'The Slap' Actors Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton on Benefits of Broadcast Over Cable

"On cable, many times it's more gratuitous than it needs to be because that's what you're expecting from cable," says Newton.
Virginia Sherwood
'The Slap'

For a half-hour Friday afternoon, a collection of bold-faced actors gathered onstage and praised the possibilities of broadcast — over cable.

On hand to tout forthcoming NBC miniseries The Slap at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, Thandie Newton and Peter Sarsgaard were among those who took jabs at the boundary-pushing freedoms of cable, at one point joking that their project's premise would have had to push much farther than a "slap" to break through on an HBO or Showtime.

Their eight-episode network project centers on the fallout after a man, played by Zachary Quinto, slaps another couple's misbehaving child at a family barbeque. The action sparks a massive family dispute that exposes secrets, prompts a lawsuit and tears the family apart. Though it's based on an Australian series of the same name, writer-producer Jon Robin Baitz stressed that the U.S. adaptation is "far more psychological" than the original.

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Actress  Melissa George, who stars in the Australian original as well as the U.S. adaptation, kicked off the conversation comparing cable to broadcast: “As actors, when we get cable scripts it's exciting because producers aren't ripping out pages saying, 'You can't say this, you can't say that.' But on the other side of that, you get fewer viewers on cable,” she said, noting that she's spent much of her career trying — and failing — to find projects that hav great scripts and broad appeal, until now. “For the first time, we have this luxurious poetic dialogue from Robbie Baitz, the direction [EPs] of Laurie [MacDonald] and Walter [Parkes] and all of these actors and we're on network TV. … There's no excuse for this not to deliver.”

But it was Newton — star of DirecTV's Rogue and HBO's upcoming Westworld on cable — who suggested the project was better served by being on broadcast, and not simply because the platform has the potential to serve up more viewers. “On cable, many times it's more gratuitous than it needs to be because that's what you're expecting from cable. … It's so much nicer for an audience to have to imagine the extremes where you can go [when it comes to] sex and violence,” Newton argued, with Sarsgaard deadpanning: “On cable, somebody would have shot someone else's child.”

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The Universal TV-produced project, which is written by Baitz (Brothers & Sisters) and executive produced by Parkes, MacDonald and Lisa Cholodenko, bows Feb. 12.