Kelley finds right fit with ‘Revenge’

Showrunner talks global appeal, social media and the 1%

The third time truly has been the charm for “Revenge” creator Mike Kelley.

After toiling as exec producer of a couple shows that weren’t ideal fits at their networks (CBS’ “Swingtown” and CW’s “A Beautiful Life”), Kelley has connected with the ABC sudser, which stars Emily VanCamp and Madeleine Stowe, and is an ideal fit at a network where “soap” isn’t seen as a dirty word.

Kelley, a graduate of Indiana U., broke into TV working on young-skewing serialized shows like “One Tree Hill” and “The O.C.,” and also wrote for “Jericho.” The 2008 skein “Swingtown,” which Kelley created, was based on his life watching the ’70s unfold as a kid in Winnetka, Ill., where he attended New Trier High (which has sent numerous other creative types to Hollywood over the years, including Rock Hudson, Ann-Margret, Virginia Madsen and Rainn Wilson).

Kelley’s “Revenge” kicked off its second season Sept. 30 — and the stakes are a little higher. After becoming the network’s first 10 p.m. Wednesday drama hit in years, “Revenge” was promoted in May to take the place of “Desperate Housewives” as ABC’s 9 p.m. Sunday anchor.

About that timeslot…

“It’s a historic timeslot and we want to perform well, so I’m hopeful the audience will follow,” Kelley says. “It seems like (ABC is) really tuned in to what (its) audience wants, and it’s also counterprogramming to football. … It’s a big night for television. There’s a lot of cable shows on that I love, like ‘Homeland’ and ‘Dexter.’ I feel kind of honored to be in that group, but also slightly intimidated.”

Serialized drama vs. procedural

“I love telling serial stories, but I have to say, it’s so challenging to hold all these storylines together. There’s something liberating about telling stories in a more procedural fashion. So I don’t rule out doing that in the future. … I’m always driven by character and by what motivates people. I love delving into the past (of characters) and what’s informed their choices up to the point that we meet them and what their Achilles heels are and what they need to learn.”

‘Counting’on lit inspirations

” ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ was the real inspiration for the whole story, but I like a lot of classic literature, like ‘Crime and Punishment,’ Joseph Conrad and ‘The Secret Sharer’ — things that make you think about right and wrong but through a different lens. … I’m a little bit more of a populist when it comes to TV favorites. I thought ‘Lost’ was groundbreaking … and going back to the soaps that were on when I was a kid, ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Knot’s Landing,’ which was probably my favorite. I remember in college watching ‘Melrose Place’ with everybody … all of my friends would gather around. Good times.”

Avoiding social media

“You try to stay true to your instincts. … I’m not on Facebook, I’m not on Twitter. … I made a conscious decision to stay away as much as I can. … I have an awesome sister who filters a lot of the darker things that people are saying, and try not to take it personally. She sends me the fun posts on Facebook and on Twitter as the show is airing. … So that helps.”

The 1% angle

“The timing of the show was fortuitous for us. The 1% getting their comeuppance is always something that is fun to see … that’s sort of the bread and butter of a lot nighttime drama over the course of the past several decades. Each time that there seems to be a greater (income) disparity shows like ‘Revenge’ seem to do better and better — like ‘Dynasty’ coming along in the ’80s.”

The show’s global appeal

“I’m grateful but not surprised (about “Revenge” playing in 48 countries) because Dumas’ ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ is sort of in all cultures, and every culture has its own opinion about revenge and what it’s all about. The fact that it’s very popular in Japan and Australia, where revenge is embedded in the culture, it’s not a big surprise to me. It may actually be more of a global drive than it is in the younger nations like the United States.”

Planning ahead

“I know exactly how I want the show to end. How we get there, I’m leaving flexible because I want to honor the commitment we have with the network and studio. So, I don’t want to say that I have two seasons or three seasons or four seasons. … I know the themes of each season, and then you do a little bit of work in terms of flexibility, but I do have it mapped out. There are several ways we can get there.”

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