'Last Resort' Bosses on Lofty Expectations, High Drama and Not Planning for Failure

"We don't want to be '24.' In episode 10, we don't want to still be banging that gong of tension, tension, tension," executive producer Karl Gajdusek tells THR. Plus, "Shield" veteran Shawn Ryan on the show's Thursday time slot.
"Last Resort"

ABC is betting on Shawn Ryan's latest endeavor, ambitious submarine drama Last Resort.

It's a premise that's high concept, heavily serialized and toplined by TV vets like Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman. But as Ryan and fellow executive producer Karl Gajdusek relay to The Hollywood Reporter, the show about a "rogue" crew on a missile submarine who go against a direct order faces far greater challenges than the usual law or police show. One of which is balancing the many throughlines that are introduced on Thursday's premiere.

"You're talking about the challenge of the show," Gajdusek said. "The first season of Game of Thrones was breathtakingly good, the second season was still good but diluted by an attempt to service each story for 10 minutes every episode -- and it led to a kind of malaise. We don't want to do that."

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The showrunning duo is aware of the challenges that lie ahead, though their fears don't center on external factors and are more a question of balancing the show's serial aspects and sustaining it for the entirety of its run.

"You want the tension that was in the pilot, but you have to calibrate the threads and you really have to advance the stories emotionally and you have to advance these characters," said Ryan, creator of past dramas like The Shield, Terriers and The Chicago Code. "You have to be careful not to have something happen and then have everyone back into their original positions for the next episode, which a lot of television does. On CBS, they do it very well. The challenge for us is continuing to try to be original without losing our way."

For Ryan and Gajdusek, the season's endgame has yet to be finalized -- and mainly relies on how Last Resort performs in its pre-Grey's Anatomy time slot. "You gotta let the show air to get the sense of if this is a 13-episode run or if this going to be a seven seasons and a movie show," Ryan admitted. Even so, he hinted that the writers are playing around with possible ideas: "We have to plan for success, we can't plan for failure. We have ideas of where the first season goes for those characters."

When ABC slotted the male-skewing Last Resort in the home that belonged to Ugly Betty and Charlie's Angels, Ryan was aware of the hesitation. "There are no easy time slots in this day and age of DVR and time-shifting," said Ryan. "We're not sure how much time slots matter. We are a little bit different than other ABC shows, so I think their thinking is it is big-concept, it'll be a self-starter there, and we'll see. I think it's on-brand with ABC. We can promise it won't affect the content at all; so far, it hasn't. We just need to educate the audience that this is worth finding."

TV REVIEW: Shawn Ryan's 'Last Resort'

"[ABC entertainment chief] Paul [Lee] has said he wants 'smart with heart' so I said to Paul, 'Do you want 'smart with heart'?' " joked Ryan.

As Last Resort moves beyond the pilot, Gajdusek -- who penned the second episode -- revealed that the world will "stay true" to the first episode but will be "expanding the vocabulary" of the show.

The second episode "won't have a nuclear crisis but it has a crisis of similar tension and proportions, it just happens on a different scale and a different location," the Oblivion co-writer said. "We want to show people we can do it again and again, and once we've proven we can do it again and again, we want to start to expand the emotional palette of the show. We don't want to be 24. In episode 10, we don't want to still be banging that gong of tension, tension, tension."

Added Ryan: "The situation [for the crew] is going to get worse before it gets better, despite some people's efforts."

The pair has hopes that once the foundation is set in stone, other complementary tools of storytelling like romance, will come into greater play. "24 is a bad analogy for our show in that it happens in 24 hours. They don't change as people. Our characters will change fundamentally," Gajdusek said.

To hear Ryan and Gajdusek tell it, their work dynamic is best described as "collaborative," but not without Ryan's gentle ribbing of his counterpart.

"I rely on Gajdusek's relative naivete of television so I don't say, 'No, you can't do that.' I want to hear him want to do something so I can figure out how to do it," Ryan said, half-jokingly. "I've been through the technical wars of television and we rely on each other to not let a bad or mediocre idea go through."

Added Gajdusek: "Shawn has a remarkable -- honed over the years -- bullshit filter. It means that when you talk yourself into a bad idea, he's got the ability, at the end of the day, to say that."

For Ryan, the biggest lesson he's learned from his recent TV experiences? "It's never easy."

Last Resort premieres 8 p.m. Thursday on ABC.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@thr.com