Hello Eureka fans,
First, I would like to thank every one of the cast, crew and creators of Eureka who made this special report possible. Many thanks also to Kenn and Patricia of WormholeRiders News Agency for the privilege in posting my special report here at WHR for your enjoyment.
It is the back-end of August 2011 in British Columbia, and at both Vancouver Film Studios and in the mountain ranges surrounding the city affectionately referred to as “Hollywood North,” film crews are hurriedly filming scenes that will appear in the series finale of the television series Eureka.
Less than a month earlier, the same cast and crew thought a different script – one that ended on a cliffhanger to lead into an expected sixth season – would be the last one produced. But the financial realities of the television industry, coupled with the costs involved to produce the long-running – albeit popular – property, instead closed the door on the series.
While it leaves the airwaves on a creative high, the unexpected cancellation left the series in a lurch as the finale for the year had already been written and prepped to start filming. However, after massive fan outcry and co-creator Jaime Paglia’s impassioned plea to end the series on its own terms, a final additional episode was commissioned to wrap up not just the cliffhanger, but the series’ other loose ends and dense mythology. It was the final challenge for a series that has always defied the odds and been a risk-taker by nature.
The origins and fantastical stories of the fictional Oregon town have already been created and shared with its audiences. But to better appreciate its legacy, it is necessary to look to the past with members of the series’ cast, crew, producers and co-creator. What follows is the true story of a little town called Eureka.
Had the initial line of thought for the series’ concept held firm, the Eureka audiences would have seen a drastically different one than what ended up on television screens down the road. After Paglia’s writing partner and Eureka co-creator, Andrew Cosby, sold his first television project, the duo began brainstorming ideas for potential series ideas in the summer of 2002.
“Andy and I had just written a feature film for Akiva Goldsman and Mark Canton. We had been completely focused on features. Then Andy got a foothold in TV and asked, if I was going to create a series, what would I want to do? I’d grown up in this tiny town, Warrenton, Oregon, and I really loved the dynamics of those people. Small towns provide such a unique backdrop for storytelling and allow you to get to know the characters.
So I referenced shows like Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure,” Paglia said. “Andy was a big fan of those shows, along with series like The X-Files and The Twilight Zone. We went through our laundry lists of old ideas to see if we could find a spark of something that would be interesting.”
What emerged was a logline for a half-hour animated series featuring a Homer Simpson-type father raising a Lisa Simpson-type daughter whose IQ tested so high that they were invited to move to a town where geniuses lived. They reassessed the concept and decided it may be better suited to a one-hour live-action format, with drama and sci-fi elements thrown into the comedy mix. By the end of lunch, they had the basic premise of a U.S. Marshal who stumbles onto a secret government think-tank town in the Pacific Northwest, and by helping save the day when an experiment goes awry, he’s reassigned to be the town sheriff.
“I went off and started developing characters and a history for the town,” Paglia notes. “Andy was shooting the first episodes of his series (for the now-defunct UPN Network) called Haunted. I’d go sit on set and we’d kick around ideas and that’s how the show and the concept that stuck were born.”
The series’ bible was written over that summer, and the duo prepared to shop the series around. With the concept being a natural fit for its target audience – and with the cable network beginning to produce its own original scripted programming – Syfy (then still “Sci-Fi”) bought the series pre-emptively in March of 2003. Paglia and Cosby’s joy at the sale was short-lived though, as their first roadblock reared its head.
“NBC merged with Universal, and that sort of derailed getting the pilot pick-up for awhile. It put the pilot on hold while everyone was trying to decide what projects were going to get tossed and which ones [had a shot]. So we thought we were done at that point.”
Thankfully, fate chose to intervene as a few months later, one of NBC-Universal’s new executives would read the pilot script and become enamored with it, giving the series’ journey to TV screens the kick-start it needed. Paglia and Cosby were back on-track, and began assembling a team to help produce the pilot of a series idea conceived over a lunch more than a year earlier. Their next step: building a talented cast.
The main characters in Eureka each had their own specialized roles to play in the structure of the series and making the concept work properly. To give audiences a jumping-in point – someone they could identify with within a town of super-high intellects and scientists – the character of “Jack Carter” was born.
As a U.S. Marshal, Carter would stumble upon the town of Eureka by accident. By pilot’s end, his ability to think “outside the box” yet retain an “everyman” sensibility (in sharp contrast to Eureka’s residents) landed him the job of new town sheriff. Paglia and Cosby found their “Carter” in actor Colin Ferguson, who had just recently come off of NBC’s failed attempt to remake the British comedy Coupling for American audiences.
“It was pilot season, I was going through it and this was a one-hour comedy drama, which I really wanted to do. I didn’t necessarily think it was going to happen, but this came along and I said, ‘Oh, that’s great! That’s really the tone of what I’m thinking,’” Ferguson recollected. “It came along early in the season and it was on Syfy and I thought cable would be good because I’d done two shorter-lived network shows and I really wanted to do something that had a chance to be on the air for a little bit
“It seemed like a good thing, but it wasn’t until I walked in and Jaime [Paglia] was in the room that I knew. Because I usually do what I do and people go, ‘Oh no, we don’t want that. We want no comedy, really be strong and manly,’ and Jaime was like, ‘No, no! That’s exactly what we want. We want a humor undertone to it.’ So it was a perfect storm.”
The majority of initial issues that Carter would need to fix came as the result of failed or faulty experiments conducted at Global Dynamics, Eureka’s main employer and a government-contracted company whose charter was to harness the brainpower of the town’s residents for scientific breakthroughs with both consumer and (more importantly) military applications. Cast in the role of Allison Blake, a liaison for the Department of Defense and a potential love interest for Carter was actress and Chicago-native Salli Richardson-Whitfield. The role was one she was hesitant to initially pursue.
“At first, I didn’t read for it because it was in Vancouver. I love Vancouver, it’s very nice, but I didn’t want to be away from home. But it just kept coming back around and I’d test for other shows and didn’t get them and they kept asking,” Richardson-Whitfield notes. “Then when I saw the script … there are just not that many roles that are this challenging and well-rounded.”
“What I really loved was that, initially – maybe I saw one other woman of color at the audition. But they were so open to cast me, even though I don’t think the character was initially supposed to be a black woman. They just went with me because, when I came in, they thought I fit perfectly with Carter. They were blind to everything else and I really appreciated them looking at it that way.”
Cast in the role of Henry Deacon, a Global Dynamics scientist and the town’s “jack of all trades” was actor Joe Morton. Morton likely had the most visibility with audiences at the time after his work in high-profile Hollywood hits like Speed and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. His involvement in Eureka’s pilot ended up being the result of fortuitous timing, even if the character was a bit more undefined than the rest initially.
“I was actually doing an episode of House!” Morton explains. “And the director (Peter O’Fallon) of that episode of House ended up being the same director for the pilot of Eureka, and he recommended me. At the beginning though, with the pilot, I don’t think they knew where he was going to go. [We were] playing with the idea that he was a guy with a really dark past. He’d lived in and out of the bottle after whatever happened in his past. And he had been brought to GD (Global) as a way to pull himself back together again. He was not a team player and never really was.”
Brought in to portray “Josephine ‘Jo’ Lupo,” Carter’s strong-willed deputy – one who immediately holds an initial grudge against him since his arrival costs her the sheriff position – was actress Erica Cerra. A native Vancouver actress, Cerra had already spent the last several years in guest roles on various genre series. It’s the type of material she has always held dearly.
“My dad was a Trekkie so I grew up watching Star Trek and you name it, I watched it,” Cerra said. “I’m really a huge fan of anything sci-fi and fantasy oriented. And I love doing character stuff. It’s really what I have the most fun with, when you get to embody a character, rather than just being yourself onscreen.”
To round out the cast, young actress Jordan Hinson was brought in to portray Carter’s wayward daughter, Zoe, and another Vancouver actor, Neil Grayston, filled the now-unforgettable role of Douglas Fargo, then an assistant to the head of Global Dynamics. While the role of Fargo became much more important over the years to the series, in the beginning it was envisioned as strictly a small and recurring role. Grayston recalled his enthusiasm for the pilot.
“I really liked the pilot script. It just sort of jumped off the page. It was one of those that I think I sat down and read it all in one go,” Grayston recalls. “I was done in like forty minutes or something. And then I re-read it and you could really see who the characters were and everything. It was nice to have something so well-written and fun.”
“He just wasn’t a huge character in the pilot. And once we got [the pick-up to series], I was really only contracted to be in seven episodes, but they just kept throwing me in there and giving me stuff to do, so it was nice.”
With the script, cast and crew in place, production on the pilot commenced on Vancouver Island in 2004 with cast and crew traveling to locations by float plane and staying in hotels. The strength of the pilot finally earned the series an initial eleven-episode order to join the two-hour pilot creating a first season of twelve episodes. The pickup came almost a full-year after production of the pilot, with the first season episodes being produced in 2005. Almost a full four years after their initial brainstorming lunch, Paglia and Cosby’s vision for the series was fulfilled as the pilot episode aired on Syfy on Tuesday, July 18, 2006.
It was an untested format and a gamble for the network, a genre-series without the normal trappings of planets, stars, aliens and spacecraft. In addition, the cast and crew were unaware of whether or not the series would connect with audiences as the entire first season was completed prior to the airdate of Eureka’s premiere. Their answers would arrive much sooner than anyone imagined.
When the ratings for Eureka’s premiere came in, no one was prepared for the success it had become. It was the number-one series for the evening on cable, topping all other programming on any other network. In the end, more than four million people would tune into the premiere, making it the highest-rated series premiere in Syfy’s history, a record that still stands today.
“I had been managing my expectations about how well we’d do,” says Paglia. “But it wasn’t until Mark Stern called and told us the numbers and put it into context that we really realized that we may be on to something and that people were connecting with it. We were making it in a vacuum. Such an insular environment. We just didn’t know. And it took awhile to sink in. The first [San Diego] Comic-Con that we went to, we had a panel and there were about 2500 people in the room, standing-room only. And one of the first questions that came to us was ‘When did you know you were a hit?’ and I responded ‘Right now!’ It was a surreal experience.”
The rest of the first season of the show was mostly intact from the pilot, with the exception of one major casting change. After the season pick-up was approved, actor Ed Quinn was brought into the series to play “Nathan Stark,” the new head of Global Dynamics and ex-husband of Allison Blake, immediately creating an antagonistic dynamic with Carter and the basis for a “love triangle” subplot that would carry on for the first few seasons. It was a role he almost didn’t play.
“The casting process was pretty crazy. Eureka had been picked up to series, but they were casting the role of ‘Nathan Stark’ during pilot season. I had just tested for an ABC show, so I almost didn’t go on the audition for Eureka,” Quinn recalls. “When I did not get that show, I ran over to Eureka last minute. By the time Eureka wanted to test me, I was already testing for another ABC show (Men In Trees) in first position (meaning that one took preference contractually). I went from my network test at ABC to the Sci-Fi Channel building and waited for my attorney to call and tell me whether or not I got the ABC show. When I didn’t, I went up to the Eureka test. The rest is history.”
While Stark would be initially annoyed with Carter, the duo would eventually build a mutual respect for each other. The dynamic and snappy dialogue between the two would become a mainstay that fans loved. Quinn is quick to point out why it worked so well.
“Colin and I had ‘chemistry.’ He and I are really good friends, and when we get on set together, something clicks. Chemistry is something every show wants, every show tries to manufacture, but to get it… well, you gotta get lucky. And in Season One, that relationship was given a lot room to grow. It was really fun, and I think that came through on screen. It was so cool when the audience responded the way it did,” Quinn said. “That being said, I give a lot of credit to Colin. He’s a comedic genius. He knows innately how to turn a joke. He sets jokes up perfectly. Sure, I’d hit the punch line, but at lot of the time it was his reactions that were comedy gold.”
The rest of the first season would continue to find a very strong audience, and Paglia is quick to point out some of the episodes that he felt were done the most justice – by balancing both the emotional and scientific aspects with equal weight.
“I was really a fan of ‘Many Happy Returns’ and doing something different with the idea of cloning,” Paglia said. “A woman finds out that her ex-husband cloned her, and had a child with that clone. And now her ex-husband and her clone have died, but they had a son who is [now orphaned]. It’s biologically hers, but she’s never met him before. It brought up interesting issues, like emotional attachments and obligations and whether she should have any. It was an interesting character story.”
“The finale, ‘Once In A Lifetime’ also remains one of my favorites. We wrote it under such deadlines, prepping the episode three days before the first draft of the script was done. But I think it’s ultimately the episode where we found the right balance between real, emotional, character-driven drama and keeping the humor that’s sort of the signature of our show. Colin and Joe just really brought it, especially in the episode’s final minutes. It’s the episode we used as a benchmark for what we could do when we went into Season Two.”
The series would return to screens almost precisely a year later for another thirteen episodes, with the season premiere again being the most-watched program on all cable networks for the day. But it did so without the partnership with Cosby, who had opted to move onto other projects, leaving Paglia with the creative reins for the foreseeable future. But the series wouldn’t miss a beat, with both critical approval and fan momentum continuing to rise. But while Paglia cites several episodes as ones he loves, he’s not above criticizing an episode or two if he feels it didn’t live up to its potential
“If we had more time, we could have done a better job with ‘Primal,’ which was the “multiple Stark” episode. It was actually a story that we had thrown out, but when we needed to fill a slot last minute, we brought it back to life and re-broke it in record time,” Paglia recalls. “We’ve always had this rule within the series bible where we wouldn’t cross the line between science fiction and magic. And I think that episode crossed the line. The suspension of disbelief was just too much, at least for me. It’s one I wish we could have done differently. But ironically, it’s a fan favorite.”
Also a fan favorite was a recurring character who would eventually become a series regular – slacker genius Zane Donovan, portrayed by Niall Matter. The character, who would become a love interest for Cerra’s “Lupo,” was meant to bring an “X-factor” to the series, someone who would shake up the mix of personalities – a conceit that Matter was happy to oblige.
“When I got the breakdown for Eureka, I read the character description of Zane and I just thought, ‘This is me! I’m that guy!’” Matter remembers. “It’s not like Zane didn’t want to give back in the beginning. He stole money and then he donated it. He was always someone who wanted to give back. He just didn’t necessarily agree with authority. I’ve been there!”
The series would continue to flourish and end Season Two on a high note. Syfy took notice and rewarded the series with an extended episode order for Season Three, granting Paglia and company eighteen episodes instead of the typical thirteen. But any sense of complacency the series might have felt was about to disappear, as the theme of Season Three – not just behind the scenes but within the series itself – would focus primarily on one thing: change.
Season Three of the series was very much a transitional season on many fronts, both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera. With eighteen episodes to play with, the decision was made to make the year more story-arc driven than in previous years, with two major subplots occurring in either half of the season. And the “mystery of the Artifact” plot-thread, one that had been in play since the series premiere, was essentially abandoned.
Also retired from the series was the character of Nathan Stark – actor Ed Quinn would take his leave from the show after only a handful of episodes at the beginning of the third year. But contrary to some speculation, the decision to remove the character from the series was always story-based and not precipitated by any other issues.
“We felt like we were treading water a bit with the love triangle with Carter, Allison and Stark. And we didn’t want to,” Paglia said. “There are only so many ways that you can have a main character saying ‘Carter, you’re stupid’ before you go, ‘OK, this dynamic is starting to wear thin.’ So we brainstormed what to do to shake things up and have emotional ramifications that would carry forward and change things. “And killing a main character is one of the best ways to do that. We also wanted the audience to know this was a show where anything can happen and that we weren’t afraid to take those risks.”
“We missed Ed [when he left]. But one of the strange strengths of this show is its additional characters and ability to bounce back,” Ferguson said. “It opened other avenues. And a show that goes down because they lost a person was going to go down anyway. You have to be stronger than one person. And we have a great ensemble.”
While the season was always envisioned as having two separate halves, the production of it was also split, as the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007-2008 forced production on additional storylines to cease after the finished scripts had been completed. Faced with an incomplete series order, Syfy made the decision to air only the first 8 episodes of the season in the summer of 2008. With the strike completed, production on the rest of the season’s episode order was finished and the remaining episodes aired in the summer of 2009. By that point, Syfy had already rewarded the series with a fourth season order of twenty more episodes that were already well into production.
Plot lines in the back half of Year Three also mirrored the concept of change. Allison Blake would discover she was pregnant with Stark’s daughter and give birth before the season would end, a plot device meant to work around actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s real-life pregnancy. Fans hoping to see a budding romantic relationship build between Carter and Allison were forced to wait longer as “Dr. Tess Fontana,” played by Jaime Ray Newman, entered the picture as a potential – and ultimately failed – love interest for Carter. And series regular Jordan Hinson would leave the series as a permanent member at season’s end when Zoe leaves for college.
After what was a somewhat tumultuous season marked by some large shifts in both plotlines and production, you might believe the series was ready to take a breather, relax and rest on its laurels for a while. But as the series entered Season Four, it would do the unthinkable. It’s one thing to “press the reset button” on a series, and another thing to hold that button down indefinitely. Accustomed to challenges, Eureka chose the latter.
The Season Four premiere would find Jack Carter nursing a broken heart and getting ready to enjoy Founders’ Day, a festival celebrating the town’s origins. By the end of the show’s first episode, any notion viewers had for where the season’s journey would take them were completely obliterated as a time-traveling accident to 1947 – combined with some meddling with the timeline – returns them to a Eureka far different from the one they left.
“Camp Eureka was an idea I’d wanted to do since Season One, but we put it on the backburner because we wanted the show to earn it. You want to get to know characters before you reveal secrets about them or turn things on their head,” Paglia said. “Season One was too soon. Season Two was still too soon. And Season Three, with the strike and other production issues, it would have been cost-prohibitive since we wouldn’t be using standing sets, props and costumes. Period episodes are a huge challenge.”
“Originally, the Season Four order was going to be for 22 episodes. We were going to do a two-hour movie, and then twenty episodes. Bruce Miller, who was co-showrunning with me by this point (after joining the staff as a consulting producer mid-way through Season Two) suggested maybe now would be the right time to do this idea,” Paglia said. “And even though the order dropped to twenty, we got attached to this idea, and we had a slightly bigger budget for the season premiere that we thought could maybe pull it off.
We had always planned that when they returned from [the 1940’s] there would be some small change. And in discussing what that would be, like the Archimedes statue, or the décor in Café Diem, it hit us: “We don’t have to limit ourselves to changing one thing. We can change anything. We can change everything!”
That idea set in motion a flood of story possibilities, many of which had already been bandied about in the writer’s room. Co-showrunners Paglia and Miller had put together a largely new writing/producing staff between seasons, bringing on former NBC/Universal Studio production executive Todd Sharp as a co-executive producer, along with co-EP/writers Eric Tuchman, Amy Berg, Ron Milbauer & Terri Hughes Burton, and Jill Blotevogel, co-producer Paula Yoo, story editor Eric Wallace, staff writers Kira Snyder and Ed Fowler (and later, John Herrera & Nina Fiore). The team quickly mapped out the arc for the season.
“We always felt like we wanted Fargo to eventually grow and become the head of Global Dynamics. We had wanted to find a new love interest for Henry. We were at a point where we felt like it would be interesting to finally put Carter and Allison together,” Paglia said. “And we really wanted to get Jo into GD so that she could have her own domain and be her own boss. And we said ‘Wouldn’t it be great to just have it all happen in one fell swoop?’ And have the characters struggling to figure things out, without being able to tell anyone.”
They brought the proposed storyline to Syfy, and the network loved the idea. But the inevitable question of when things would revert to normal came up. When Paglia and Miller said, “They don’t,” it raised eyebrows.
“It was a serious discussion,” Paglia recollects. “The network felt like it may be something that would hurt the franchise. But we reasoned through it with them…that our audience has been so completely loyal and has followed us through three different time-slots on three different nights after nine-month hiatuses. They believed they could handle this, too. And we were extremely lucky that our execs supported us.”
Actor James Callis, whose brilliant work on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had won him many fans, was brought in to play “Dr. Trevor Grant,” one of Eureka’s founders and co-inventor (along with Albert Einstein) of the Bridge device that brings the Eureka gang to the past — and Grant into the future. In addition, the Season Four premiere introduced Tembi Locke to the series as “Dr. Grace Monroe.” Initially someone that Henry meets briefly in passing, he returns to the altered Eureka to find that he is married to her. Locke finds the character extremely gratifying.
“Grace really leads from her heart. Her intellect certainly has its place. It’s what has gotten her where she is professionally and it’s what Henry really [learns to] love and enjoy about her,” Locke said. “But she is also really heartfelt, which is why the arc of them having the difficulty in their relationship and then having to find their way back, I could really put my hooks into that. I love that as an actor.”
Season Four also introduced two other new recurring characters to the series: “Dr. Isaac Parrish,” portrayed by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, and “Dr. Holly Marten,” played by geek goddess Felicia Day. Both served to enhance storylines for Douglas Fargo with Marten envisioned as a potential love interest and Parrish being an adversarial nemesis in both matters at Global and in Fargo’s budding relationship with Holly. Actress Ming-Na, fresh off a two-year stint on Stargate Universe was also brought in to portray “Senator Michaela Wen,” a character whose arc would last well into the next season.
What was a matter of necessity in Season Three became a matter of choice for Season Four as Syfy took the series’ fourth year and stretched it out over two separate summers, airing the first half in 2010 and the latter half in 2011. In the back half of the season, Fargo and Zane would unwittingly launch themselves into outer space, and their solution to get home would later launch a new intiative for Global Dynamics — conducting the first manned mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
The construction of the ship that would carry them (the Astraeus), preparations for the trip, and the disasters Carter would need to avert as a result, would guide the storylines through the end of the season. Though same-day ratings for the series had begun to decrease by this point (as DVR numbers grew), the series was still a juggernaut for the network and a Season Five renewal was handed down early on, well before the summer 2011 episodes of Season Four had aired. While viewers were just getting back into the groove that summer, production was already very much underway on Eureka’s fifth – and what would be final – season.
We will be back with part two of my Eureka special report soon!
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