"I think it's the first question a lot of us asked," McDermott said as he took a breath from terrorizing the other characters. "How are you going to sustain this? Can you just keep a family or a president locked up for five seasons?"
Nachmanoff said there were narrative means to free people to move around, thus avoiding the claustrophobia of a traditional hostage scenario, while Collette noted that she thought the human element would help.
"I'm very aware if you don't keep it grounded it can seem very heightened," she said, adding, "A lot of times with a thriller or a hostage situation, we know that it happens, but it seems to happen on the other side of the world, to the other guy. What we're all trying to do is make it feel like it's happening right now to people you know."
Executive produced by big-screen powerhouse Jerry Bruckheimer, who is also behind CBS' "CSI" franchise, and produced by Warner Bros. Television, "Hostages" derives loosely from an Israeli format — another similarity it shares with "Homeland." Like that show's North Carolina set, "Hostages" also shoots somewhere else in lieu of the more logistically complex Washington, using an office building across from the run-down Nassau Coliseum as the site of the hospital, and the midcentury greenery of Long Island suburban parks as a stand-in for D.C.'s Rock Creek Park.
All these choices come with high stakes. If the series succeeds, it will not only add a new conspiracy thriller to Hollywood's growing canon but also, perhaps more important for the TV industry, demonstrate that broadcast can beat cable at its own game.
"Hostages" certainly borrows plenty from its non-broadcast brethren. Its episodes are open-ended, making traditional syndication more difficult. Its principal actors — Collette, McDermott and Donovan —have all recently starred on a high-end cable drama. And then there's that 15-episode order, as the show runs a "Homeland"-like schedule from September to early winter.
"This takes us quite a bit further than we've been before," said CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler. "With 'The Good Wife,' there are closed-ended cases," she said, noting the network's hybrid hit, "and 'Under the Dome' is serialized but it's in the summer. This is an in-season show that's very serialized."
Tassler added that she believed the show was the rare piece of programming that could exist pretty much as is on cable or broadcast. Bruckheimer called it "provocative drama that you don't often see on broadcast."
Still, skeptics will raise questions about whether CBS can successfully compete in this realm. Executives at cable channels such as HBO are known for a hands-off approach that isn't typically in the DNA of broadcast networks, which are trying to satisfy a mass audience. There's also the perennial issue of limitations on language and other content.
And though the show offers something for everyone — Tassler said that with the thriller conceit and family stakes she imagines the show "aimed equally" at men and women — it enters a crowded Monday schedule that lays claim to both genders with ESPN's "Monday Night Football" and ABC's "Castle." (The show also will compete against NBC's buzzy criminal-mastermind program "The Blacklist.")
Finally, new shows take time to build an audience. Highly serialized programs that last only 15 episodes don't have the luxury of ranging around for their sweet spot.
"I think once they watch it, people will love it and momentum will build. But the challenge is, of course, getting people to it," McDermott said.
A white-knuckled TV industry stands tensely by.