J.J. Abrams Defends 'Believe's' Showrunner Shake-ups


Premieres: Sunday, March 16 at 9 p.m. (NBC)
Stars: Johnny Sequoya, Jake McLaughlin, Delroy Lindo, Kyle MacLachlan, Sienna Guillory, Jamie Chung, Tracy Howe, Arian Moayed

From Alfonso Cuaron and J.J. Abrams, Believe centers on a young girl who was born with special abilities she can't control, and as they start evolving, the people protecting her must turn to an outsider.

Before NBC even set a premiere date for the high-concept sci-fi drama Believe, from J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuaron, two showrunners had already left.

Believe, now run by director Jonas Pate, centers on Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a young girl in possession of great powers -- which will come into their own in seven years -- and the man who is sprung from prison (Savages' Jake McLaughlin) to protect her from those trying to hunt her down.

Abrams addressed the highly publicized changes Sunday during the show's winter Television Critics Association press tour session, dismissing any speculation that the creative team behind Believe wasn't on the same page. Previous showrunners were Dave Erickson and Mark Friedman.

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"I feel like it's not a quantifiable thing," Abrams said, adding that the series is "a continuum from this extraordinary pilot" and "we weren't getting that."

"The truth about doing a television show, it's public and everyone knows the show's out there so you have a new idea that doesn't quite work or doesn't quite fit, it seems like it's an issue," Abrams said. "The truth is, it's creativity and it's the process and we're very lucky to be in a situation now to be in an inspired situation."

Tapping Pate, who was not a writer on the series before being selected for the showrunner job, was a different approach, and Abrams was diplomatic in his explanation of why he went outside of the writers room.

"Whoever can do it -- whoever demonstrates the ability and the desire to do it -- is the one who does it," Abrams said. "This is not a cookie-cutter show where you know exactly the person who's done this [type of] show -- it's not a typical procedural, cop show -- it's a very unique thing. I think finding the correct creative voice, who was the strongest, the most passionate and clearly skilled at doing it. It was clear that we had it in the family and luckily Jonas stepped up and is able and willing and doing an extraordinary job."

To hear Pate tell it, his experience thus far as director-showrunner has been positive. (He directed the second episode.) "It's been nice. We were always involved with the stories from the beginning," Pate said.

For viewers worried that Believe would fall the way of Fringe, which began more as a procedural before becoming serialized as the series went on, the producers said that it will have both a procedural element with a new case each week as well as a mythological element.

As for how Abrams and Cuaron, who snagged an Oscar nomination for space epic Gravity, teamed up, Abrams shared a bit of backstory.

"Over 20 years ago, I met Alfonso Cuaron and I wanted to work with him desperately ever since. I was a huge fan of the movies he made," Abrams said. "It wasn't until Alfonso -- through some magical moment who called saying, 'I have an idea for a TV show' -- and when he pitched the idea, I felt like I had to see that on television. It was an opportunity that was too great, too exciting to pass up."

Believe premieres March 16 on NBC.

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