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CBS will enter the spy game with its new midseason series Intelligence, which kicked off this year’s television lineup at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Stars Josh Holloway (Lost), Marg Helgenberger (CSI) and Meghan Ory (Once Upon a Time) joined executive producers Michael Seitzman and Tripp Vinson onstage for a panel moderated by TV Guide’s William Keck.
The group arrived after audience members were treated to a screening of the show’s pilot. Intelligence is a dramatic thriller about Gabriel (Holloway), a high-tech intelligence operative enhanced with a supercomputer microchip in his brain that allows him to be directly connected into the worldwide information grid, and have instant access to all Internet, WiFi, telephone and satellite data. He works for director Lillian Strand (Helgenberger), a no-nonsense boss who assigns Secret Service Agent Riley Neal (Ory) to protect Gabriel from outside threats. The drama is reminiscent of Chuck, only with less humor and fewer shirts.
Seitzman noted that the tone of the series is greatly influenced by The Six Million Dollar Man. “We talk about that show all the time,” he said. “Although with inflation, I think we’re in the billions now. We talk about it because that show was about human enhancement. There were two or three pilots made for that show. They asked a lot of the same questions. We tried to make a show that was as much about being human as it is about technology.
“We ask that question all the time: What part of the human is left when you augment humanity?” Seitzman continued. “I think that show asked very similar things. But today we ask the question: What today is more important than super-strength? In the ‘70s, super-strength was what mattered. But in today’s world, with drones in the sky and satellites that can pick up and see everything, and we carry around more power in our pocket, as John Billingsley’s character says in the pilot, than the space shuttle, information seems to be the bionic strength of today.”
“Do you feel like an amped-up Sawyer?” Keck asked Holloway, referencing the fan-favorite character he played on Lost. “Cyber-Sawyer?”
“Uh … no,” the actor replied. “I was joking with my brothers, actually, because I’m probably one of the most computer-illiterate people on the planet. I was saying the only way I would probably use a computer every day is if I had one jammed in my head. So I think it’s a funny dichotomy that they picked me to be the super-computer guy.”
He said he was drawn to the show because it was a dramatic thriller with strong, attractive women characters and it was a blend between James Bond, Jason Bourne and Mission: Impossible. “I was always wanting to play a secret agent of sorts, and this was very interesting and very current with the way our world is changing every day with technology,” he said. “There’s a documentary called Transcendent Man and in there they say the only way we’re going to be able to keep up with technology today is if we’re ‘enhanced.’ So we already have technology today to assist quadriplegics with driving wheelchairs. We can guide a helicopter through an obstacle course using just our minds. So this is current. This is happening now.”
Keck then asked the panelists what they would do if they were really enhanced with a microchip. Ory said she would take a lot of tests, while Holloway replied he would be addicted to Korean dramas and polka dancing. Helgenberger said she would like to be able to speak any language at a moment’s notice so she could travel anywhere and “seem smart.”
Asked about her hard-nosed character and how she refers to Gabriel as an “it” in the pilot, Helgenberger replied that Strand is thinking about the safety of the country and its people, but noted that by the end of the pilot she is already developing personal feelings toward Gabriel.
Seitzman said every TV show should have a “window and a mirror” effect. It should feel like you’re looking out a window into a world that is different from yours, but it should also feel like you’re looking in a mirror and you can see aspects of your life in what you’re watching. He casts beautiful people to play the characters and puts them in crazy situations but the more you spend time with them and get to know them, you realize that they are just like us.
Vinson was asked about Amelia, a character referenced in the pilot as the woman Gabriel loves and wants desperately to find, but teased her identity and whereabouts are something viewers might have to wait for. “I think you should expect to see more of her and learn about what happened to her,” Vinson said. “We’ll see how Josh’s character will deal with that. That’s a fun part of the show. I’m very excited to have the audience see how we deal with that stuff.”
“I loved that relationship — that he was married and that he had that stake involved” Holloway said. “I love the fact that he has this built-in dilemma. Do you follow your head or heart? This is a question that we always have to ask ourselves.”
“We looked for a lot of ways to humanize him,” Vinson added. “We didn’t want the show to be about a robot. The way his character is designed, the backstory he has with Amelia, all of those things were in an effort to make him feel like a real guy.”
The panel came to a close with Keck asking Holloway which was more painful — Gabriel’s loss of Amelia in Intelligence or Sawyer’s loss of Juliet in Lost.
“Wow. That’s not fair, Will,” chuckled Holloway, before pausing for a moment to consider. “The loss of any love is tragic.”
“Good answer!” exclaimed Helgenberger as the audience clapped.
Intelligence premieres midseason on CBS.