'The Arrangement' Creator Dodges Scientology Comparisons

The Arrangement - H 2016
Courtesy of E!

When the script for E's forthcoming scripted series The Arrangement first began making the rounds in Hollywood in 2015, it turned quite a few heads.

Specifically, because of the parallels many drew between the fictional couple at the center of the series – a famous movie star closely tied to a mysterious group called The Institute of the Higher Mind who enters into a contract marriage with a struggling actress – and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Adding fuel to the fire is that the fictional actress, like Holmes, is best known for TV when she meets the A-lister and that the two choose Italy as their first official getaway together after entering into their agreement – much the way Cruise and Holmes first went public with their relationship in the same country.

However, when appearing in front of reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Tuesday, series creator Jonathan Abrahams repeatedly denied any direct connection between the now-former A-list couple and the pair at the center of his drama.

"I'm not trying to grab headlines. We weren't working our way towards a couch-jumping," said Abrahams in reference to Cruise's famed declaration of love for Holmes on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "It was really about how do you normalize this sort of ludicrous arrangement? The idea of this seems so crazy, but it happens. How do free-thinking, intelligent people make decisions like this and what are the ramifications? What are their lives like?"

In the series, which marks E!'s second foray into scripted, a beautiful young actress named Megan Morrison (Christine Evangelista) auditions for the female lead in a summer blockbuster playing opposite the hottest actor in town, Kyle West (Josh Henderson). Her amazing audition segues into a perfect first date, which then turns bizarre when she is presented with a contract that details an entire relationship with Kyle. Also complicating matters is Kyle's involvement with a self-help organization called the Institute of the Higher Mind, who help orchestrate Kyle and Megan's relationship.

Abrahams admitted right at the top of the panel that even if it was about Scientology, he wouldn't be able to say so. However, he stood by his earlier sentiments.

"It's clear to me that even if I could say that, that I could legally do it, I don't have the authority to say that," said Abrahams. "It doesn’t really matter because it really isn't."

"It's not a religion. It really is not a religion," he reiterated later in the panel. "I don't mean that coyly. This is not a show about faith. That's not the underlying theme of, 'Do you believe or do you not believe?'" he said.

Part of Abrahams' defense is that the mysterious Institute is not a religion at all, but truly based on various self-help programs in Los Angeles such as Lifespring and The Forum.

"There were a lot of inspirations for me, I've had experiences second- and third-hand in self-help organizations. There are many of them," he said, also pointing to his friends' involvement in 12-step programs.

"Hollywood is such an aspirational town. These self-help organizations are about aspiring to a higher way of living -- having more success in your profession and having more success in your relationships. … There's a promise to it. Come join our project and spend X amount of dollars for a weekend intensive and we can change your life."

Another inspiration for the series, Abrahams said, were the urban myths of such arranged relationships. "I've heard of contract marriages going back to the days of the early talkies," said Abrahams. "There's a lot of fodder to inspire this."

Helping provide that inspiration is one writer on staff who has been in the industry since the '70s. "The amount of true-life stories and rumors and urban legends that get tossed around – we couldn't fit it all into the season," said Abrahams.

The actors at the center of the series acknowledged their own brushes with the subject, having spent years in Hollywood. "[It's] certainly a controversial subject and one I think we've all heard rumors on," added Evangelista.

Michael Vartan, who plays Kyle's mentor and the head of the Institute, Terrence Anderson, also insisted that the characters at the center of the series will set it apart from the Tom and Katie comparisons.

"Surely, there are parallels that are inevitably going to be drawn, but this show, to me, is really about these characters and their relationships," said Vartan. "To me, that's why the show will wind up being hopefully successful. On top, it has the backdrop and all these weird possible innuendos that people love these days."

The Arrangement premieres Sunday, March 5 at 10 p.m. on E! Watch a teaser below: