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If you’ve waited for a headless horseman carrying a shot and machine gun, Fox has a show for you. Sleepy Hollow, the network’s new twist on the classic Washington Irving short story, was previewed at Comic-Con International during a panel that featured executive producers/writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, writer Philip Iscove, showrunner Mark Goffman, director/producer Len Wiseman, and stars Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie and Orlando Jones.
The mystery-adventure’s pilot begins during the Revolutionary War as Ichabod Crane (Mison) confronts a masked British rider on the battlefield. The soldier strikes Crane with an ax, nearly killing him. Just as Crane looks ready to die, he reaches out with his sword and cuts off the horseman’s head. They fall to the ground together, both apparently dead.
Crane wakes up in a pool of white goo and crawls out of a cave and into a forest. He’s disoriented, and then shocked when he’s nearly struck by a car. Meanwhile, the horseman has reappeared in the present-day town and beheaded two men, including the sheriff. No one believes the story when surviving police Lt. Abbie Mills (Beharie) tells others what she saw — no one except the recently jailed Crane, who’s now a suspect in the murder.
Mills and Crane form a loose partnership to pursue the nearly indestructible horseman, who’s developed a fondness for modern weaponry and a n obsession with finding his missing head. His search leaves a small pile of bodies in its wake.
It turns out the Horseman is far more than he appears to be, and may have ties to dark places. Crane, who has slept for 250 years, may be connected to both the horseman and the mystical town of Sleepy Hollow, where witchcraft is common and the occult has a long history.
Following the screening, Iscove said be brought the idea of a modern-day “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to Kurtzman and Orci, best known for their work on Transformers, Star Trek and Fringe. They immediately fell for the notion of bringing the legend forward.
Of course, the Irving tale wasn’t set in the present, and the Horseman wasn’t necessarily tied to evil forces. In fact, the original 17-page story served merely has the springboard for the television series. “There’s a whole other side to the Revolutionary War,” Orci said. “It’s great way to reference history.”
The producers also liked the idea of tying Crane to Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” which Kurtzman said “allowed us to jump forward into the future without having to do time travel.” In addition, they permanently linked together the horseman and Crane – a connection that likely will be explored in later episodes.
Mison said he took on Ichabod Crane with a healthy dose of caution. To add some complexity to the role, the writers gave Crane a British background as an Oxford professor, which made the English actor a perfect choice. “You want to be cautious when you’re approaching something that comes from a book,” he said. “The idea to take the character that is already established and throw him into something like this can’t be anything other than exciting?”
Of her character, Beharie said, “Abbie is sitting in the same seat that you’re all sitting in. She’s evaluating what’s happening, taking it all in, taking in this guy’s claims. It doesn’t make any sense to her. She has a very tarnished past.”
The series will use frequent flashbacks to explore both the modern day and the American Revolution. “What’s so much fun is seeing how history repeats itself,” Goffman said. “All the events you know in the Revolutionary War, you think you know what really happened, we get to recast those events.” Viewers can expect secret agendas and societies to emerge frequently. Goffman added, “There was a much bigger fight going on, and Ichabod Crane was there and that fight is still going on today.”
However, the search for the horseman doesn’t consume the entire series “It’s not just about tracking down the Headless Horseman every week,” Wiseman said. “The Headless Horseman is actually one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.”
Sleepy Hollow premieres Sept. 16 on Fox.