How ''Prison Break'' set the bar high for fall dramas
There are countless ways to lose a toe. Here’s a really bad one.
Deep inside a dank, barbed-wire-lined penitentiary outside Chicago, where the Fox drama Prison Break is shooting, a director barks: ”Where are the shears? Somebody pull his boot off once he’s down!” Three inmates hold down a thrashing fourth, a new guy named Michael Scofield (The Human Stain‘s Wentworth Miller). A scuzzy goon rips off Michael’s shoe and forces his digits between the blades of pruning shears while the head badass, Abruzzi (Peter Stormare), tries to extract some valuable information. The intel is so valuable that he promised to help Michael pull off a daring escape in exchange for it down the road. It’s also so valuable that Abruzzi just found out he needs it ASAP to keep his family alive, so he’s giving Michael three seconds (two of which just passed) to cough it up.
”I’ll tell you the moment we’re outside those walls,” sputters Michael. ”Not a second before.”
”I’m giving you one last chance…,” says Abruzzi, signaling the dude gripping the clippers.
We can’t divulge whether or not we mean that literally. But it’s painfully clear that things are getting pretty ugly in this joint. ”In the grand tradition of ‘Welcome to the O.C., bitch,’ this is ‘Welcome to prison, bitch,”’ says Miller between takes, shaking off the toe trauma. ”I’m not sure Grandma should watch.”
Not unless Granny is interested in the grittiest, riskiest new show on network TV this fall. Prison Break (premiering Aug. 29 at 8 p.m.) follows a law-abiding structural engineer, Michael, who robs a bank so he can be sent to the same jail as his death-row-inmate brother, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), who was convicted of (and seemingly framed for) the murder of the vice president’s brother. Through his job, Michael acquired some priceless prison blueprints — and his plan is to use them to break Lincoln out. Think The Shawshank Redemption meets The Great Escape. Think 24 meets Oz. Think how this sounds nothing like all those procedural dramas debuting this fall. ”It’s kind of a novel,” says creator Paul Scheuring (A Man Apart). ”It’s going to have a lot of different looks because only part of the show is incarceration.”
Like any good jailbreak, this one required much time and effort. The show was developed in 2003, but Fox was too nervous about Prison‘s long-term viability to order a pilot. The network reconsidered it as a miniseries, and drew interest from Steven Spielberg and Bruce Willis. Neither deal materialized, but in 2004, Fox — noting the success of high-concept serials like 24 and ABC’s new smash Lost — decided the idea might work as a series after all. ”I was shocked Fox was doing it,” says exec producer Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), who directed the pilot. ”I’m like, ‘Are we just going through the motions? Is this really going on the air?’ Then they started throwing all the money into it and I was like, ‘Let’s go for it!”’