The message of the ABC legal drama Eli Stone is one of hope, and comics writer Marc Guggenheim is holding onto hope that the television show he co-created can be saved from cancelation.
Fans of Guggenheim haven't heard a lot of good news about his Hollywood projects lately. Not only did ABC announce in November that the network would not order new episodes of the legal drama Eli Stone, which Guggenheim co-created with Greg Berlanti, but a recent statement from David Goyer also indicated the Green Lantern movie Guggenheim co-wrote was put on hold along with other DC movies.
But Guggenheim said he’s not only holding onto hope that Eli Stone could be renewed for a third season, but he doesn't think Goyer meant to include Green Lantern in his statement. (In fact, although Goyer didn’t name what movies in particular were put "on hold," his comment was in response to a question relating to his Flash and Green Arrow projects.)
"I don't think David was referring to Green Lantern. I think David was referring to other properties. That doesn't jibe with the information that I've been getting," Guggenheim said.
That assessment would agree with what Guggenheim told Newsarama in October, when the writer said the Hal Jordan-centered film, which he co-wrote with Berlanti and Superman/Batman scribe Michael Green, was moving along in pre-production, unaffected by any of the rumored reworking that other DC projects were experiencing at Warner Bros. "It hasn't really affected this project in the least," he said at the time.
While Guggenheim said he couldn't say anything else about the Green Lantern film right now, he was more than happy to discuss Eli Stone. While ABC decided not to order any additional episodes of the show for this season, Guggenheim said that doesn't mean there couldn't be hope for next fall.
"I hold a hope that Eli comes back for a third season. Is it a thin hope? Yes. Is it a hope? Yes. But it's not impossible at this point," Guggenheim said. "And by ‘not impossible,’ I mean that the sets are still standing and the actors are still under contract. It's possible. I mean, in television, anything is possible."
Now nine episodes into its second season, 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 from a higher power that lead him to people in need.
Fans are concerned about the show's future because while Eli Stone is supposed to end after 13 total episodes this season, the last four episodes have yet to appear on ABC's schedule. But Guggenheim said that although they haven’t been scheduled, all of the upcoming episodes have been filmed and he's wrapping up post-production on the last two.
And because there’s a good chance Eli Stone will end with this season's finale, Guggenheim said the writers tried to wrap up as many of the show's threads as possible.
"I think it's a very satisfying wrap-up," the writer said. "Does it wrap up everything going on in the series? No, that's not really possible given our situation. Is it a satisfying ending and a satisfying coda? Yeah, I think it is."
Guggenheim said the writers designed Episode 13 knowing there were two possibilities: that the network could cancel the show or they were going to order nine additional episodes.
"And we didn't know, at the time we were breaking 13, which one it was going to be," he explained. "So what that meant was we had to write an episode that would work equally well as both a mid-season finale or a series finale. And because of the way the show was on the bubble last year, we're kind of experienced with that kind of episode so we knew how to do that. And we did write Episode 13 to work both ways.
"After word came down that they weren't ordering additional episodes, I went in and just wrote in a little extra piece of information regarding Katie Holmes' character," Guggenheim said, referring to Eli's love interest Grace, played by Holmes earlier this season. "We're going to find out what happened to her after she flew out of Eli’s life at the end of the second episode this season. It relates to an idea that I had for the back nine episodes. But that was really the only change I made to that last episode that was influenced by the network's decision."
Guggenheim said that from now "through the end of Episode 13" (which he never once called a series finale during our interview), viewers will have several plotlines resolved.
"You'll get a sense of a resolution of the Eli/Maggie flirtation, you'll know what the fate of the firm is, you'll learn something significant about Matt and Taylor's relationship, and you'll see the resolution, obviously, of the cliffhanger that Episode 9 ended with. The whole Dark Truth subplot all gets answered in those final four episodes. They wrap up a lot of things," he said. "There's a laundry list of things that are taken care of by the time Episode 13 ends. And we really did end with a bang."
As for the possibility that Eli Stone ends this year, Guggenheim said he doesn't blame ABC, who showed a lot of support to the show.
"I'll tell you what I told Steve McPherson, the head of the network, when he called to give me the news. I said to him, ‘Look, there's an argument to be made that Eli shouldn't have been brought back for a second season in the first place.’ But Steve nevertheless he made the decision to do that," Guggenheim said. "The show wasn't doing great in ratings at the end of the first season, so he would have been justified in not bringing it back, but he did. I think that was an extraordinarily high show of faith in the show. And I think it was an extraordinarily brave thing to do.
"I also believe, in my heart of hearts, had the economy not taken a downturn, it would have been easier economically for the network to keep going with the show," he added.
Guggenheim said he thinks there were a lot of reasons that the show didn't do as well as hoped, not the least of which is the message of Eli Stone – hope.
"Eli might have been a little ahead of its time," he said. "Eli is a very hopeful show. And we're starting to see this era of hope get inaugurated – no pun intended – with the start of Barack Obama's administration. Everyone's starting to feel hopeful again and everything's feeling more positive again. But this show premiered in the waning years of the Bush administration, and I don't mean to take a political stance here, I'm just speaking from an opinion poll perspective, but the country was not in a very hopeful place when the series started. The country was not feeling too good about itself. It's possible that Eli was the right show, but just at the wrong time. You never know."
Guggenheim said there are many other factors to consider, including the possibility that the show would have done better in an earlier time slot.
"I was talking to someone about this the other day, and they were wondering why ABC couldn't market the show better. And I pointed out, ‘look at what the show is. It's a comedy-legal-drama-relationship show about big issues and musical numbers,’" he said with a laugh. "It's kind of hard to market. It's hard to distill a show like Eli Stone down to a marketing slogan. I think that's what makes it special, and I think that's why the people who like the show like it so much. But, they like the show because they sampled it. They checked it out and watched it and fell in love with it. If you don't check out the show, it's hard to figure out what it is. So I have no complaints with how the network marketed the show. I honestly don’t know what they could have done differently.
"Also, so much of success and failure on television is kismet," Guggenheim said. "It's this odd 'zeigeisty' thing that nobody can quite figure out. Believe me, if someone could figure it out, my job would be a lot easier, and everyone’s job at the network would be a lot easier. It's weird. Every year there's a hit that nobody could have predicted. And almost every year there's a show that has everything going for it, and it tanks. It's weird. Nobody can figure it out."
Besides his work on comics like Amazing Spider-Man and Young X-Men, as well as the Green Lantern movie, Guggenheim said he intends to continue pursuing television projects even if things don't work out for Eli Stone. "Do I hope against hope that Eli will get renewed for a third season? Yes. But if Eli doesn't get renewed for a third season, do I have other television aspirations? Yes. So you're not going to get rid of me that easily," he laughed.
But Guggenheim echoes the message of "hope" that viewers saw so often in Eli Stone, pointing out that supporters of the show have already started trying with the website http://www.save-elistone.com.
"I think a grassroots movement can accomplish things. Look at what happened after Firefly went off the air. The groundswell of support made the Serenity movie happen," Guggenheim said. "And this could work with ABC. I understand people being angry at the network, they’re always the fall guy in these situations, but in Eli’s case, the network really does love the show. They've been very supportive of the show. This was not something they were happy doing. I think if the economic circumstances were different, they wouldn't have done it at all. So I sort of proceed from the belief that anything at this point can sway them. So I say, have at it, if you think the show should come back. If there is a groundswell of support, it might make a difference."