On View : It’s Fun, It’s Weird, It’s ‘Eerie’

Sue Martin is an assistant in the Calendar film department.

Director Joe Dante felt right at home. The man who brought us “Gremlins” I and II and “The ‘burbs” is no stranger to the weird and wonderful hiding behind simple suburban facades. He was behind the camera for an episode of NBC’s new fantasy adventure series “Eerie, Indiana,” which premiers tonight.

As Dante stood in the living room set of a modern home, he stared intently at the monitor as the actors went through a scene. Suddenly, he howled eerily like a lone wolf on a wind-swept hill. On cue, a haunted look crossed the face of actor Omri Katz (who plays lead character Marshall Teller) as he went past the camera.

Just another typical day in the neighborhood.

“This show has a sensibility very similar to the movies I’ve been making,” Dante said as he took a break. “It’s a little off-kilter, it’s got kids in it and a certain weird “Twilight Zone-y” quality that’s fun.”


And that’s just what writers-creators Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer are aiming for.

“Part of the appeal of doing something like this for someone like Joe, who’s used to doing maybe an eighth of a page a day, is that we’re doing six or seven pages a day. It’s fast, and a lot more different that feature work,” Schaefer said. “We’re looking for a strong visual style because we’re trying to make a little feature every week.”

Dante isn’t the only feature director tabbed for work. Upcoming episodes will be directed by Todd Holland (“The Wizard”), Tim Hunter (“River’s Edge”), Ken Kwapis, Bob Balaban (“Parents”) and Sam Pillsbury.

For the two young producers “Eerie” is cutting new ground. Rivera, originally a playwright, spent last year in London on a Fulbright Scholarship. Schaefer was the creator of the short-lived “TV 101.” The two met through their agents and decided to combine their off-beat efforts. Rivera had an idea for a teen-oriented anthology a la “Twilight Zone” and Schaefer was toying with a modern-day Tom Sawyer who lived in his imagination.


“We’ve got something very unique, and yet recognizable, " Schaefer said. “It draws on icons that everyone in America can relate to like Tupperware and Elvis.”

Rivera said “ ‘Eerie, Indiana’ is a pop culture junkyard. Everything that sort of falls off the front page of the National Enquirer rolls down to Eerie.”

“It’s a like a magnet or a drain for all the weirdness,” Schaefer added.

The show’s title, Schaefer said, “just sort of welled up from our subconscious, as if it’s always been there. There are actually two Erie, Indianas, but spelled like the lake.”


So, what’s “eerie” about this small, seemingly normal town in Middle America? Katz’s 13-year-old character Marshall Teller and his young 10-year-old friend Simon Holmes (Justin Shenkarow) see things that nobody else pays attention to because they’re too busy. For examples: When everyone sees an old man in a bathrobe, Marshall sees Elvis. When a woman puts laundry on a clothesline, Marshall sees her hanging up a straitjacket.

Rivera said the foundation of the show is psychological and it’s not a special effects extravaganza. “These stories are based on real adolescent fears, a real incident from which a fantastic element occurs. There’s always an ambiguity, so we’re never sure whether it happened or not.

“Adolescence is as much a nightmare as it is fun.”

Katz said he sees his role as easy to play because he’s past the character’s age of 13 (he’s 15).


“This is a kid’s show and it’s a lot more fun to do (he previously played J.R. Ewing’s son on “Dallas”). Marshall is very imaginative. He and Simon are the only ones who notice what’s really going on in town.”

Shenkarow agreed. “I get to go on adventures every week. Sometimes they’re weird and scary and sometimes they’re fun.”

Although he feels a lot of himself is in Simon’s personality, he added, “I’d like to be more like my character than I am in person because he has so much fun. I’m not into sneaking into houses and stuff like that.”

Back on the set, Joe Dante peered down at a kennel of dogs whose plans to take over the world can only be heard through a pair of retainers worn by a teen-ager.


He shook his head. “Suburbia has changed a lot since ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ ”

“Eerie, Indiana” premieres tonight at 7:30 p.m. on NBC.