays out what the show is. If all you get is that he is a guy who doesn't want to give up his wife or son then you get enough of the show to see whether or not you're interested and I hope people are.

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THR: It also raises the question: What is real?

Killen: I think there's a set of questions that you're sort of hinting at and I think those are very interesting. My hope is that unlike something like Lost, which I loved, where you wanted to move down that treadmill toward, "Finally, tell me what's going on." I think what happens here, if we do our job right, is that you become so invested in the two sides that you like [Michael], you start saying, "Now I don't want to know." At some point, knowing means I have to give up half of this story, half of these worlds. Trying to build that dichotomy is both the challenge but an interesting way to approach the show. Instead of being about making you want to pull apart the mystery, we're going to make you afraid of the mystery, just like he is.

THR: Your hope is that viewers can see both sides and the reasons behind doing whatever it is they do, introducing a gray area ..

Killen: That's really our goal, to make your investment in each side emotional. Someone has died and in a weird way, [this] has resurrected them and you would hate for him to experience that loss all over again.

THR: What have you learned from Lone Star's short run?

Killen: I learned a lot. In many ways, this is a total reaction to what happened with Lone Star. Lone Star's intent was to have a super-serialized, cable-style show with an anti-hero who you loved despite what he was doing.

THR: Time slots play a role in broadcast, more so for some shows than others. What can be done at 10 p.m., sometimes can't be done at 8 p.m. ..

Killen: It was definitely tricky and hard. [Awake] has a procedural element, but if the first time you join us is episode 8 you may not understand everything that's going on in his personal life but you'll see a detective solve crimes in a way no other detective on television is doing. With the pilot itself, one of the things with Lone Star, you didn't get what was actually going on until the last frame. Here I wanted you to understand what the show was about at the end of the first 10 minutes, that was the goal I set for myself. It's the exact opposite of an anti-hero, with someone that not only do you root for but you sympathize with [through] this terrible situation that he's in, this heroic approach that he's taken to solve it. He refuses that one of those people has been lost [and] he'll do anything he can to keep them alive and I think that's an easier thing. There's not a lot of grey area about whether or not you get behind that character, the way there was with our Lone Star character. For all those reasons, Lone Star was a tougher sell on network than I hope this is.

THR: Do you think that last scene in the Lone Star pilot, when Robert (James Wolk) went off to marry girlfriend Lindsay (Eloise Mumford), could have happened later on?

Killen: It couldn't to me. The character was all about a person who he had a way out but refused, just like this guy to give up on either. So instead of doing the "right thing" he actually believed he loved these two women. And for him the "right thing" was to first learn he had an opportunity to turn around and marry.

THR: What is the biggest challenge facing you on Awake?

Killen: It's definitely that the premise, hopefully by the time we get it to you, it's as simple and understandable as it can be. But when you work with the two cases and the two different worlds and the things that inform each other and crossover you have to be careful about what he could know when, what could betray, what must be a dream, what must be real that it requires that you come up with the story and turn it upside down and say what if the other one was real and the other one was a dream? It has to pass all these tests that you don't have to do on other shows. It doesn't get easier; you'll have a whole new set of nightmares next week.

THR: I can't imagine what the flow charts would look like ..

Killen: It's true. When it works it's exhilarating. So far it's been a tremendously fun experience to try and come up with things to test all the ways the premise can work. you can begin with just a what if and then it turns out the show can accommodate that really, really well.

THR: Is there an ending set?

Killen: I have an idea where we're headed in the first season so fingers crossed that we get there.

Note: This interview took place at Comic-Con 2011.

Awake premieres March 1 at 10 p.m. on NBC.