Greg Plageman is a person of interest. He's been writing and producing television you love for a long time, including NYPD Blue, Law & Order, Cold Case and Person of Interest (as creator and showrunner) among others.
As you know, at the end of Taken Season 1, the show was about ready to undergo a reboot. At that time, Plageman took the reins as showrunner.
On a set visit this fall, we had the pleasure of sitting with him for a fantastic conversation about the direction of the show and television in general. It lasted for close to an hour, and he proved why there is so much success behind his name.
It would be impossible to share the entirety of the conversation with you, and I'm going to let his words speak for himself on the crucial topics. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed having it.
Refocusing on Bryan Mills
For us, for me, when I looked at the show, I thought this is a really exciting opportunity, but what I was more interested in is this franchise feeling closer to the film franchise. I think everybody sort of felt that and I think that was what drew me to the show and wanting to focus the show a little bit more on Bryan Mills' character.
For me, I love the resourcefulness of Bryan Mills in the films. Here was a guy obviously he was more of a father figure and his daughter being taken in the original film. It immediately creates this personal sort of drive to get her back that everyone can relate to.
He's obviously a man capable of extreme violence. A man with a very special skill set, but it's all in the service of something personal. That's very difficult to continue within the television show.
What I want to do is refocus on Bryan Mills. Let's see that resourcefulness. Let's see that guy when thrust in a certain situation can take the mantle of someone's situation on and make the situation right for them. That's what we refer to as our emotional stakeholder, and we have to establish that each week in the show.
It's "who is the person I care about? Who is the person that he's trying to make this right for?" That's the tricky aspect of doing the show, but I think it's one we're able to pull off.
The other thing I felt a little bit into Season One was the promise of the film was always "I'm a man with a very special set of skills" and I felt like a number of the other characters from Taken Season 1 also had those special skills, so there was a certain amount of redundancy that I didn't feel was exceptionalism and I wanted to understand what made this guy special.
We're sort of looking at this as almost a reboot of the show and then say "Listen, he can't do it all on his own and how can we bring in complementary pieces with people who actually have a very specific skill that's very different from Bryan Mills that can help him in the field?"
That's Adam Goldberg, obviously and Jessica Camacho are the two people brought on. But it's clearly Bryan Mills, and Clive's character are the driving force of the show. Jennifer Beals is fantastic as a handler that we love and we felt like she needed a new home, so that's where we are right here.
Villain of the Week and Overarching Storytelling
I think there's a certain amount of monster bad-guy-of-the-week and I love doing a show where you can tell a very satisfying closed-end story with an element of mystery, an element of intrigue. "What's happening in this world that we're entering into every week?"
You can close that off, but I also like dribs and drabs and elements of serialized "Oh, who's that guy? Is he coming back?" We were already doing that in the show. I think for the hardcore viewer, you've got something you finally can say, "Where's he taking us with this story?" But also for the person who just dropped in say "You know what?
I don't know who that person was necessarily, but I can follow this storyline, and it's still a very satisfying show to watch week to week." Where you can miss an episode. You come back in and still understand what's going on. I think, to me, that's an absolute necessity of broadcast television particularly if you're telling anything over a 10-episode series.
We live in an age of binge-watching, streaming and this show, I believe, will have that option as well, but I think when you're broadcasting live, it's like a viewers will come into a show if they don't understand what's happening in the show, then they drop out right away. So 16 episodes to me, that's the only sustainable model and hopefully more in going forward.
The New Characters
I was looking for something in the show where I could feel like these characters know each other. There's a chemistry there. I'm learning a little bit more of their backstory as we go along. For me, Adam Goldberg's character Kilroy is a mystery.
He's the guy that Jennifer Beals put away at one point in time, but she realizes he has a very special set of skills. I think there was a technical aspect of the show that I wanted to reach out and make the show feel current in terms of what's going on in the world. You know we just had the Russians hack our election.
It's "Let's live in that world" and "Who's a guy that can really help us?" Also, Adam's a really funny guy, but he's also got this darker side. We've all seen sort of the hacker character in these shows, but I think they can veer into cliché. "What's a different version of that?"
He's a little bit older and seen some things, and this guy's been out there, and he's done some things even for foreign states and half of them that may want to incarcerate him. Maybe he's wanted at The Hague.
We don't know. Peeling away pieces of, "who is this guy and what did he do in his past and how can he help us going forward and how do we bring that guy into the team?"
Adam's character, obviously, is situated more here, but I think it becomes more fun when we start to find ways to put him into the field.
Jessica Camacho, Santana, is a really cool character. I feel like we live in a really interesting world. Some of the things that DARPA's doing. I almost see her as the Garcia of the show. She's a logi or logistician so she can get you anything. She will get any supplies that you want.
I feel like who's that person when we go into a foreign nation-state that can blitz everything through customs and get you that one thing you need to get through the door and that's who Santana's character is. She's got a fantastic chemistry already with Adam and Kilroy's character, and I think a really great chemistry we're seeing between her and Clive's character as well.
More History on Bryan Mills and Christina Hart
I think for us, we wanted to know more about Bryan Mills' backstory. Obviously, we knew what had happened in Season One with his sister, and we met his parents briefly. It was "What do I really know about this guy?"
I'm "Here's an opportunity to show some flashbacks to learn more about what happened to this guy and why was he different. What was so special about this guy?" We're refocusing, and I also think Christina Hart's character coming to a realization "Oh, I got a different animal here." Refocusing the show around this.
Understanding that for us, the show should be in some ways more about prevention. If we can anticipate the thing that's about to go. It's calamitous, then he can come, and he can do that sort of blunt instrument that goes in there, but then we have these other characters, too that are offering a skill set that allows him to do what he does best.
I also would love to know more about Christina Hart's character, and we're going to have flashback episodes all about her and who makes her the person she is. She seems a very reserved person and closed off in many ways. It's "What happened in her life that would make her that way?" We're going to have a whole episode about that as well.
I think with a smaller cast like this, we have an opportunity to really visit those backstories and know more about them and they become their own sort of odd family.
A Team with More Freedom, Based on Real Heroes
One of the things I was thinking about, she's often reporting to the DNI last year, and it felt very formal in some ways. I would love to take them a little bit more off the grid, and a little bit more like have their own private security firm. It's totally deniable by the government.
Eric Prince and Blackwater have their own sort of diabolical version. It's not called Blackwater anymore. He's changed the name like three times, but that's the guy that the Administration turns to when you say "Oh, you don't have to send soldiers. We'll send in our guys."
And the next thing you know we have some atrocity committed in Iraq. That's not the version ... what is the version there? Someone can solicit a go-to person maybe Casey who she worked with last year and say "I need to do my own thing.
It's from the Black Ops budget, but in some ways, we'll do these jobs for you, but maybe it's only one for you and the next one gets blown for us."
So there are things that I'm interested in are the things that are happening around the globe that we can go in for a friend or somebody we know or another security consultant and say "Hey, can you help us out here?"
Because the DNI was initially established to be like this overseeing organization that was onto the cracks of the FBI and the CIA. One of the special consultants we had on the show, Jason Amerine, he's one of the first guys into Afghanistan after 911.
He's fantastic because the guy has so much personal experience in the field, but he's also the one who sort of became a whistleblower in front of Congress because he was the one who pointed out in the Bergdahl situation.
What happened with him was he had arranged for a way to get that guy back years ago. They could have gotten him five years ago with one person trade. And what happened is eventually we had to work a whole different trade.
I can't speak to all that because some of that is Jason's domain, but he give us sort of the inside baseball on how a lot of that worked and because of his testimony ultimately before Congress, he embarrassed them because we've got a hostage overseas and nobody's going to get him, and it's fallen through the cracks.
I think a perfect opportunity are cases like that where sort of someone comes to us and says, "The CIA can't do this on our own soil, and it's not the FBI's job, can you guys step in?"
That's where we, we're in that gray area and we're totally deniable, if we get caught, they're "We don't know you." I think that's sort of fun and those are the people that we kind of hope exist in the world. Those sort of heroes.
Ethical Dilemmas, Grounded in Reality
I know someone's going to get taken. If someone doesn't get taken, a life is going to get taken, or something extremely valuable is going to get taken. I think it's kind of fun for the audience to watch that opening and be "I think it's this, this" and then it's that!
Then we step in. "We need you guys to come in and get that thing back. Maybe we need you to go take someone. Maybe we need to go get someone back. Maybe you need to go take a life because if you don't take a life something worse is going to happen."
All those sorts of ethical dilemmas, I think, enter the equation for all our characters and they're really fun. It can be totally different every week. One week could be in Brussels. The next week we could be in North Korea. Next week it could be we're flying to New York because there's a thing someone took in Oregon.
All those stories, for me, I feel like they should be grounded. They should be real. There are so many crazy things that are happening in the news. This isn't going to be Law & Order, but it should operate on a level like "Is that happening right now? Is that possible?"
And the answer to that question should be "Yes!" Because if it's not, it seems too far-fetched to believe.
Women in Command and the Military
I think that Jennifer's character for me is fascinating in that you never question her qualification and her command. She's got a real authority here. I was what I really want to give her is a different space to operate in, and I thought it would be kind of fun if she wants her own shingle. She wants her own thing.
She doesn't want to feel beholden to the government anymore, so she makes it. She makes that arrangement. She figures out how to get that arrangement to get what she wants. But to do the cases that she wants to do and they don't always have to be assigned. We've got this one a whole different way, or this is something I care about.
I think what's happening right now, I don't want the show ever to become didactic, but obviously, there's a problem in Hollywood. There's a problem in the military, and I think those issues can work their way into themes in the show where they talk about that.
It's really hard to be a woman in the military for 25 years and the shit you have to put up with. I think what's great about Santana is she's dealt with it too. I think that there's a way that we can bring those sort of things into the show, but we never question their authority. We never question their skill, but it's let's deal with the reality that it's there.
I wanted to see someone who was extremely capable. I don't think of Christina Hart as much as a field operator, but what's interesting in talking to Jason Amerine who is our Special Forces consultant, he's said when he'd send people in anywhere, it's always better to send in a male/female team.
He said because two 6 foot 4 guys walk through the door I can reach them right away. But if a female comes in, it's "Oh, who's she?" And she's across the café, and he's over there, and they're talking to each other, and a different dynamic emerges.
I think it's one that doesn't rely on brawn but one that relies on a different skill set. I think that's really interesting. I wanted to see that dynamic entered into the show.
Someone who can get anything. Figure out how to get anything. But also she's very capable. She's been trained, maybe not quite to the extent that he has in terms of the physical aspect of the show, but I think Jessica's come along great in that regard.
We trained all of them so that they seem credible and know how to clear a room. That's a big deal because you watch some shows and you're "That's not how you hold a gun." I'm out! It's the smallest thing that throws you out.
How Is the Character Going to Take Me Into that World?
I love, and I think all the writers on our show love the opportunity in the real world. If there's something you read about recently or whether it involves gene editing or organ transplantation or what's happening with the football, the nuclear football or what's happening with North Korea right now or what are the Russians doing?
It should always be something tangible, but ultimately it should come back down to character. It's "How's that character going to take me into that world?"
I always think it's great when I'm watching something, and I'm totally entertained by it, but I actually learn something new about something I didn't know about. On my old show, it's funny Jonah, and I worked on that show, we used to say "If we do our jobs right, you should be looking at that thing differently" at the end of the episode.
I think this show should be "Wait! Does that exist and do those people exist in the world?" The answer to that question should always be "Yes."
I don't want it to be something we just made up some bad guys. No, it's "Who are these guys? Tell me who they are. What ethnicity? Who is this woman? Where did she come from? Does that job actually exist that she's doing?" And we have fun with it.
It should be a show where every writer who comes to pitch a story idea has already done their research on that world. Take me into that world. It's escapism to a certain extent, but it's also realistic. You know what I mean?
Taken returns to NBC Friday at 9/8c. It's getting back to what we loved best about the movie franchise and that particular set of skills Bryan Mills used so well. Who's coming back for seconds??
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.