With “Almost Human,” more than you might expect
The man charged with making “Star Wars” cool again still finds time to give script notes for his company's vast TV empire.
J.J. Abrams opines on whether the effects look good on shows that may get half the audience of his latest blockbuster. It was his idea to have a hatch on “Lost” – even though he had no idea where it would lead.
Abrams, the son of a TV producer, is executive producing four shows this season. This even as he presides over the “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek” franchises while rebooting “Star Wars” — the biggest one ever. “Almost Human,” debuting Sunday, is his third show this year and twelfth series overall.
So how does he keep all those projects straight?
“Well, one is in the future,” Abrams said recently about “Almost Human.”
More to the point: How heavily is he involved in all of them?
Abrams says he and his production company, Bad Robot, lean heavily on the writer-producers who lead their shows day-to-day. But he reserves the right to weigh in, often in unexpected ways.
“The great thing is it's like having friends who are great storytellers who are also running these shows,” Abrams said. “While we read the scripts, and we give notes, and of course look at edits, and all that kind of stuff, it's not like any one of us is running any or all of these shows. They're all separate endeavors by people who are incredibly talented, that we feel very lucky to be working with.”
Abrams’ brand — he makes solid sci-fi the masses can enjoy too — means almost every show he signs off on becomes known among fans as a “J.J. Abrams show.”
“J.J.'s very, very involved in everything. To be a hundred percent honest, even in ‘Fringe,’ like in the second or third season, when someone would send me effects to look at, he was always on the emails and he would weigh in,” said J.H. Wyman, who created “Almost Human” and served as an executive producer on “Fringe.”
“It's really a miracle how much he does,” Wyman added. “If he loves something and he really believes in it, he's always there in a way.”
With partner Bryan Burk, who has worked with him since “Alias,” Abrams has amassed a string of hits that includes NBC's “Revolution,” last season's biggest new show; CBS's consistent “Person of Interest”; and ABC's “Lost,” one of TV's most influential series. Midseason will bring “Believe,” Abrams’ collaboration with “Gravity” mastermind Alfonso Cuaron.
“Both J.J. and Alfonso reached out to me yesterday to tell me how excited they are,” NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke recently told TheWrap. “Given that they're both incredibly busy right now, they are still reviewing, looking at all the material. I've had many conversations with J.J. about it.”
Yes, Abrams has had some cancellations, including last season's “Alcatraz” for Fox and the short-lived “Undercovers” for NBC. But those are the exceptions. Of his eight shows that are no longer on the air, four went at least four seasons.
Abrams addressed the credit issue this summer, telling an industry crowd that when a project says it's from producer J.J. Abrams, “a lot of times what it should really say it's from Bad Robot.”
“I make sure it says executive producer,” he told the crowd at the Produced By conference. “There's a difference in my mind between that and something I've created.”
The “Episode VII” director broke into the business by writing “Regarding Henry,” which found once-and-future Han Solo Harrison Ford playing a man who loses his memory in a shooting. The “Star Wars” revival brings him back into Ford's orbit.
He broke into the TV universe in 1998 with “Felicity” – a series perhaps best known for the viewer wrath it incurred when Keri Russell cut her hair. He earned lots of respect for the Jennifer Garner spy drama “Alias.”
And then he got “Lost.” By 2004, when it debuted, he had learned to delegate. A lot.
“‘There should be a hatch on this island! They spend the entire season trying to get it open. And there should be these other people on the island,'” Lindelof recalled Abrams saying. “And I'm like, ”We can call them The Others.’ And he's like, ‘They should hear this noise out there in the jungle.’ And I'm like, ‘What's the noise?’ And he's like, ‘I don't fucking know. They're never gonna pick this thing up anyway.'”
Lindelof isn't complaining: Thanks in large part to “Lost,” he became one of Hollywood's most successful screenwriters.
Abrams’ success on “Lost” means his name on a show dramatically increases its chances of getting ordered to series, as Wyman knew when he wrote “Almost Human.” He said he realizes most people consider it a “J.J. Abrams show” – and he's fine with that.
“He's J.J. Abrams,” said Wyman. “Just from the sale aspect, he's such a force to be reckoned with. Not only am I a partner with him on this, but I'm also a big fan of his. So it's like, when they say it's a J.J. thing, that's cool with me.”
Eric Kripke, who developed “Revolution” with Abrams, and then wrote the script solo, said he also has no problem with people thinking of his script as an Abrams project.
“With J.J. comes great exposure and great visibility, and I'm happy to bring that to the show,” he said. “It's all good.”
That said, Abrams contributes “frankly more than I expected,” he told TheWrap.
“Obviously he's very busy but he checks in a shocking amount,” said Kripke, who also created the CW's “Supernatural.” “He checks in on stories, he checks in on ideas.”
He said he hears from both Abrams and Burk at least once a week – “when they're not on the Millennium Falcon.”
Lucas Shaw contributed to this story.