This fall, a new super-powered family will invade our TV screens. The Powells were your average family, until a strange accident brought them together in a way they could never imagine. Now, they find they’ve got strange new abilities that might help solve the problems of their everyday lives…and put them in incredible danger. But the experience may make them closer than ever before, as they discover they’re No Ordinary Family.
The new series is headlined by The Shield’s Michael Chiklis (who’s no stranger to comics, having played The Thing in the Fantastic Four films and written the recent comic Pantheon from IDW), also a producer on the show, and Julie Benz from Buffy, Angel and Dexter. It’s getting some of the best reviews of the fall pilots, and fans at Comic-Con International: San Diego this weekend will get a chance to check out a special screening and Q&A with the cast.
But that’s not the only comic connection for the show. Marc Guggenheim, author of many, many comics and friend of Newsarama, will be working on the show as a Consulting Producer. Guggenheim, who co-wrote the upcoming Green Lantern film with Family co-creator Greg Berlanti (both are also currently at work on a sequel script), tells us what drew him to this project, which A-list comic artist’s work cameos in the pilot, and gives some hints about his announcements at SDCC.
Newsarama: Marc, what's your involvement with the show, and what does it entail?
Marc Guggenheim: I was an Executive Producer on the pilot (the first episode) and I'm a Consulting Producer on the series. The term “Consulting Producer” is extraordinarily nebulous in TV and it really means something different depending on the show and the specific circumstances negotiated.
In my case with NOF, I'm mainly helping out on scripts at the moment, writing and rewriting. I'm trying to spend more time in the writers' room, but it's challenging given my schedule and my other commitments, so the majority of what I do on NOF relates to actual scripting as opposed to production or story-breaking.
Nrama: What made you want to come on board this project?
Guggenheim: Greg Berlanti and Jon Feldman. They co-created the show and I've worked with both of them over the years. When they approached me, I was at a place – which I hope never to leave – where I was mainly focused on the quality of the people involved rather than the specific project.
I just wanted to work with good people, and Greg and Jon are the salt of the earth. They're both just such gentlemen, good souls. For me, that was all I needed. It was a benefit that the show involved super-powers and comic book elements, but to be honest that was just the icing on the cake.
I said “yes” without even having read the script, simply on the strength of Greg and Jon's involvement. I knew with them at the helm, it would be a good project and a good experience.
Nrama: What's been the most exciting thing about working on the show so far?
Guggenheim: Working with the cast, something I did a lot of at the pilot stage and unfortunately don't have as much time for now that I'm consulting. But the cast we've put together is absolutely terrific, among the best on television and watching them work and do their scenes together has been incredibly exciting.
Nrama: Without spoilers, how has the series developed so far in terms of tone and the direction of the stories? The concept has a sort of Incredibles vibe, but there's also a sense that this is going to be more than just “regular people use powers to solve everyday problems.” Is there an arc set up for the first season, and possibly beyond?
Guggenheim: The comparisons to The Incredibles are inevitable, but NOF is much more grounded. There are no costumes and the family doesn't fight crime together as a team.
They aren't super-heroes. Michael Chiklis' character, Jim, comes the closest to being a super-hero, but as Romany Malco's character, George, says, he's more like a super-hero-in-training. The show really shines when the family's powers illustrate and dramatize their issues as a family. As Julie Benz' character, Stephanie, remarks in a future episode, their super-powers just lead to super-problems. That's where a lot of the fun and drama in the show is derived.
There is an arc set up for the first season. We know what we're building towards and there's a mythology – albeit not an oppressively complex one – that we've worked out.
Nrama: You've worked with Greg on a number of projects besides this -- most significantly for our readers, the Green Lantern scripts. What is your collaborative process like, and what makes you work well together?
Guggenheim: God, where to begin? Greg's like my brother. We've developed a real short hand over the years. We know each other's tastes and strengths. We trust each other's instincts. It's a familiarity and ease of working that comes out of years of working together, hundreds of script drafts and thousands of story beats. It's kind of hard to describe. We just “get” each other, as writers and as people.
Nrama: And of course, what's it like working with the cast, particularly Michael Chiklis as actor and producer? He's particularly interesting, given that he's done the FF films and written some comics. And of course it's fun to see Vic Mackey go back to his nice-guy Commish roots.
Guggenheim: Michael is a bundle of boundless energy and enthusiasm. He's also extremely smart, particularly when it comes to the process of television production. He understands as well as anybody how the sausage gets made.
But honestly, the most exciting and satisfying part of working with him is watching him perform. He's got that “star quality” that's so difficult to quantify and impossible to teach. You just watch him act and you understand immediately why he's a star
Nrama: You've got a very busy SDCC – let us know what you're up to, and what we can expect at the No Ordinary Family panel.
Guggenheim: The NOF panel's going to be great. We're screening the entire pilot and opening the rest of the panel up for Q&A with Greg Berlanti, Jon Feldman, David Semel (who directed the pilot) and Michael Chiklis. I think it'll be a lot of fun.
As for the rest of my SDCC, I'm going to be doing a bunch of signings for DC and Oni, a panel for Image (what? since when do I write for Image? hmm...), Oni's panel and the DC Teams panel. And I'm looking forward to attending the Green Lantern panel, of course.
Nrama: And we have a little Alex Ross art cameo in the pilot! How did that come about?
Guggenheim: Well, Michael Chiklis' character, Jim Powell, is an artist. As I was reading the pilot, I thought, “Wouldn't it be cool if Jim's drawings looked like Alex Ross' work?”
So I pitched the idea of getting Alex to do the drawings that Jim sketches in the pilot – there are two of them – to Greg, Jon and David and they flipped for the idea -- provided I could get Alex to say yes. So I called Alex, pitched him the series and he agreed to help out.
Nrama: What's coming up for you in comics, particularly Resurrection?
Guggenheim: Well, we're announcing something big for Resurrection at Comic-Con, so I don't want to spoil that. I'm also hard at work on my first few issues of JSA – which is a total blast to write. Probably the most fun I've had in comics for some time. I feel like we're doing something very special with that book.
Apart from that, I'm working on a project for Marvel which we haven't announced yet and the aforementioned Image work -- which, when I can talk about it, will be my most ambitious comic project to date. And something else with Oni. And something else for DC.
Nrama: And finally: Sell our readers on this show. Sell it as hard as you possibly can.
Guggenheim: Watch the show!!!!!!! No, that's probably not the right approach. I'm not much of a salesman. I prefer the soft sell and the honest approach.
Along those lines, the reason people should watch the show is the same reason I'm working on it: It's not the super-powers. Yes, they're cool and, yes, what helps give the show its identity is what I call the “eye candy,” the feature quality visual effects that we're doing week to week …
… honestly, what really attracted me to the show and continues to keep me jazzed about it – and, yes, the reason people should watch – is that it represents something that you just don't find on network television any more: It's a high quality show that the entire family can watch and enjoy. It has the visual spectacle I mentioned, but it also has drama, heart and humor. I think it's what TV needs right now and I think people will love it on those terms.
No Ordinary Family takes flight at Comic-Con on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. in room 6A.
Ready for more super-powered TV?