The 'Other' Job: Marc Guggenheim on Eli Stone

Guggenheim on Eli Stone

Eli Stone is one of those shows that defies easy description. Part legal drama, part musical, part spiritual awakening story, the ABC show is an eclectic blend of different genres, with special effects like elaborate war scenes and exploding bridges thrown in the mix.

"What the show is really depends upon what you like," said writer Marc Guggenheim, who co-created Eli Stone with Greg Berlanti. "That's really what I end up falling back on. It's a legal drama, but it's also a relationship show. It's also a show about spirituality. It's also a show with musical numbers and visual effects and a mythology. So the truth is, there's really something for everybody in it. I don't tend to describe the show very well. I much prefer to let the show speak for itself. The people who have watched the show tend to like it, so I'm always inclined to let people judge for themselves."

With its second season on ABC beginning Tuesday at 10 p.m., Eli Stone follows the story of an attorney at a high-powered law firm who starts having strange visions, even imagining that George Michael is singing to him in his firm's lobby. While an aneurysm is originally blamed for the visions, Eli discovers that he's being given meaningful messages that lead him to people in need.

"Coming into the year, we have a cliffhanger to resolve," Guggenheim said of the second season's premiere. "At the end of the first season, Eli's aneurysm, which gives him his visions, was surgically removed. And it looked like he did die, or he may have died. So there's all these questions coming into the season premiere. Is he still alive? If he's still alive, does he have the aneurysm? If he doesn't have the aneurysm, is he still having visions? If he's not having visions, where's the show? So there are a lot of questions that are unanswered. But they all get answered by the end of the season premiere."

The show's fun, mutli-genre mix has attracted some top level guest stars this season, like Seal, Sigourney Weaver and a singing/dancing Katie Holmes. Also slated to appear this year are character actors like Ken Howard from The White Shadow, Roxanne Hart from Chicago Hope, Gina Torres from Firefly and Bridget Moynahan from Six Degrees and Sex in the City.

"We've been very lucky to attract a group of actors of an incredibly high caliber," Guggenheim said. "We have a great casting director and phenomenal people working for the studio who have just been amazing. But I think the biggest factor for the show is that we've been attracting people who don't typically do television. Like Sigourney Weaver's never done television before. I think it's because they get a good experience both on and off the set. And the message of the show, of fairness and justice and spirituality and faith, is something that speaks to a lot of these actors. Just like I think it speaks to a lot of different people."

That message of "faith" is often central to the show. In fact, the very first manifestation of George Michael had the pop star singing his hit song "Faith," introducing an ongoing theme for Eli Stone as the character explores the higher meaning behind his visions, something that makes the series uniquely spiritual in nature.

"That was always the intent, but part and parcel of that intent was that the show would always be about spirituality and not about religion," Guggenheim explained. "Religion can sometimes be construed as a confining word, whereas we like to consider the spirituality in Eli a big, open tent. People can come into it or ignore it, if they want. The truth of the matter is that the spirituality on the show is something that tends to recede to the background or come to the fore depending upon the nature of the episode."

For viewers, it helps that the messages Eli receives from a "higher power" are in the form of quirky musical numbers and larger-than-life special effects.

"The thing we said in the very first episode, in the pilot, was that God takes many forms. Sometimes, God is a sunset. Sometimes God is fairness and justice. And sometimes, yeah, God is George Michael," Guggenheim said with a laugh. "The nature of the show really sees so many different forms of 'God,' and if you tune into the second season, you'll see even more manifestations of God. And it tends to be God with a 'small g.' It's sort of 'god' in this spiritual sense."

As Guggenheim has told Newsarama in the past, Eli's spiritually-guided influence on the world will be bigger this season, reaching beyond the walls of his San Francisco law firm to a level that Guggenheim calls "epic." There will also be more ongoing mysteries introduced to the show, which features not only a weekly legal-themed story that resolves in one episode, but several ongoing storylines.

"I would say that this season is even more mythology driven than last season. There are still a lot of surprises in terms of Eli's relationship with [his acupuncturist/spiritual guide] Dr. Chen, and Chen's relationship to Eli's dad," Guggenheim said. "In the second episode, we introduce a major piece of mythology relating to his dad that I won't spoil here, but it really gives us our drive for the first half of the season. So there's a lot of deepening of those relationships and mysteries, the idea being that as we resolve mysteries, we want to create new mysteries that are compelling and take their place."

Yet the writer also emphasized that all the bigger mysteries incorporated into the show's early episodes will be resolved as the series continues.

"That's part of our philosophy of the show. We don't tease you too long in between mysteries," Guggenheim said. "This is a very satisfying season premiere in the sense that it really does resolve all the open questions that you might have at the end of Season 1."

Last year, Eli Stone was positioned on ABC's schedule after Wednesday night's sci-fi drama Lost, which would seem to be a good fit for a show created by two-thirds of the writing team behind the upcoming Green Lantern film based on the DC Comics sci-fi superhero. And with Guggenheim currently writing Marvel comic books like Amazing Spider-Man and Young X-Men, and another Eli Stone writer, Andrew Kreisberg, writing the Green Arrow/Black Canary title for DC Comics, it would make sense for the audience of Eli Stone to be a similar brand of "sci-fi geek" as Lost.

"Andrew just had his first Batman comic come out [last week]: Batman Confidential #22. And Andrew co-wrote the Eli Stone season premiere with me," Guggenheim said, equating the two accomplishments like only a comic book fan would.

Yet the way the season panned out, Eli Stone struggled to make the cut for this year's ABC line-up, and the network is trying out a different time slot for the series, positioning it after Dancing with the Stars on Tuesday nights. It's a time slot Guggenheim thinks will help the multi-faceted show find a wider audience, but he also hopes the fans from last year follow Eli Stone to its new night.

"It's been so fun [during the first season] seeing their reaction," Guggenheim said, mentioning that he even noticed the ongoing Talk@Newsarama thread of comic book fans dedicated to the show. "Your readers on Newsarama actually spot things that I would have been convinced that people would have never spotted. They see all the Easter eggs, they catch all the little clues, and they post in real time, which is fun. And I think they grew more attached to the show as it continued, which is something that a lot of people found. And our hope is, obviously, that there's even more of that type of thing this season, and that we do an even better job of speaking to a lot of different people."

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