Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
The new CW drama Cult that premieres February 19 surrounds what happens when the mysterious disappearance of the brother of an investigative journalist leads to a journey into the dark underbelly of a TV series and its rabid, obsessive fan base. So the first question from a critic on a TCA panel this morning asked maybe whether there was a danger in looking at passionate television fans and telling them “your passion scares me and I’m afraid you might kill me.” Exec producer and showrunner Rockne S. O’Bannon admitted that the production team is very cognizant of this issue. “But unlike other shows, we have the advantage of putting a magnifying glass on that idea itself,” he reasoned. The natural followup query is whether there is indeed a certain cause-and-effect between TV and movie content and certain behaviors from impressionable fans. Exec producer Len Goldstein explained that Cult is absolutely peering at the relationship between fans and their shows, “which is certainly more pronounced than ever before… There certainly is a fan passion for a certain kind of show. (Cult is) generally about the relationship of television to society. For us, there really are questions more than answers.” Exec producer Josh Schwartz added that the difference today is how viewers can combine their emotional ownership in a show with greater access to the people who create and write and star in those shows. “They may feel they control that conversation as well. And when things don’t go the way they have tweeted, there’s a certain level of animosity that can start to grow.”
The idea for Cult was born during O’Bannon’s years making the series Farscape, which inspired “incredible fan passion,” he said. “It started me to thinking, what if the show were to have a little bit darker edge? What sort of fans would it then draw? Then add that with the ability of fans to connect through social media.” But just how far would people take it? Might the fans of the series Cult be inspired to imitate what they see onscreen? O’Bannon said he isn’t terribly concerned that fans will take things that far and said The CW has no crisis plan in place in case it does. “I don’t know that our show has quite that much power”. The series will air 13 weeks uninterrupted by reruns, O’Bannon added, to honor the show’s serialized presentation.