|Rachel Nichols with creator Barry on the set of Continuum
Continuum, the new Showcase drama which premieres tonight, starts off in the near future–the year 2077. When I met creator/executive producer Simon Barry in March on the Vancouver set of the series, however, we wound up talking more about the past.
Specifically, the many series he tried to get off the ground before hitting pay dirt with Continuum. “I’ve written many un-produced pilots,” says Barry. “I’ve been trying for ten years now to get a show on the air in terms of developing and selling ideas. So this feels like a ten year overnight success.”
Barry was sitting in a drab police captain’s office on the set for the interview. There was nothing futuristic about the set. The non-descript area, which overlooked the Vancouver waterfront down by the casino and sports arenas, was a perfectly bland facsimile of a modern day police office.
Barry had almost resigned himself to the notion that he was going to continue to make a pretty good living as a writer without ever actually having a series on the air. But after rejection after rejection, he was getting discouraged. When he sat down two years ago to create Continuum, he really tried to create something more marketable, a project he could throw himself into that would also be more likely to succeed.
“I knew that the police world was something I wanted to focus on, but I wanted to add a layer of mythology,” he says. He had seen how shows like Prison Break and Life on Mars move into areas that kind of crossed genres, so he set about to combine a conventional cop show with science fiction.
Barry says he hasn’t actually worked in television since the mid-’90s. Back then he was an assistant cameraman on Vancouver-based shows like The Outer Limits. The UBC grad branched out into screenwriting, penning the 2000 feature film The Art of War.
Now that he has his own series to produce, he didn’t want to dwell too much about those projects that got away–partially because there are a few he’d still like to resurrect.
One was an adaptation of a Harlan Coben novel. “I was about ten years too early with that one,” he says.
Another sounds like it could still make for a pretty kick-ass series. It even has a great title: Skunk.
It was based on the real life adventures of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a guitarist who toured and recorded with both the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan in the ’70s.
“I met him, and found out that he had the highest security clearance of any civilian in the nation. He has a real brain for technology,” says Barry.
The guy was basically a traveling musician by night, a consultant for the department of defense by day. “He had the perfect cover–rock star,” says Barry.
CBS liked the idea and ordered a script. “My timing was wrong, or the script wasn’t what the network was looking for,” says Barry. For whatever reason, Skunk stayed in the cage.
|Cassar (between Nichols and Victor Webster) shamelessly
sports Leafs garb on the Vancouver set of Continuum
For Continuum, Barry wrote three of the ten scripts with Jeff King (Due South, E.N.G., Shattered) brought in to set the table and get the series on its feet. “I got very lucky that Jeff King came on board,” says Barry, who knew networks would be very reluctant to let a rookie producer run his own show. King acted as both original showrunner and mentor, handing the series over to Barry when he had to move on to other projects.
Having a proven action/drama director like Jon Cassar (24, Terra Nova) helm the first two episodes hasn’t hurt either.
The series is developed and produced by Reunion Pictures in association with Shaw Media. Instead of a pilot, Shaw went ahead and ordered 10 first season episodes.
Casting the right woman for the lead was key, they all agreed. Cassar, King and Barry had to move fast when Showcase put a hurry up on the series. To play a cop from the future who is sent back to 2012 along with a gang of terrorists, the producers knew they needed a very specific type. “We went through the top female actors in the world who might be capable of pulling this off,” says Barry.
Rachel Nichols auditioned for the part in New York. Barry admits he was really only familiar with her feature work in Star Trek and G.I. Joe art the time. He and the others went back and watched her on Criminal Minds and Alias. “We realized she was a great talent who could hit all the numbers we were looking for,” he says. “Once we had her on place, we could cast everyone.”
Continuum premieres Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase.