'Klondike' Producers Talk Going for Gold at Discovery

Discovery Klondike - H 2014

Discovery Klondike - H 2014

Discovery is looking to strike gold with its first foray into the original scripted programming arena with six-hour miniseries Klondike.

From executive producers Ridley Scott and David Zucker and written by Prison Break's Paul Scheuring, the three-night event is based on Charlotte Gray's book Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike. It centers on New York dreamer Bill Haskell (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden), his best friend Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew) and their journey to Canada's Yukon Territory and the colorful -- and dangerous -- characters they meet over their epic journey.

Where they wind up is the Klondike in the late 1800s, one of the most dangerous mining spots to emerge in the territory, where diehard miners must wholly immerse themselves to the life, trapped for months on end with no escape.

The series comes to Discovery as the basic cable network has truly found its own riches with Gold Rush, its top-rated unscripted series, as well as similarly themed fare, as it looks to grow its brand to original scripted dramas in a bid to lure both viewers and awards season cache.

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Zucker and Scheuring at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour to preview the epic story of adventure, love, wealth and determination as well as Discovery's marching orders and more.

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Discovery's No. 1 show is Gold Rush and the network has a few other gold-themed unscripted shows. How much did that help make Klondike the next evolution for them?

Zucker: They determined the subject matter as being perfectly suited for their audience -- a slam-dunk with the success of the series that they had. The directive to us was a very straightforward one: Find us a story that merits being told in this landscape. It really just precipitated a very specific book search. Charlotte's book turned out to be an incredible resource.

How did you find the book?

Zucker: Ridley Scott has had an historic interest in Jack London and he started shipping Jack London books down to us and saying, "We have to venture into this period and this fascinating character."

What kind of liberties did you take with Bill and Belinda's stories?

Scheuring: I thought Charlotte's book was engaging, but then I started kind of reducing it to its essence and character motivations. Belinda was an island, as far as I know historically in terms of what I've read through Charlotte's book. In drama, a character has to have relations to add to the character. We needed to add some conflict in her life, so I created a conflict with real estate. The biggest liberty is the relationship between Bill and Belinda. You can't have everybody up there crawling around in the mud and not kissing each other at some point (laughs). Bill's only motivation was to go up there and get rich, and that was the overriding theme of the six-episode series. Personally, I'm not particularly interested in seeing if someone gets rich or not. There is some of this in Charlotte's book, but there was also the idea of that young man's might, which was to go forth into the world and have the adventure.

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You also added the Epstein character, who wasn't in the book.

Scheuring: I wanted Bill to have someone to share that journey with. The Jack Kerouac analogy is you need to have that sidekick to go forth into the world with and be a sounding board for the first part of our journey. Structurally, we needed a character for him to bounce off. Then to catapult Bill forward into the series, which was: "I had my great romantic illusion shattered in the worst possible way, and I can't leave because there's unfinished business."

Zucker: At the end of the first hour, you think you're setting off on this almost Butch and Sundance adventure and suddenly the brutal reality of the journey sets a course that can't be predicted.

Scheuring: Another example of taking liberties to serve a larger thematic intent was the character of Sabine. It's a high-budget TV show and there's our handsome lead going up into the adventure and lo and behold, the beautiful girl shows up. I wanted that to be almost groan-worthy, where the audience is like, "Of course there's a chick that hot in the Klondike; I'm not sure I like this show." But then we flipped that on its head to illustrate that not all appearances are as they seem.

What kind of influence did Discovery have? What kind of notes did you get?

Zucker: The objective was making sure the story and the visceral experience of this was really at a primal level. We were interested in scope and scale, but it had to have a gritty texture from a character standpoint and from an experiential one that that felt like people could put themselves there. That's somewhat representative of the kind of audience Discovery has and we wanted it to have that credibility.

Did they ask for a scripted version of Gold Rush?

Zucker: That was basically it. We've had that experience as a production company [Scott Free Productions] with a few buyers, and it's oftentimes the most exciting place to begin because you know their appetite and desire for this is very specific, and if you find the right way into that world and you know that if we don't f--- this up, we know we're making it. We were always developing this as if there was certainty we were going to produce it because we had great confidence in where we were setting off and doing. From the first moment we got Paul's material, we knew it was going to attract talent.

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There's really something for everyone in Klondike. Did Discovery want a big, broad world?

Scheuring: There was no predetermined construct to have these particular themes or characters. I'm drawn to larger canvases -- I always call it the Les Miserables model, which is to create a central conflict and have different people that create that epic feel and that's what TV is so good at allowing. We did that with Prison Break -- you break one guy out of prison, but look at all these different people who have different agendas all around that. It allows you to explore the hero and the anti-hero, the romantic and the cynic and all that. What starts to develop from the collective whole is a universality of human experiences.

Was there anything Discovery said you couldn't do? There's no profanity in Klondike.

Zucker: They actually encouraged us to push that boundary as far as we were comfortable.

Scheuring: I didn't think we were going to get the naked butt shot, but they told us to go for it (laughs).

Zucker: They probably would have let us go even further if we were inclined to.

Scheuring: We were taking some risks in terms of the general TV conceit: We wanted to have multiple narrators. At first they chafed at that. They thought we were going to confuse the audience. I always argue that the audience is so incredibly sophisticated; they are so much more steeped in narrative than any of us were growing up. They're ahead of us.

Zucker: That was a debate from script to final delivery. That probably was the most protracted discussion. Originally, there were actually more narrators than we had now. There was some restructuring that went on in the second night where we even considered bringing Belinda in as one. It was a very interesting conceit -- not just to use it as a device but allowing for that kind of shifting perspective to inform the story, but to also give you that deeper insight in the character. It was something you were intent on from the start. And again, to Discovery's credit, they really gave us the latitude to find our way with it.

Klondike begins on Monday, Jan. 20 at 9 p.m., with part two airing on Jan. 21 and the finale on Jan. 22, all on Discovery.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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