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Thursday marks the premiere of Dig, USA Network’s ambitious event series, which weaves together three (seemingly) separate storylines — a cult compound, the murder of an archeologist, and a potential religious prophecy — into one mystery thriller.
Behind the scenes, there’s been well-documented changes: production shifted from Israel to Croatia/New Mexico, as well as an episode order increase. Series creators Tim Kring (Heroes) and Gideon Raff (Homeland) spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the challenges — and joys — of making the ambitious first season of Dig.
As you’re this close to the premiere, what’s your mindset?
Tim Kring: It’s amazing, Gideon just wrapped [last week] in Croatia. The paint is not dry yet.
Gideon Raff: [There’s] excitement. It’s been a long, crazy, gratifying journey this past year shooting in the countries we shot in, with the amazing talent we worked with. Now, just seeing the whole thing come to fruition on-screen is very gratifying. It’s almost out of our hands and into the audience’s hands.
This is a very ambitious series with multiple ongoing mysteries. What do you feel it’s most essential potential viewers know about the show?
Kring: It’s an exciting roller coaster, murder mystery thriller. And if you like to participate in the twists and turns of where an exciting thriller goes, this is the show for you.
Raff: [It’s] an archeological thriller with very exotic locales [with a mystery] that goes back 2,000 years, and yet is very timely and relevant.
Much of the action, at least initially, revolves around Jason Isaacs‘ Peter Connelly. What can you share about Peter’s journey?
Raff: Jason plays an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem, who is dealing with a personal trauma. He comes from a religious background, and he finds himself in the holiest city in the world, investigating a crime that really throws him into the rabbit hole. He becomes obsessed about finding out who did this. It’s a very deep exploration of his character, laced together with a very thrilling ride.
He also has a complicated relationship with his boss/occasional lover, Lynn (Anne Heche). How does that dynamic evolve over the course of the season?
Kring: We set out to have a very grown-up and adult relationship; very complicated. Both of them are in a place in their lives where romance doesn’t work for them, and it’s not what they need. At the core of their relationship is this very deep friendship. They discover their actual desire for one each other is their friendship. In that respect, we thought it was a more complicated and adult version of a male-female relationship on-screen.
How will the cult compound tie into the mystery Peter is investigating in Jerusalem?
Raff: Our show has really three main locales that then converge in Jerusalem. They’re all connected to this conspiracy Peter is going to unveil by investigating the murder of an archeologist. There’s a compound in New Mexico, where Pastor Billingham (David Costabile) is raising this kid in secrecy is part of a story, a prophecy, the conspiracy Peter will have to find out. The audience will have to guess what their connection is to the rest of the story.
There’s a red heifer born in the show’s opening minutes, which has its own storied history. What was your research process for this show, especially when something like that has such an abundance of material you could draw upon?
Kring: When you scratch the surface of this material, you find a wealth of research that’s out there. When you bring up the cult in New Mexico, it’s amazing how many of these strange bedfellows are actually out there, getting together to make sure these prophecies come true. It really doesn’t take a lot to find this stuff, if you go looking for it. And something like the red calf, a simple Google search will unlock an entire world of Google content.
Raff: Tim and I did a few research trips to Israel. We even went undercover to some of these organizations, which we then renamed and heightened for dramatic effect. We had a researcher all the time researching things. It’s amazing — and scary — how much of it is based in reality.
The pilot was shot in Israel, but political events dictated a move after that first hour. How did leaving Israel impact the storytelling?
Kring: Well, it forced us to leave, and in leaving, we had to find locations that doubled for Jerusalem. Thankfully, we didn’t have to find [a place] doubling for New Mexico, because that’s where we ended up shooting. It’s actually quite remarkable what we were able to find in Croatia, shooting in Split and Dubrovnik doubling that for Jerusalem … it’s really incredible how well they matched Jerusalem. Some parts of this actually added and benefited our production: coming to New Mexico, we had the storyline that took place in the southwest, and, we, frankly, were having problems in Israel finding Americana locations — a diner or a motel or a gas station. Obviously, when we moved to Albuquerque, those locations were easy to find.
Raff: I was born and raised in Jerusalem, and I think it would be very hard for any Israeli to tell the difference between where we shot. We were adamant this would not hurt the storytelling; that this would not become a show that become inferior or less exciting. We worked very hard.
The series got an order for additional episodes while you were in production. When you have a planned arc — especially where you’re dangling so many mythology threads — what impact did those four extra hours have on the way you wanted to tell this story?
Raff: The truth of the matter is Tim and I were playing with more episodes before it was announced we had the extra four. So we knew where we would take the story; it’s not like we finished the story and then had to reinvent where it goes, or slow down the pace, or anything like that. We kind of gambled on the fact that we’d have more episodes and went with it from the beginning.
Now that you’ve completed season one, this is a standalone story, correct? Or did your plans in that regards change?
Kring: We, from the beginning, wanted to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. It seems like nowadays, when people log on to a show, I think one of the things that inhibits people from watching it — especially if it’s serialized — is that it’s going to go on and on, and the writers don’t know where it’s going and when it’s going to end. Having a very specific number of episodes has allowed us to write toward an ending, which is really beneficial and forces every episode to be as exciting as possible.
Assuming there is a second season, do you know at this point which characters you’d want to carry over?
Raff: If we’re lucky enough to have another season, then definitely we’re playing around with [things]. It would be a different story, and season two would be a story that has a beginning, middle and end. I don’t want to spoil, so I don’t want to tell you who would continue. But we are thinking about it without jinxing it too much.
As USA Network has promoted the launch of the series, they’ve done a host of things that feel really unique: the Dig Decoder app, the “Escape the Room” challenge, etc. How much input have you had in those promotions, and what has been your take on how far the network has gone to boost awareness?
Kring: I can speak from experience having had a few shows on the air, that this is as big a push, as unique a push, as I’ve ever seen. I think it speaks to all of the talent over there in the marketing and PR department. It also really speaks to the competition for people’s eyeballs, and how difficult and how creative you have to be in order to break out from an extraordinarily crowded field. The whole group over there at USA threw down the gauntlet with this one, and has taken it to places I’ve never seen before.
Raff: They’ve really done a spectacular job, and I think had fun with the world of Dig, which I think lends itself pretty easily to all these games and treasure hunts. I think because it’s a conspiracy two thousand years in the making, there’s a lot of fun stuff you can do. And they really went all in on it.
Do either of you have a personal favorite of the unique promotions the network has done for the show?
Raff: The application is thrilling me. Every time I turn it on, it’s amazing — I still don’t understand what’s happening!
Kring: I did [the app] in the subway station, and a couple of people were standing there waiting for the train stopped, and stared over my shoulder at it, because it’s such a unique application. We also have Wattpad, that allows an online story to be generated every week, and you can follow it along. We were pretty heavily involved in that, and one of our writers wrote that material.
Dig airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network. Will you be tuning in?
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