Now that we're in the middle of November, it's a bit clearer to see which new shows that premiered with much fanfare this fall have failed miserably and which have succeeded. ABC's "Revenge" easily is part of the latter category as the soapy drama has been trouncing timeslot competitors "CSI" and "Law & Order: SVU" in the coveted adult viewers 18-49. What is it about this "The Count of Monte Cristo" retelling starring Emily VanCamp as a revenge-bent young woman stirring up trouble in the Hamptons that is pulling in the viewers? The best person to ask is "Revenge" creator/Executive Producer Mike Kelley, who spoke with our Jim Halterman last week about initially casting key roles on the show, the evolution of the revenge plan of Emily Thorne (VanCamp's character) and what we'll see in tonight's episode now that the real Emily Thorne (Margarita Levieva) has turned up.
Jim Halterman: Are you okay with people calling 'Revenge' a soap opera? Or do you take offense to that?
Mike Kelley: No, I think as long as it's entertaining you and you're watching you can call it anything you want. I think it's good mystery, it's good soap [but] it's not directly inside the soap box, if that makes any sense. It has a lot of different themes and it's a fresh take, I think, on a tried and true format. By the way, I grew up watching nighttime dramas like 'Dynasty,' 'Knots Landing' and 'Melrose Place' and those things so, no, if I fit into that category, I consider that high praise!
JH: Going into the development of the show, I can imagine the challenges in casting the right actresses for the Emily and Victoria characters. And the fact that Emily VanCamp has always played these nice girls on 'Brothers & Sisters' and 'Everwood.' Who knew she would be so great as a bad girl!
MK: Emily's name came up since she's been in the ABC family for awhile and I loved the idea immediately because of what you just said. She's unexpected. You need to be able to get very quickly on the side of somebody who is doing quite diabolical things and the fact that people recognize her as the girl next door and associate her as a sister or an old girlfriend or somebody you trust, that was essential in order to gain sympathy for what happened to this character and to embrace the terrible things she's planning to do with these people.
JH: Madeleine Stowe is also terrific to watch as Victoria. Watching her in the pilot, I couldn't help but wonder, 'Why hasn't she been on a series before now?'
MK: She's very selective. She read the role and actually contacted us after her representation said, 'There's something out there that you should be aware of.' She came in and sat down with myself and Marty Bowen, one of the producers, and we loved her. She's so smart and she's so beautiful and she's game. She's enjoying those wicked turns and I think what she does, because she's such a smart actor, she insists on ungrounding Victoria at moments. She's up for doing anything we write for her as long as we give her moments of humanity and, ultimately, as we get into the back-half of the season, we're going to do a bit of origins work on this character to maybe help the audience understand a little bit more why she is the woman that she is. She brings complexity and craft and a feature credibility that I can't imagine the show without. We got very lucky!
JH: In regards to Emily's plan at this point in the show, is this something you see as a series long plan or will it change season after season?
MK: We've mapped out the season and the emotional arcs inside the structure of her revenge. What happens is we do a flash-forward in the pilot to the engagement party where the murder takes place and at that moment Emily's plans take a hard right angle and things get a bit out of her control. She's now emotionally invested in people she's been meaning to destroy and other people around her are starting to get hurt. There's an examination of what she's doing that takes place in the back part of the season. However, something so rotten, something so diabolical happens to her at the hands of Victoria plus a larger understanding of the conspiracy that brought her father down and a number of key players that will pop up will help push us into the next season.
I think the thing that is great about this show is that it lives in so many places now. There are these individual one-off takedowns like the child psychologist that she locked up and then there's the senator that she exposed for being a philanderer... we've been holding off for awhile because we've been getting so into the drama between our characters but one of the first things that's going to happen as we get into our back-order is that we're going to do a good old traditional take down and it's an exciting one. We're finding the different range of 'Revenge' episodes. We'll have some that are more emotional ones, more shocking ones and more origins and we'll learn a lot. This is a drama that could run for a very long time because one of the turns in the back half of the season is Victoria going after her own revenge and it's not necessarily on Emily.
JH: In the last episode, we met the real Emily Thorne and she's now in the Hamptons. I'm assuming this is something of a game changer but how much talk went into the 'when' of that character's appearance?
MK: We had it pretty well planned when we wanted her to come in. We have an arc for her that is really essential and Frank (Max Martini), the dearly departed, he was getting way too close to what was happening... [VanCamp's] Emily has manipulated this girl by befriending her and will continue to play the sister part but ultimately she's going to use this girl in order to keep her hands clean. However, this girl has an agenda of her own. It's a real exciting turn but we carry her all the way through in the back nine.
JH: Talk to me about that love triangle that is forming with Emily, Jack and Daniel. Both Jack (Nick Wechsler) and Daniel (Josh Bowman) are good guys in their own way so it's tough to pick which one Emily should be with. I've actually seen Team Daniel and Team Jack groups forming on Twitter.
MK: In the blueprint for 'Revenge' and in Emily's head, she had Daniel tagged as this entitled, rich brat who was supposed to be easily expendable as well as her plan to take down Victoria and Conrad (Henry Czerny). But the surprise for her is that this is the guy who has been a victim in so many ways of Victoria and that family so she's finding that she has real emotions for this guy, which is really complicating her plan. Jack, he represents her family and he's all that's really left of that. He's the only one that knew her as the child she was and there's a purity to the feeling that she has when she's around him. They both are feeling a connection to Emily and she's pulled to both of them, too. She's siding with Daniel against his mother and father in so many ways and she's feeling her childhood through Jack so this triangle will continue. It's a huge component of the show and I just want to remind everybody that because this is 'Revenge' and because terrible things happen that good people can turn bad either slowly or quickly so nobody is going to be untouched by the stories coming up. We want to make sure that there's a broad range of possibilities and so at some point Jack may not be as noble as we've seen him.
JH: When a show hits early and starts getting a lot of buzz, sometimes there ends up being a lot of guest stars coming in and we all know some shows use those big names well and others not so much. Are you thinking about that at all as you move further into season one?
MK: We have a really interesting opportunity with actors with a little more notoriety who are brought into this show because we have those one-off revenge episodes and take downs. Quite frankly we're in the middle of trying to figure out who the best actor is for this upcoming big splashy take down. I can tell you that the character is kind of a Dominick Dunne/Truman Capote type but we're talking about how far do we want to go as far as offering it to a celebrity but, really, it's about the best actor for the part. A lot of people have expressed an interest especially Madeleine's friends and co-stars from some of the feature films that she's done. She's worked with some of the best leading men there are and so those names are on the list.
JH: I personally Kevin Costner is ready to do some TV. Just sayin'?
MK: Right?! And you know that Kevin and Madeleine starred in the movie called 'Revenge?'
JH: I do know that!
MK: That should be our first big name. I think you just cast it for us!
"Revenge" airs Wednesdays at 10:00/9:00c on ABC.