How do you con a con man? That’s one of the central themes of Hulu’s upcoming Shut Eye, producers said Friday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.
Starring Burn Notice alum Jeffrey Donovan and KaDee Strickland (Private Practice), the straight-to-series drama takes a darkly comedic look at the underground world of Los Angeles storefront psychics and the organized crime syndicate that runs them. The story revolves around Charlie Haverford (Donovan) a disgruntled player in the organization who finds his cynical world view challenged when he starts to experience visions that may or may not be real.
Les Bohem (Extant) created the drama, which hails from Sony Pictures Television’s relaunched TriStar Television banner. Gran Via Productions’ Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein (Breaking Bad) will executive produce. David Hudgins (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Game of Silence) is on board as showrunner.
“I thought, ‘What if a fake psychic became a real psychic?” Bohem said Friday. “I loved the idea but had no idea where to set it. … I walked into a parlor in my neighborhood and had my palm read and started to notice there was one on every block. There’s one three blocks from [the Beverly Hilton] in Beverly Hills and they can’t possibly be making rent on a $40 reading.”
To hear star Donovan tell it, what appealed to the Burn Notice and Fargo alum was the type of clients many of the psychic shops attract: smart, educated people who are often being bilked for anything from $40 to $500,000, he said.
“Who can tap into that weakness of the educated and the smart?” he said. “I wanted to investigate that role and what Les has created … it’s a very strange world these people live in and that’s what attracted me to the show. … It’s how does a con artist con a con artist.”
For Strickland, who boarded the series after being recast in CBS’ midseason drama Doubt, the Private Practice grad sees Shut Eye as a world with endless possibility.
“The world is fully premised, with victims and people preying on them. … We’ve never seen this. … How they get inside people’s minds? [This show explores] why people need to believe, whether it’s religion or $40 to $250 to cleanse our soul … people who do it once or on a weekly basis — this world is so vast.”
Donovan met and spoke with mentalists in order to prepare for Shut Eye, learning what he called the “scientific skill” of reading someone after a cold meeting. “I assess who you are, your clothes, the accent, their vernacular — it’s all down to a science. That’s what Charlie preys on.”
To that end, the character preys on victims to understand what their weaknesses are and runs with it with Bohem looking at the various layers of what goes into every con and the central need to believe in something more after death. That included making a list of the various cons — like hypnosis — and what he called various ways that people’s perceptions can be messed with.
“We all have this need … to know that this day and age is not it,” Donovan said. “We don’t just get buried. We want a connection. These people pray upon that one weakness of, ‘Is this it or is there something else?”
Watch a teaser for the drama below. Shut Eye bows Dec. 7 on Hulu.