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The genre of time travel quickly has become a crowded field, with new entries like NBC’s Timeless and The CW’s Frequency joining established series like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and 12 Monkeys.
But to hear the executive producers behind ABC’s Time After Time tell it, their H.G. Wells-inspired series doesn’t really have that much time travel.
“It’s a very rare occasion,” creator and executive producer Kevin Williamson told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Inspired by the 1979 novel and movie of the same name, Time After Time follows a young H.G. Wells as he travels through centuries, decades and days in the time machine he created. On the hunt for Dr. John Stevenson (better known as “Jack the Ripper”), Wells finds himself in present-day New York City after Stevenson uses the machine to evade capture. However, Wells is troubled by what he finds in 2017.
“it’s really sort of conceived to be about the young H.G. Wells,” said Williamson. “We kind of use time travel, we have a time machine,” but time travel will occur only four times over the first 12 episodes.
In addition to simply trying to find to a way to set the series apart, executive producers said they wanted to tread lightly because time travel “boxes us in,” said exec producer Marcos Siega. Specifically, once the main characters can travel through time once, the question becomes, “Why don’t they just time travel again and again until every wrong is corrected and, in this case, Jack the Ripper is no longer a menace to society?”
“That question is raised in the second hour,” said Williamson. “We have a rule about the ripples in time. … You are endangering all of time if you do this, so they have to figure out where they’re going and who’re they’re encountering.”
In addition to using the original Time After Time as source material, Williamson said the episodes will pull elements from Wells’ classic stories including The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau, particularly as the two lead characters (played by UnREAL‘s Freddie Stroma and Revenge‘s Josh Bowman) have very different reactions to their new environment.
“When he comes to modern-day New York, he’s profoundly disappointed, and what does he do next? We see him stumble, whereas Jack the Ripper thrives,” Williamson said of Wells.
But Williamson warned viewers to look for “Easter eggs,” rather than any “literation translation” of the beloved source material.
Although Wells’ stories are centuries old, Williamson sees several modern-day parallels, particularly with “thematically the way that he often wrote about the good and bad of human nature and how it relates to technology,” said Williamson. “We live in a world where we’re ruled by technology and our little gadgets in our hand. That’s how we live and breathe now. It inspires the good and the bad in us.”
At the end of the day, both exec producers stressed that Time After Time is less of a cynical look at the modern world than a show about a serial killer let loose in 2017 may sound like. “It’s meant to be escapist entertainment,” said Williamson.
Time After Time premieres Sunday, March 5, at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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