TCA: ‘Lone Star’ aspires to cable sensibility on Fox

By many accounts (to which I add my assent), Fox’s “Lone Star” appears to have the best pilot of the upcoming fall network series. While it remains to be seen whether the show will be Emmy-caliber over the long haul – assuming there is a long haul – series creator Kyle Killen said at Monday’s “Lone Star” Television Critics Assn. press tour panel that Fox was not scared off by comparisons to cable’s critically beloved but notoriously little-watched series.

“My understanding was, they were looking to try a cable show on network, and if we signed up with them, this would be something they would give us the leeway to really try that,” said Killen, who noted “ ‘Dallas’ without the cheese” is how he originally pitched the series. “When you go out and pitch shows, the things that you love, ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Mad Men,’ they’re dirty words in pitch meetings. They’re shows that have a number of viewers that would get themselves canceled on a network. Even if you respect them creatively, your people will tell you, ‘Talk about Dallas.’ I think at Fox, (cable) wasn’t a dirty word. I think at Fox they felt the only reason those shows weren’t more popular was that they weren’t on Fox.”

The Texas-set “Lone Star,” about a con man who tries to go straight in his professional life but not so much in his personal life, is serialized, which brought the typical questions about how the series will dole out plot. Again, ‘Breaking Bad’ came up as a model.

“I think the show will need to reinvent itself periodically,” exec producer Amy Lippman said. “We look at shows that have a very strong premise, shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ for example, that by season two have turned (that premise) in some way. That’s our challenge, to keep it going and keep it fresh and not to replay the same dynamic over and over again … if we’re lucky enough to be back next season.”

The show will deviate from whatever formula it has fairly quickly, with two of the first seven episodes taking a different approach, the producers said. Lippman’s partner in prime, Christopher Keyser, added that the show’s “traditional soap canvas” gives the show many levels to play, but with modern-day twists.

“I look at the character that Jon (Voight) plays or David (Keith) plays,” Lippman noted. “On a traditional soap 12 years ago, those might have been characters who were all good or all bad. I think our interest is in humanizing both of them, and I think that’s how it’s different than a traditional soap. They each might do bad things, but their motives are pure.

“It is not simply about the acquisition of power and money, I think those things are both secondary to them. I think it’s about holding on to people they love.”

The ace in the hole for ‘Lone Star’ is its charismatic lead, James Wolk, who is already drawing comparisons to Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights.” The part of Bob Allen was originally written for an older actor, but Wolk, whose previous credit of note was as a teacher with Tourette’s Syndrome in “Front of the Class,” won the producers over.

“He was actually skittish about taking the role,” Lippman said, “because he wanted to make sure that we really wanted him. … We hadn’t seen him in a lot of stuff. It was all about what happened in the room.”

Said Wolk: “Originally, it was written a bit older – however old I appear to you – it was significantly older than that. It was a question of, ‘Can I be honest and true in this role, and can I do justice to an audience that would watch and actually believe in it?’ We figured out after a few auditions that yes, this could work, and I was elated.”

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