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Interview with J.J.
Abrams and J.H. Wyman of "Almost Human" on FOX 11/7/13
I was on this call, but they kept it to a half an hour,
so, unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to ask a question.
I love this show, though, so it was really great to hear
about it. I would have liked to have ask about how they cast
Karl Urban - was it because J.J. already knew him from the
Star Trek movies or what? But, I hope you enjoy the
transcripts below of the call, anyway. Make sure to watch
FBC PUBLICITY: Almost Human Conference Call
November 7, 2013/9:30 a.m. PST
Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for
standing by. Welcome to the Almost Human Conference Call. At
this time, all participants will be in a listen-only mode,
and then later we’ll conduct a question and answer session.
The instructions will be given at that time. (Operator
instructions.) As reminder, this conference is being
I’ll now turn the conference over to Fox Broadcasting’s Josh
Governale. Please go ahead.
Josh Thank you, Lori. Good morning and afternoon,
everyone. Thank you for joining us on the Almost Human
Conference Call with Executive Producers J.H. Wyman and J.J.
Abrams. As a reminder, the futuristic fun begins when Almost
Human debuts with a special two-night premiere on Sunday,
November 17th and Monday, November 18th, 8/7 Central on Fox.
Without further delay, let’s proceed and please welcome J.H.
Wyman and J.J. Abrams. First question please.
Moderator Thank you. (Operator instructions.) Also,
it has been requested that you limit yourself to one
question. For additional questions, you’ll need to queue up
Our first question from the line of Jamie Ruby with
SciFiVision.com. Please go ahead.
Jamie Hi, guys. Thanks so much for talking to us
today. I’m really excited to be on this call.
J.J. Thank you.
Joel Thank you.
Jamie I really love the show, by the way. We’ve seen
the pilot. It’s really great. My question is actually about
the pilot. I saw both the original versions and the version
that has been out now. I’m curious, can you talk about why
the very ending, with the head, without … saying everything,
why it was changed? Is that something that’s going to be
explored later or was that completely scrapped?
J.J. Joel, want to grab it?
Joel Yes, sure. Basically, a lot of people don’t
realize that the pilot is supposed to be a sales tool for us
to express to our partners how great and exciting the show
could be. It’s our job to put everything we can in this
incredibly tight 43 minutes to make it a very compelling
ride. We had talked a lot about the stories and the
mythologies that are going to go on. We felt that the
ending, the first version you saw, the ending the way that
it was, it really sparked a lot of interest in people who
watch it because they realize, oh, okay, so there is a lot
of cool mythology that could be told in this show. There are
a lot of exciting ways these guys could go and stories they
Once we got picked up, everybody agreed that this is
something we want to move forward on, then we can just sit
back, and we can say, what’s the best way to tell that story
and what’s the best way to get things out? Is that the right
direction? How are we going to use elements of what we’ve
shown and how are we going to get the most out of those?
Then things just changed as we realized, okay, now we’ve got
some time. Let’s tell the story properly.
Moderator Thank you. We’ll go to Anisa Arsenault with
Metro New York. Please go ahead.
Anisa Thanks for talking to us.
Joel Thank you.
Anisa With several really fast-paced shows on air
right, like Person of Interest, Revolution, and now Almost
Human, how do you keep things straight? Do ideas for one
ever contribute to the others?
J.J. Well, one is in the future.
J.J. I think that the lucky situation for bad robot
has been working with really wonderful people who are great
show runners and storytellers. With Joel, with whom we
worked on Fringe for five years, when he pitched me the idea
for Almost Human, it was, I felt like that little kid that I
used to be watching Six Million Dollar Man and all excited
about the idea of what the show could be. When Eric Kripke
pitched Revolution, I thought, that would be a really
amazing, epic story to tell. It was very ambitious.
When Jonah pitched Person of Interest, we were having a
meeting about a feature. He said, I have this idea for a TV
show and he pitched Person of Interest. The great thing is
it’s like having friends who are great storytellers who are
also running these shows. While we read the scripts, and we
give notes, and of course look at edits, and all that kind
of stuff, it’s not like any one of us is running any or all
of these shows. They’re all separate endeavors by people who
are incredibly talented, that we feel very lucky to be
Moderator We’ll go to Dominic Patten with Deadline
Hollywood. Please go ahead.
Dominic Hi, guys. J.J., one question that’s on
everyone’s mind is can you give us some sense of what
happened and why there were the changes in the script
writing team on the upcoming Star Wars film?
J.J. I don’t think there was any changing of the
screenwriters on Almost Human. … Almost Human, Fox,
hour-long drama. Working with Michael Arndt was a wonderful
experience and I couldn’t be a bigger fan of his or adore
him more. He’s a wonderful guy. He was incredibly helpful in
the process and working with Larry Kasdan, especially on a
Star Wars movie, is sort of unbeatable.
It became clear that given the timeframe and given the
process, the way the thing was going, it became clear that
working with Larry in this way was going to get us where we
needed to be and when we needed to be. That doesn’t preclude
working with Michael again in the future at all. I couldn’t
say enough good things about him. He’s really, just
obviously, one of the smartest guys and one of the best
Moderator We’ll go to Joshua Maloni with
WNYpapers.com. Please go ahead.
Joshua Hi, guys. Thanks for your time today.
Joel Thank you.
Joshua My question is for both of you, and J.J. maybe
you can start. When you look at Fringe, and when you look at
Almost Human, you guys have collaborated on some pretty
amazing television. What would you guys say makes it such a
fruitful relationship and such a fruitful partnership
between the two of you?
J.J. God –
Joel I think it’s my singing voice.
J.J. I think I have to agree with Joel. I think that
the fun of working with someone who loves the ‘what if’ and
is able to imagine situations and characters that make you
laugh as much as it makes you squirm because the ideas are
so close to what’s possible. On Fringe, as crazy as things
were, and it got pretty crazy, they were so often things
that felt like, God, that just seems like something that
might be happening right now. Then almost invariably you’d
read about something within weeks or months that proved that
out. It’s always been fun working with Joel and Almost Human
is no different.
Moderator We’ll go to Hal Boedeker with Orlando
Sentinel. Please go ahead.
Hal Congratulations on the show. I guess this
question is for J.J. Abrams. What do you see is the key to
Michael Ealy’s performance and what did you make of Maureen
Dowd comparing the character to President Obama?
J.J. It was an honor to have Ms. Dowd reference
Almost Human in her column. While the comparison is hers to
make, I do think that what Michael Ealy brings to this role
is an incredible sense of thoughtfulness and compassion and
he is playing a character who is, by design, literally, as
brave and as knowledgeable and strategic as you would want
your partner to be if you were riding along as a cop.
But he’s also as altruistic and as considerate and
empathetic as you would want. I think what Michael brings is
that kind of depth, that kind of comedy and humanity. The
title Almost Human, of course, applies to both Karl and
Michael’s characters. I think that the idea when Joel
pitched it was always that Dorian, this synthetic cop, was
in many ways more human than his partner.
Moderator We’ll go to Paulette Cohn with XfinityTV.
Please go ahead.
Paulette You bring up the point that I was going to
ask. John actually isn’t completely human; he has the leg.
Does he grapple with the fact that he is what he sort of
Joel Yes. That’s a very large part of his character,
because at the root of it, he’s a little bit worried about
the advancement of technology and where that’s led humanity
and what the world looks like with this onslaught of new
developments and unchecked growth with technology.
He feels, while he appreciates technology, such as things
like the new bulletproof vests or better weapons for the
police, he still has a problem with the line between
humanity and robotics, or synthetics. He looks at that and
is forced to kind of deal with the idea that his well-being
now depends on this technology that he sometimes holds with
a sense of contempt. That’s the journey for him, is that
he’s starting to realize it’s not the technology that’s bad;
it’s how you use it.
Moderator We’ll go to Juliana Bolden with Emmy
Magazine. Please go ahead.
Juliana Hi, good morning, guys.
Juliana As cinematic as Almost Human is and all the
different screens people are watching programming on these
days, does an idea like this always come to you as, hey, I
have a TV show idea, or is there more discussion these days
of, should it be a movie? Should it go straight to a Netflix
sort of situation?
It just appears that there are so many options for
storytellers to tell stories that it would be hard to figure
out where something should go because there are so many
wonderful places for it to be. How does that affect the way
that you are fleshing out ideas like Almost Human and the
ones that are coming after it?
Joel Do you want to take that, J?
J.J. Since Almost Human was your idea, why don’t you?
Joel Yes. Okay. Basically, for us, the idea – we had
done Fringe; it was on Fox. We had great partners there. It
was just the idea itself; just inherently seemed like it was
a really big, fun, exciting idea that was a very popcorn
idea. We wanted to get away from – I mean Fringe had certain
elements of it that were much more serious and
contemplative. We thought it’d be really, really fun to have
something that was really big and bombastic.
I think the network model right now really promotes those
kinds of ideas, something that is big and more popcorn-y,
something that could be definitely an action-oriented
program. We were in a great position. Then, luckily and
fortunately on Fringe, with our partners at Warner Brothers
and Fox, and we decided to continue the relationship. For us
it was no brainer to keep the show exactly where we were.
Moderator Go to Courtney Crowder with Chicago
Tribune. Please go ahead.
Courtney Hi. I am wondering if you can tell me a
little bit about the choice to make Maldonado a woman, and
how much that was influenced by having Lili Taylor?
Joel Yes. Originally we conceived her as a man, the
concept of Maldonado. Somebody had brought up – I’m not
sure, I think it was April Webster, our casting director,
that said what about Lili Taylor? Then once we started
talking about – we are huge fans of hers – once we started
talking about that concept we realized that the character of
Maldonado would actually be far superior if it was a woman.
The character started to take on all these incredible
aspects that really weren’t there in a male version of her.
We just embraced the idea and we’re so fortunate to get her
because we just all really adore her. That’s how that came
about. It wasn’t originally designed as a female, but we
went down that road when it was presented and we loved it.
Moderator We’ll go to Tara Bennett with SFX Magazine.
Please go ahead.
J.J. Hi, Tara.
Tara Hi guys.
Joel Hi, Tara.
Tara Just now, I know you guys are deeper into the
writing; you’re kind of getting your own sense of what the
show is, whether it’s with Jeff, Karl, and Michael, or even
with the rest of the great ensemble that you have. Have
they, as actors, been bringing things that have changed and
tweaked what the show is for you as you’ve been writing it?
Joel Yes. You always start with something and then
when, based on your casting, at least for me and my
experiences, it always transcends it and makes it better.
You can learn what you were trying that wasn’t working, or
all of a sudden, you’re surprised by something that works
incredibly well that you didn’t anticipate. It’s no
different from this show.
In the casting process, it was so interesting, because when
we were finding these guys, each one of them had something
that was just so perfect for the character. We knew that
fundamentally they were right for the roles, but just who
they are, and what they bring to it, and what they’ve
examined now having these roles as actors, and what they dug
into, has just made the show that much more rich and
provided us with a lot of opportunities and avenues that we
didn’t even dream of. Yes, we’re always influenced by the
people that are bringing the work and the characters to the
Moderator We go to Carla Day with BuddyTV. Please go
Carla Hello. I was wondering, besides the
relationship between Kennex and Dorian, what other major
plotlines will propel the story forward each week? Like the
syndicate? Is that one of them? What will drive this story
Joel The difference between Almost Human and say,
Fringe, or whatever, is that Fringe had a mythology every
week, that was the main thrust of it. Underneath it all, at
least to me, it was a quintessential kidnapping story, and a
show about a family that really is trying to hold it all
together in a time where holding families together is really
hard. People immediately gravitated toward that mythology.
That was that.
These are cops. Every week there is going to be – they’re
going to show up at work and they’re going to have a case at
work. That case is going to be really compelling and really
fun and it’s going to take them on a journey. Through those
cases we’re going to learn more about our characters and the
relationships are going to diversify and grow.
Not to say that there is not any mythology; there is
definitely going to be some mythology. Inherently, this show
is a week-to-week great action show with cases that you’ve
never really seen before, or concepts that you have seen,
but just told in very different ways, because of the nature
of our program. That’s how they’re going to go.
I’m always interested in hiding certain things and planting
some things that will come around later, maybe in different
ways than you first thought. That’s it. But when you sit
down to the show, what we’re hoping is that you’ll really be
engaged by the compelling stories and these great
characters, and go forward with them as they understand
their place in the world.
Moderator We’ll go to Jerry Nunn with Windy City
Times. Please go ahead.
Jerry Hi. I was wondering with Civil Rights being
such a big issue right now, are there robot rights, and
robot marriage, and things like that?
Joel That’s a really good question. J.J. had set us
up with some very, very brilliant people from MIT, and one
of the brilliant people was a woman who studies robot
ethics, which is pretty amazing because when you talk to
her, you get the idea that, wait a second, this is
definitely coming. Some of the amazing things with these
robots that are now what we see in the future are definitely
robots, not human. They’re not becoming human, but they’re
definitely becoming beings.
That’s a moment where you’re thinking, they’re real. They
are thinking beings. What are their rights? Then, where are
those lines drawn? A lot of those things are examined in
some of our later stories. Those concepts of what exactly is
a robot? What is an android? What is a being? If it’s able
to think, if it’s able to be, then what? We’re definitely
interested in those types of things.
Moderator We’ll go to Preston Barta with North Texas
Daily. Please go ahead.
Preston Hey, guys. Kennex’s human partner at the
beginning of the pilot was left to die by the robots on the
raid because he was too badly injured. Then Kennex goes in
to try and save him, but winds up getting his whole unit
killed and himself injured. Thinking about that, which is
worse in your opinion – doing the right thing for the wrong
reasons or doing the wrong thing for the right reasons?
J.J. I think Joel always does the right thing for the
wrong reason. I think that, obviously, every situation is
unique, but I think that in terms of the opening scene of
the pilot, it was meant to demonstrate his approach and how
he is a caring enough person that he would try and save his
partner. I don’t necessarily think that, and this is an
argument in the show itself, that John, because of that, is
responsible for everyone dying. There are certainly a lot of
MX synthetic cops around who are dealing with the raid as
well. I do think that it was meant to illuminate his
character as much as anything.
Moderator We go to Marisa Roffman with
GiveMeMyRemote.com. Please go ahead.
J.J. Hi, Marisa.
Marisa Hi, J.J. Hi, Joel. How are you guys doing?
Marisa Good. There are so many shows that have come
and fallen under the bad robot umbrella, but aside being set
in the future, what do you really feel sets Almost Human
apart from anything that bad robot has ever produced, J.J.?
J.J. While we have been involved in a number of
different series, none of them were approached from a
strategic point of view, meaning we didn’t really try to
figure out how is this unique? We just tried to do it from
the inside out and figure out what makes us care. I think
that the specifics of this one, obviously, the story is very
different than anything we’ve done before.
The type of show in that it is very much a cop procedural
show, which is a very familiar show. We’ve seen a million
buddy/cop shows and the fun of that was twisting it in a way
that Joel came up with, which is having it set in a place
and with specific characters that allow for conflict and
cases every week that don’t feel like everything you’ve seen
a million times before. I think that this show has a level
of humor that is distinct from what we’ve done. I think that
part of it is just the relationship between Karl and
Moderator We go to Ana Klimchynskaya with Blogcritics.
Please go ahead.
Ana Thanks. I actually have a question that’s kind of
similar to the previous one, in that both of you have done
some great work on science fiction – Star Trek, Fringe,
things like that. How has the other science fiction work
you’ve done influenced this particular science fiction show?
Joel For me, on Fringe, I got to, in a lot of the
research that I did and got to experience on a week-to-week
basis, really definitely influenced the direction of this
program and how it was conceived. When you start to get
involved in what’s possible, what technology is out there,
how is science dangerously out of control, what are we up
against as the human race? It just really starts to make
your mind expand with all these concepts that you sometimes
worry about and sometimes go, wow, that’s really wild.
It definitely, that for me was a huge influence. It
actually, looking at what’s to come, in my experience on
Fringe, it definitely was the seed of this program. I’ve
always loved to talk about what ifs and scenarios of look
where we’re going. This is a perfect platform for these
cautionary tales and what if scenarios.
Moderator Thank you. We’re going to go to Jeanne
Jakle with San Antonio Express. Please go ahead.
Jeanne Hi, guys. Thank you very much. You had such a
gorgeous, interesting, futuristic look for this series and
it reminded me a lot of Blade Runner, which is one of my
favorites. I was wondering what kind of influence that film
had on the look of this one?
Joel In my mind, you can’t touch something in this
wheelhouse, or in science fiction, without owing a huge debt
to Blade Runner. It’s definitely one of my favorite films.
It has so much to look at. It was just so amazing and
instructive as a young person watching that movie on how not
just what’s happening in the scene, but what’s happening ten
layers behind the scene, what’s going on in the street
behind it, and then what’s going on in the building behind
that? … creating was a real lesson for me.
But there is something about those types of … features that
I definitely did not want to go for. I hope that we’re not
really in that territory and that we were successful,
because what occurred to me is in watching all these
incredible science fiction, or reading all these incredible
science fiction books, the future is largely, oh, look what
you humans have done. You’ve really messed up and now what
are you going to do? Whereas I think what we were talking
about is something a little bit more hopeful, that we will
have some hardships as a human race and it will be difficult
at times, but ultimately, we will persevere because that’s
truly what I believe.
I am a hopeful person. I really believe that the world is
going to get it right somehow. I wanted to make it a
brighter environment where it’s not raining all the time,
the atmosphere is not completely ruined, that people still
have children and are very excited about their daughter’s
seven-year-old birthday party. That they’ll want to do what
they can to get her that present that she wants. That there
is a sense of going forward and a sense of, okay, this is
the future in 40 years.
It’s still going to have a lot of the same stuff that we
deal with now. It will have some things that are much
better. It will have some things that are more dangerous,
sure, but we’re resilient and we’re going to succeed. That
was the difference. But as far as, of course, setting a
world in the future and things like that, that’s a huge
influence on me.
Josh Alright. Thank you very much. Unfortunately, we
do not have any more time for any additional questions. J.J.,
do you have any closing remarks, or Joel, do you have any
J.J. I just thank all of you for your time and
support of the show. It means a lot and I want to thank Joel
for being – are you drunk right now, Joel?
J.J. For being so totally – no, I just want to thank
all of you guys.
Joel Yes, thank you all very much. We really do
appreciate the support.
Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, the conference call
will be made available for replay. That begins today at 11
a.m. Pacific Time. The replay of the conference runs for one
week until November 14, 2013 at midnight Pacific.
That will conclude our conference call for today. Thank you
for your participation and for using AT&T Executive
TeleConference. You may now disconnect.
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