'Helix' Boss Says Syfy Drama Isn't 'The Walking Dead': 'It's an Outbreak Show'

Philippe Bosse/Syfy

Premieres: Friday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. (Syfy)
Stars: Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kyra Zagorsky, Mark Ghanimé, Jordan Hayes, Meegwun Fairbrother as Daniel Aerov, Catherine Lemieux,Neil Napier

From Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore, Helix revolves around a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak, but find themselves in the center of a dangerous life-and-death struggle that could key to humanity’s salvation or annihilation.

While AMC's The Walking Dead explores life after an unexplained outbreak has turned everyone into zombies, Syfy's freshman entry, Helix, goes in the opposite direction and looks to tell an outbreak origin story.

The drama, which premieres on Jan. 10 at 10 p.m., centers on Center for Disease Control pathologist Dr. Alan Farragut (The Killing's Billy Campbell) and his estranged ex-wife, Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), when they're sent to the Arctic -- actually a Montreal soundstage -- to investigate a mysterious disease outbreak.

What they find there is family drama, as Alan's brother, Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier), has been at the isolated facility -- overseen by the mysterious Dr. Hiroshi Hartake (Hiroyuki Sanada) -- investigating mutagens and has been infected.

Alan and Julia -- and their rag-tag team -- quickly learn that things are much more dire than they could have imagined, with the ranks of the infected quickly rising. While some become docile after being exposed, others become dangerously aggressive.

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Showrunner Steven Maeda (Lost, The X Files) says the creative team -- including executive producer Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica) -- didn't want to make Helix into a show about zombies. 

"We're really trying to not make it a zombie show," Maeda told reporters during a recent conference call, noting he didn't mind comparisons to the biggest scripted series on TV. "The main difference about the vectors [aka Walking Dead's "walkers"] is that they are not mindless eating machines. They're very scary and they're human, and they look horrible. But our team will discover that they're incredibly smart and they retain a lot of their intelligence -- if not their humanity -- which makes them very different from zombies."

"It's an outbreak show -- at least in the beginning," he adds. "It starts off as a show about this terrible outbreak that happens in this very remote and dangerous location, and it gets very deeply into science fiction and into a thriller with mysterious elements. Syfy really wanted us to get out of the box of a typical outbreak show."

While The Walking Dead's Emmy-winning zombies are soulless bodies that spew red blood everywhere, Helix's vectors still have part of their humanity and black blood, among other differences. 

VIDEO: Watch the First 15 Minutes of 'Helix'

"We definitely wanted to have our vectors play that something was wrong with them so they didn't just look like everybody else; it can be a very horrific transformation," Maeda says. "We're a little gross and there are horror elements that we did not shy away from. That being said, it's not a gore-fest at all. We were not trying to come up with the coolest way to do something really vile. I like to watch gross zombies, but we really were very conscious about trying to steer away from that as much as possible. Our guys are gross, but they're gross in a different way -- we don't have the budget or the time to be able to out-gross or out-action a lot of the shows that are out there."

Instead, Helix goes for relatable character elements with more emotion as the team tries to keep the deadly virus contained while researching cures, attempting to contain the outbreak and fighting against multiple enemies, including the rapidly expanding ranks of the infected, the unseen virus itself and, as The Walking Dead did with The Governor story line, humans with vastly different agendas.

"One of the things we really played with is this notion that we have to keep this thing contained, and we have to solve it or figure it out or at least keep it in this [Arctic] place because if it gets out, it's going to be a calamity," Maeda says. "It's an invisible villain, and outbreak and epidemic stories tend to either bring out the best or the worst in people -- and sometimes both -- because people get so terrified that they don't know how to deal with the situation."

Watch the first 15 minutes of the pilot by clicking here and hit the comments below with your thoughts. Will you tune in?

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit