THR Visits 'Revenge' Showrunner Mike Kelley and His Makeshift Manhattan Beach Hamptons

Madeleine Stowe, Matt Earl Beesley and Mike Kelley
Jessica Chou

Revenge star Madeleine Stowe, back from the dead, meets with director Matt Earl Beesley and showrunner Mike Kelley.

With a high-profile move to Sunday this fall, the man behind ABC's hit soap -- ahem "suspense drama" -- attempts to build on last year's success by upping the twists, making one very big addition to the cast and reviving its not-so-dead antagonist.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The mood inside the Manhattan Beach studio where ABC shoots its hit primetime drama Revenge is a bit bipolar. Between takes, the cast and crew happily traverse the labyrinth of shingled estates that fill their makeshift Hamptons, joking with one another and eyeing the lavish -- even by L.A. standards -- craft-services table. But as soon as they're rolling or enmeshed in a particularly thorough rehearsal, the show's fictional animosity creeps in like an Atlantic fog.

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Madeleine Stowe, nominated for a Golden Globe for her calculating villainess Victoria Grayson, casts an icy gaze from her prop balcony until someone signals a break, her intimidating expression loosens into a smile and she makes a beeline for a robe. (It might be summer in this version of Hamptons, but it hasn't topped 65 degrees inside the studio on this mid-September day.)

Series creator Mike Kelley hops the railing to talk his star through the rest of the scene, a tense encounter with new addition Jennifer Jason Leigh. Stowe says such intimate moments of prep time with Kelley have afforded the seasoned film actress a very different focus on her first TV series. "I was always taught [in film] to not worry about the words and just feel your way through the scenes," says Stowe, who says she's in particular awe of her onscreen nemesis, TV veteran Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters, Everwood), 26, who today is on the sideline, quietly running lines and plugged into her iPhone. "I learn so much from the younger actors. They come from a completely different school."

A former producer on The O.C. who created CBS' brief but well-received 1960s-set drama Swingtown, Kelley, 45, had a blind script deal with ABC only two years ago when the network expressed interest in updating Alexandre Dumas' tale of vengeance The Count of Monte Cristo with a female protagonist.

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He admits the audience has spun his series into something different than he intended ("Suspense drama is what I wanted people to call it, but they see it more as a guilty-pleasure soap," says Kelley) but knows it isn't worth harping on labels. Revenge heads into its sophomore year as one of the youngest-skewing debuts of the 2011-12 season and a new mainstay of water-cooler chat. The show managed to build viewership in the undesirable 10 p.m. Wednesday hour. As a reward, the series has moved to Sunday, where it is poised to grow in Desperate Housewives' former time slot.

Kelley has high hopes of filling such legendary shoes. "Yes, people may be watching football and The Good Wife at that time on a Sunday night," he admits. "But I'm really hoping not."