You should be excited for ABC’s upcoming sci-fi drama, The Crossing, for two big reasons: Steve Zahn and time travel. Okay, so there’s a lot more to be excited about than just those two things, but that should pique your interest.
The show follows a large group of people who wash up from sea in a small town in Oregon. Only 47 of them survive, and their story is shocking. They are time travelers—refugees fleeing a war taking place over 150 years in the future. Zahn plays the local sheriff, Jude Ellis, who is helping to unravel the mystery of these new arrivals in his town.
We got the chance to chat with the delightful and passionate showrunners, Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie, about what sci-fi lovers can expect from the series, how it does (and doesn’t) compare to Lost, and what TV shows they’re personal super-fans of.
PURE FANDOM: I have to start by asking this—since everyone keeps comparing The Crossing to Lost, what is similar and what are the major differences?
DWORKIN AND BEATTIE: What’s different—because we’ve obviously had this conversation with peers in developing this show—Lost was a supernatural show essentially. They were on a supernatural island. I love supernatural stuff, but on that show, week to week, anything could happen. It wasn’t grounded in reality necessarily because this island could produce any kind of story. On our show, it’s grounded in reality more, aside from, of course, the time travel element, but that’s your one bye in the pilot. Other than that, the rest of the show plays out a little bit more in the real world. So, we did not have, as much as I would have liked it many times during the course of the season in trying to tell stories, we didn’t have the latitude to go in a supernatural direction, which is so fertile. Look at what they did on Lost—week to week you had zero idea what you were going to get. We did not have that on this show. We had to operate within the confines of reality, which was good because it forced us to be more creative in a way. So, that I’d say is the big difference.
The similarity is probably that we have a large, diverse cast of characters that we’re going to get to know and care about, and that’s something that Lost did extremely well, getting a deep dive into the characters.
There’s also a similarity in tone. There’s an ethereal, eerie nature to both shows, and I think we tried to capture that in our show even though it’s grounded in reality. We tried to make it as mysterious and ethereal as possible. At every turn, that was a big internal marching order when we were making the show. We really wanted to retain the ethereal quality we got in the pilot.
So, you’re saying there will be no smoke monster in The Crossing?
Season 2, who knows? Season 1, likely no.
You mentioned the cast, and I’m a huge Steve Zahn fan. How did his casting as Sheriff Jude Ellis come about?
The network suggested him, which was great. We were just starting to spitball about that character and who might play him, and the network said, ‘What about Steven Zahn?’ He has worked on that ABC show [Mind Games], which I had forgotten.
I didn’t even realize he’d even done network, and of course, he was on Treme. And I don’t think he was on our radar, because I wouldn’t have thought he would entertain network television. [Zahn’s] was the first name that ABC threw out, and we sent him the script. He read it, and his wife read it, and they agreed that it was good and he could take the meeting. We Skyped with him, and right after that Skype call, he was in. It was terrific. It was the easiest casting in the history of our experience with television.
It was incredibly efficient, and he knows it wasn’t us who came up with it. I remember on day 10 or 11, I went up to him and said, ‘Man, I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea to cast you. It was the network. I’m glad they did it.’ That was a nice move on their part. [Zahn’s] a pretty unconventional choice, so the fact the network was willing to go there was super heartening.
Yeah, when I saw Zahn’s name, I was surprised. However, after watching the pilot, he’s really perfect for the character.
The first scene he had on set was with little Bailey in that tent. I was at the monitor with one of the ABC executives, and the second the camera rolled on Steve and he did his whole take, we just became giddy and spontaneously hugged each other. We knew he was the perfect choice.
And half that equation was Bailey. She was the real deal. I think we expected that Steve was going to be good, but we didn’t know what to expect out of Bailey. And after that scene, I think some of the hugging was probably due to her, because we were like, wow.
What do you think will set The Crossing apart from other sci-fi shows on TV right now?
There are some similar elements within the show, like everyone has seen time travel stories before. But I think were the show builds to… I think a lot of people might look at the pilot and say, ‘I think I maybe know where this show is going. I think I’ve seen this before.’ And I think by the time they get to the end of the season, they will look back and say, ‘wow, was I wrong.’
You don’t set out looking at what’s out there in the TV universe and try to set yourself apart so much. We dug into this story and let it take us places that we found most interesting and emotional. In falling back, I think we’ve created a show we’re very excited about very proud of, and I think that will come through.
In true Pure Fandom fashion, I have to ask what you’re each personal super-fans of?
DWORKIN: As far as where some of the inspiration for this particular show came from, I’m a huge sci-fi fan. In particular, I love the writing of Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, and Ray Bradbury. And there was one Bradbury story in particular that was a big inspiration for the show. I love all that stuff. I grew up on Twilight Zone. Every July 4th, I’d watch the Twilight Zone marathon from morning until night, so I’m a big fan of that. As far as contemporary stuff, I thought Handmaid’s Tale was pretty great. It’s a very well-done show visually and tonally. I personally admire shows like that. Fargo is another example. Legion is another example. These are shows that have creators who have a very fascinating vision and execute it perfectly, and I always admire that.
BEATTIE: I’ve been watching some of the similar shows, like Fargo where I felt it was just excellent filmmaking and storytelling. I was surprised to learn that that was shooting up in Calgary. One that I think both Dan and I vibe with is Leftovers, and something I really admired about their storytelling is the way they could stop the momentum of all the stories and switch and focus on one character. And they weren’t afraid to let other stories kind of simmer and dig deep into other characters and make the audience wait for the continuation of the other major stories. I think that was a technique they did very effectively.
DWORKIN: That’s kind of circular and takes us back to the original question, which is that we actually, in the writer’s room, talked about Leftovers a lot more than we did about Lost, which might tell you a something about what we’re trying to do with [The Crossing]. And just two more things that I’m currently into since you asked—Dark on Netflix, which I’m not into because I’ve finished it. I’m done with it, but I thought that was great. And then Wild Wild Country, which is the documentary about the cult on Netflix.