Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): How J.J. Abrams pitched 'Revolution'

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Abrams and Kripke settled into their seats across from NBC’s executive team, which included entertainment president Jennifer Salke and entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt. After the refreshments were offered and the niceties concluded, Abrams gestured at the 15th floor window and jam-packed 101 freeway beyond.

“Look out the window here, at this crazy rat race of life in L.A.,” Abrams said. “‘Now imagine right now that everything stopped.”

All the executives, Salke recalled, “immediately leaned in.”

Not just cars and lights outside, Abrams continued, but everything in this office — these computers, Blackberrys, everything is dead. How would you get home? Where are your kids, your parents? How would reach them?

“What was important,” Abrams said later, “was to really get them to stop for a minute and consider what they would do.” Only after some playful discussion about how each person in the room would react to the crisis did producers launch into the show’s story, about a young girl teaming with her warrior uncle on a quest to rescue her kidnapped brother.

It was exactly the sort of higher-than-high concept NBC wanted. The network hadn’t a hit drama since 2006’s Heroes. And even after big-idea disappointments like The Cape and The Event, executives believed that only a really bold project could break though the heavy fall competition and spark a creative revival. “We couldn’t just put out a cop show,” Salke says.

A few months later, Kripke turned in his script. But Salke proposed a rather huge change. His story was exclusively focused on teenage Charlie’s quest. The NBC executive suggested making the series more of an ensemble epic series: More characters, higher stakes. Kripke dove back in, and revamped the story, expanding the scope. “Eric made a Herculean effort to address all those things in a very short period of time,” Abrams says.

Producers quickly scooped up Giancarlo Esposito off his Emmy-nominated performance in AMC’s Breaking Bad to play Monroe’s congenially psychotic Capt. Tom Neville. But casting the Han Solo-inspired Miles proved far tougher. Production started on the pilot with the role unfilled and Billy Burke on board as Gen. Monroe.

Burke, best known as Bella’s glum dad in the Twilight films, had lobbied for the Miles, but producers just didn’t see it. Then Kripke and pilot director Jon Favreau watched the actor dominate a scene as the show’s villain. “We turned to each other and asked, ‘Why isn’t it Billy?’ Kripke recalls. “[We realized] anyone we cast as Miles he’s going to blow off the screen.”

With the cast was in place, producers had another issue. The title. Kripke’s first choice was Revolution, but there was a new daytime ABC talk show with the same name. Producers considered Downfall, Uprising, Blackout and more. “J.J. and I were kicking around crazy ones — Transistor, Resistor, Transponder,” Kripke says. Then ABC cancelled their Revolution and suddenly the title was available.

NBC gave Revolution its best fall drama slot, airing after The Voice at 10 p.m. on Monday nights. Premiere ratings surprised, delivering the biggest drama premiere in the valuable adult demo on any network in three years, and pulling the biggest DVR gain of any drama on the air. Since then, the show’s numbers have slipped, yet Revolution still easily rules its time slot. Revolution will face a new challenge after its midseason finale airs at the end of November, taking an extended break before returning March 25. The gap allows NBC to keep Revolution paired with The Voice for the back half of the season.

Read more:
Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): How ‘Revolution’ created a world without electricity
More of EW.com’s Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) coverage

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