Although CBS decided that TV critics needed only a small panel discussion with the "Jericho" team, a room overflowing with reporters turned up to hear what's coming up on the post-apocalyptic drama.
Amidst a mushroom cloud of mystery, "Jericho" went off the air at the end of November, starting a multi-month hiatus that won't conclude until Feb. 21. During that time, denizens of the Internet have been left to buzz about a first-year series that has, thus far, been more of a solid performer than a bona fide hit. That left critics to inquire how "Jericho," recipient of mostly tepid reviews, has developed its following.
"They love the mystery of who is Robert Hawkins, and where has Jake been," says executive producer Carol Barbee, referring to the lead characters played by Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James. "I mean I think people love that mystery. And then, of course, there's the whole contingency of people who just blog about who's sleeping with who and who they'd like to match up, and that's fun."
Co-star Ashley Scott, one of the show's potential love interests adds, "A lot of blogging about my humungous boobs."
Here's the problem: Viewers watching "Jericho" only to blog on Ashley Scott's chest probably don't require narrative resolution. The show can go in circles as far as they care, just so long as characters occasionally get caught in the rain. On the other hand, viewers who tune in to get wrapped up in the mythology actually need to know things and as the producers on "Lost" can tell you, denying gratification to those fans can lead to frustration in a hurry.
The "Jericho" team swears that before this season is over, many of the first season's key questions will be answered.
"I will tell you that by the end of this season -- we always planned to close off or satisfy certain mysteries than open doors to a new level of mystery," Barbee promises. "And so by the end of the season, you will know where Jake's been for the past five years. You will know what Hawkins' involvement is with the bombings, and you will also know who was behind the bombings, who did it. Why is a different reason and who else is involved and who of our people are still involved and what that second wave of attacks is going to be -- all of that stuff sort of is the next level."
Barbee notes that the "Jericho" creative team has been monitoring activity on the web, but she comes up short of assuring bloggers and message board addicts that their words are changing the direction of the show.
"I think we serve the fans best when we stick to the story we meant to tell and it has an integrity to it," she says. "But, yes, I would say that if 90 percent of the fans are sort of shifting in a certain way, we have to look at that issue. Or if one fan says something that's really cool, we'll go, 'That's a great idea.' So we do listen, but I would say that 99.9 percent of what we're doing is we know the story we're trying to tell."
For the season's second half, that story will include some dark dealings involving Scott's Emily, whose father is James Remar's outlaw Jonah. Jake and Hawkins will apparently be forced to work together more extensively. Plus, the residents of Jericho will enter into a trade agreement with a neighboring town with mixed results. The nuclear attack will still linger in the background, but the producers promise the series will concentrate as heavily on the character-based subplots.
"[T]he goal is to get people talking and thinking about themselves in the context of a very changing world and in a world that could have serious consequences, not to scare the crap out of everybody and say, 'Oh, my God, this is going to happen,'" says executive producer Jon Turteltaub. "It's more a question of 'Who are you?,' 'What would you do?' and 'Aren't these people really hot?'"