In CBS' "Early Edition," a Chicago stockbroker has the ability to change the future because every morning he mysteriously receives the next day's edition of the newspaper.
But the executive producer and the star of the quirky fantasy weren't able to predict that the series would become such a success. "Early Edition" is the top-rated new dramatic show of the season, regularly winning its Saturday night time slot.
"I was pleasantly surprised," says Kyle Chandler, who plays Gary Hobson, the stockbroker whose life is turned upside-down when a sweet tabby cat and the next day's edition of the Chicago Sun-Times show up at the door of his hotel room.
"I think people like the show. It has got something that's different to it. It has got some smart writing."
Executive producer Bob Brush is thrilled with the audience response to the series that took over the 9 p.m. Saturday slot previously occupied by the hit "Touched By an Angel," which moved to Sunday nights at 8.
"Certainly going into the kind of Saturday-night hour thing, which is nothing I had done, I really didn't have an expectation of what it was that people did or didn't want to watch," says Brush, an Emmy Award-winning veteran of such series as "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" and "The Wonder Years."
"I think that, going in, there was kind of an expectation by the network and the people around it that what they needed was a 'Touched By an Angel,' so we didn't know if the little bit of edge the show has and the quirkier feel of it would play or not. Astonishingly enough, people seem to be embracing it."
The main reason, Brush believes, is that people have always wanted to see into the future. "It's a very cogent, ancient story," Brush says. "I have a feeling what works so well here is that, rather than going the sci-fi, weird-music route with it, we have taken a story and tried to anchor it in a fairly realistic situation, so there is a sense of familiarity and believability about this guy."
The character of Gary, Brush says, is an "ordinary schlub" who is dealing with this situation but finds it more a curse than a blessing. "I think there's probably something universal about that," the producer says.
Chandler, who previously starred in the series "Tour of Duty" and "Homefront," was initially worried that "Early Edition" would become too schmaltzy.
"I didn't want the show to turn into 'Superman with a paper' or shoving values and morals down people's throats," he says. "The first script gave a very strong direction of what was to come. We can do anything. We can have comedy. We can have heavy drama. We can play almost any story line."
Chandler likes the fact that Gary is just a regular guy who suddenly finds himself changing people's fates.
"The character can become so flawless so easily," the actor says. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to hate the cat and hate the paper. My character doesn't want the paper. He is stuck with it and it's a curse."
The feline element was part of the original concept created by Patrick Q. Page, Vic Rubenfeld and Ian Abrams. When Brush was brought in as executive producer, he kept the kitty. "I thought it was a great idea," Brush says. "I don't understand it. I think it's a great idea because there is no way of understanding it. The cat comes with the newspaper."
It's also been hinted that the cat, played by Panther, is actually the same cat that was owned by a now-deceased typesetter who also lived in Gary's hotel. "That story will reappear and we will keep chasing that down blind alleys," Brush says.
One big change that Brush made was the show's locale. Originally set in New York, he moved it to Chicago.
"It's the quintessential newspaper town," Brush explains. "The other thing is, I wanted to get a sense that this thing, even though it was happening in a big city, has a small-town kind of aspect to it. Chicago does not feel like a great urban mega-giant when you are there. We wanted to be able to tell a story about human beings not being dwarfed by a city, but existing in a community."
Rounding out the cast are Fisher Stevens as Chuck, Gary's opportunistic friend who wants to use the edition to make money, and Shenesia Davis as Marissa, Gary's blind co-worker who encourages him to use the paper to help people.
"The thought [behind those characters] was the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other," Brush says. "Chuck in a heartbeat would use the paper for everything nefarious to make money. Although he's not just a bad guy. His point is that it's a tool and, if it comes to you, you are a fool not to use it. On the other end, Marissa would probably take the thing and become a missionary in Africa."
Gary, Brush says, "fits right in the middle as a kind of quintessential American Gary Cooper, kind of slow-moving, thinking through, 'let-me-see-what's-going-to-happen-guy,' which is probably why he gets the paper."
As the series progresses, Brush says, viewers will learn along with Gary about the real purpose of the paper. "There's no doubt there is some kind of an agenda going on with the paper," the producer says. "There is something he hasn't discovered and he knows that. There must be something this thing wants from him and he doesn't know what it is yet."
In Saturday's Christmas episode, Gary tries to stop a madman who is putting bombs in teddy bears, and Chuck is thrown in jail on Christmas Eve because of outstanding parking tickets. His cellmate is a man (M. Emmet Walsh) who believes he is Santa Claus.
"There's every likelihood that he was Santa Claus," Brush says. "It's a very whimsical story."
"Early Edition' airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on CBS.