David E. Kelley Talks ABC Series 'Big Sky': "There's a Lot of Dark Secrets and Ugliness"

Big Sky - RYAN PHILLIPPE
Courtesy of ABC

Ahead of Thursday night's VIP premiere for Big Sky, ABC and event producers Little Cinema detailed how they planned to make the virtual event special enough to match the scope and intrigue of the Montana-set series.

A screening website hosted a pre-party experience that was meant to give invitees — among them Lena Waithe, Mayim Bialik, Lance Bass, Brooke Shields, Yvette Nicole Brown, Iliza Shlesinger, AnnaSophia Robb, Kristin Davis and Poppy Montgomery — a peek into "All in Bar," a dive watering hole like the one featured in the pilot. A physical rendering was built and populated by two live performers who helped set the scene with one singing live and another dropping hints about the action to come.

The David E. Kelley-created thriller Big Sky follows private detectives Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury) and Cody Hoyt (Ryan Phillippe) as they team up with his estranged wife and ex-cop, Jenny Hoyt (Katheryn Winnick), to search for two sisters (Jade Pettyjohn, Natalie Alyn Lind) who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway. It's based on a book series by C.J. Box.

What those two performers didn't let slip is that Kelley himself would show up, virtually of course, to welcome guests and introduce the show. In doing so, the super-producer, back on network television for the first time in years after prestige cable dramas like Big Little Lies and The Undoing, both for HBO,  said that he's wanted to make Big Sky for years. "I've loved the books by C.J. Box," said Kelley. "Fantastic characters, fantastic setting in Montana. It's a bit of a thriller ride but also a character piece."

Kelley also said if executed correctly, the show will transport viewers to the "beautiful vistas of Montana." To further set the mood, guests at home were hand-delivered "Country Crate Meals." It will include country dinner staples, local Montana treats, a Montana state baseball cap, a Yellowstone candle and a pine-needle tree to plant at home.

But he gave a warning that the warm and fuzzy feelings wouldn't last long. "There's also a lot of dark secrets and ugliness that goes on. So, one moment you'll be leaning in, the next moment not so much." Kelley declined to give away plot details but promised "a lot of twists and turns."

"We think of this as a thrill ride, and a great piece of entertainment at 10 o'clock at night. We've got a lot of great characters that you'll come to feel for and care for as the series evolves."

Series stars Phillippe, Winnick, Bunbury, Brian Geraghty, Dedee Pfeiffer, Lind, Pettyjohn, Jesse James Keitel, Valerie Mahaffey, John Carroll Lynch and Gage Marsh also attended the premiere. Sticking around for the post-show Q&A were Phillippe, Winnick and Bunbury (moderated by Variety's Angelique Jackson) during which some of those twists and turns were discussed.

Said Phillippe, "To have moments that take your breath away, it’s exciting to be a part of." Added Bunbury, "This show is stacked, like major, and you want to know about each character. It's incredible." The series premieres on ABC on Nov. 17.