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Kevin Williamson returns with CBS thriller Stalker, a drama dedicated to the investigation of stalking cases, that has become the subject of criticism over its violent nature. The opening scene of the premiere shows a young woman engulfed in a burning car after trying to escape her stalker. Williamson insists that Stalker and his other drama of similar DNA, Fox’s serial killer series The Following, are “tonally different,” instead describing Stalker as “eerie.”
If anything, the concept for Stalker predates The Following (and The Vampire Diaries, The CW series he executive produces). Conceived in 1998 following Scream 2, Williamson discovered the existence of the real-life Threat Management Unit (TMU) after dealing with an overzealous fan. It was at a meeting years later with CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler, who shared that the network sought a horror drama to add to its stable.
Stalker will borrow from real-life cases, with future storylines including the case of a kidnapped child. “We are ripping the stories from the headlines to some degree,” Williamson said in July during the Television Critics Association summer press tour, promising that there will be “levity” amid the dour notes. “Every element of a crime usually has a stalker element to it. It’s a vast world of storytelling.” The question is, will viewers tune in? Williamson answered three questions for The Hollywood Reporter about his new show.
Since Stalker was an idea you had before The Following and The Vampire Diaries, when you revisited the idea years later, did you have to make any tweaks?
It updated itself because think of what has happened since 1998. The Internet blew up; social media has escalated stalking by 400 percent, so now there are so many different avenues of stalking. Before, it was maybe a simple love obsession or celebrity stalking or erotomania. Now, in the age of social media, everyone’s a stalker. There’s no getting around it. When you uncover obsession, we’re all guilty of it. When you’re young and you break up with the person you love and you’re heartbroken, you feel rejected and abandoned and angry and you just can’t help but ride by their house. You’re stalking. That’s what’s interesting to me about the fixation and the compulsion when people do cross the line, because sometimes they’re seemingly good people who just get lost in an obsession. That’s what is interesting: Stalking is the mind of the stalker, and that’s what we’re exploring through the Dylan McDermott character. Through the Maggie Q character, who’s a true advocate of the victim, something tragic happened to her, which is something we’re going to explore.
What conversations did you have with CBS with regard to tone? Comparisons will be made to Fox’s The Following, which is itself violent.
The Following was always meant to be this crazy roller-coaster horror movie every week, and it is. It’s a thriller. It’s gory. It’s stabby-stab. After sitting in a writers’ room writing two seasons of that and editing it, the visual side of what we write was too much — it just got too much. I do believe in emotional horror. I want everything to be felt and I wanted to do a procedural where it’s case of the week, so I can do a mini-movie every week where the good guys catch the bad guys, where we actually get to bring an awareness to a subject matter that people don’t understand how complicated it truly is. I wanted to tell a story from the victim’s point of view and from the stalker’s point of view. I think it’s a twist on a cop show and it’s something that hasn’t been done before really. We haven’t seen a show about the stalker’s unit.
What lessons did you learn from The Following?
They’re apples and oranges for one. The Following took on a life of its own and I’m very proud of The Following as it enters its third season. One of the things I’ve learned is that I think the show was a little bit misrepresented from the get-go. I don’t think anyone should have compared it to a cable show. It was always meant to be a popcorn thriller, and I think it stayed true to that. It never was meant to be anything lofty that I think some of the critics were hoping it would be. It’s been very visceral and it’s been very violent — and it may not be for everyone. That’s why you really have to turn the channel if you don’t want to watch it. But somebody out there is watching it enough to keep it alive and that’s the good news. It’s twisty and fun and it’s meant to be “Oh, what’s going to happen next? Let’s wait and see.”
Stalker premieres at 10 p.m. on Wednesday on CBS.
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