We're used to the TV-drama routine now -- cops, crooks, 22 episodes a year. That's why NBC's "The Slap" feels so differeint; it starts Thursday and runs for just eight weeks, exploring the subtler side of emotions. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
For most of TV
history, American networks have had one notion of a drama series.
There should be a
lot of episodes (at least 22 per year) and a lot of seasons. There
should be one of the “franchises” (cops, crooks, courts,
doctors), to provide an ending to each hour.
Lately, that's been
challenged a little by some shows – and a lot by “The Slap” on
“We just have to
find ways to eventize things and make them big and break through the
clutter,” said Robert Greenblatt, NBC's programming chief.
His show may or may
not seem like an event, but it definitely isn't part of the clutter.
It runs for only eight Thursdays and is triggered in the first hour,
when someone slaps someone else's son.
“All of these
characters come to the table with a tremendous amount of internal
conflict and struggle about different aspects of their lives and
relationships,” said Zachary Quinto, who plays the slapper.
In short, this isn't
really about that one swipe. “Everyone gets slapped in some way,”
said Melissa George, who plays the slapped child's mother.
The show's short run
helps viewers, who know they won't be left hanging. It also helps the
close-ended,” said producer Walter Parkes. It's “an opportunity
for people, both behind and in front of the camera, to really commit
to something a little bit different, a little bit special.”
He's a movie guy who
combined with his wife, Laure MacDonald, to run the early years of
the DreamWorks movie studio, when it had consecutive Oscar-winners
with “American Beauty,” “Gladiator” and “A Beautiful Mind.”
Now they've assembled movie and theater people.
Directing all the
episodes is Lisa Cholidenko, an indie-movie favorite for “The Kids
Are All Right.” Writing them is Jon Robin Baitz, a playwright who
has a Tony nomination, two Pulitzer Prize nominations ... and wrote
bitterly about his earlier experience, creating ABC's “Brothers &
Its actors have done
big-deal movies – “Star Trek” (Quinto is Spock), “Kill Bill”
(Uma Thurman), “Mission Impossible 2” (Thandie Newton) – and
more. Peter Sarsgaard, who has the central role, is a favorite of
independent-movie fans; Brian Cox, who plays his dad, is a British
And one person has a
deeper involvement with this: Melissa George also played Rosie, the
mom, in the original “Slap,” in her native Australia.
When she heard about
the American project, George said, “I was like, 'Who is going to
play Rosie?' .... I was signing a deal for another job and (Baitz)
called me and said, 'You've got to do it.'”
One might assume
that off-camera, actors debated the right and wrong of that slap.
George doesn't remember that in either production: “Oh, there's no
argument,” she said. Tthe slap “is completely wrong. There's no
discussion. So maybe (other cast members) talk about it, but I just
plenty of room to argue. Thurman, whose own roots seem thoroughly
non-violent – her father is an expert on Tibetan Buddhism and a
friend of the Dalia Lama, her mother is the ex-wife of Timothy Leary
– says she understands the debate.
“Being brought up
in the '70s, we got hit all the time,” Thurman said. “And friends
were hit and you saw their parents hitting their children ....
Hitting was acceptable.”
And now it's one of
many personal issues that may stir viewers. “There will be
arguments at dinners,” George said. And that's something that
rarely emerges from those cops-and-crooks TV dramas.
-- “The Slap,” 8
p.m. Thursdays, NBC
-- Eight weeks,
starting Feb. 12