Sarah Michelle Gellar's new CBS thriller pilot 'Ringer': The producer spills details! -- EXCLUSIVE
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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Image Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty ImagesThe networks have been on a pilot-greenlighting tear lately. But which possible show has the potential to be a gem of the 2011-12 season? We’ll go out on a limb here: CBS’ in-the-works thriller Ringer, which—should the pilot get the pickup to series during May’s network upfronts—would mark the much-anticipated return of Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar to regular series television. Granted, Gellar acolytes have been titillated by her possible return before with HBO’s The Wonderful Maladys, only to have the pilot never make it to series. But alas, the potential seems to be there with Ringer. Until now, the show has only been described as drama about “a troubled young woman on the run who hides out by living the life of her wealthy twin sister, until she learns her sibling’s life has a bounty on it as well.” Rather vague. Are you dying for more details? Us, too, so we tracked down Peter Traugott, the pilot’s producer and head of Brillstein Entertainment Partners, the production company behind Ringer, and grilled him about the pilot. Here, Traugott spills more about Ringer’s plot, its enviable star Sarah Michelle Gellar and getting her to come back to network television (she wanted to do cable!), and why the show is indeed a good fit for CBS.
WHAT IS RINGER EXACTLY? “It’s a thriller, for sure,” Traugott explains. “It’s an edgy thriller about redemption and about revenge. There’s a point of view of two twin sisters who grew apart over a tragedy in their past. And one now seeks redemption and the other one seeks revenge. The sister who is seeking redemption has had a much more troubled life. When her fancy pants sister disappears, she takes over her life. She’s living the life of her more successful sister only to come to find out that her life is equally as fraught with danger and complication. Her sister dies in a boating accident. The other sister takes on her persona, only to come to find out that they have a hit out on her.”
WHY CAST SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR? HOW’D YOU GET HER TO COME BACK TO NETWORK TV? “Sarah had started thinking about coming back to TV a couple of years ago and she really wanted it to be something in cable,” Traugott explains. “In part just because of the subject matter you’re able to do in cable. But network television now has cracked that door a little bit and they’ve obviously been doing great stuff in network—and great stuff in cable. Both places are great. And this was a spec script that we had found and my colleague, Rachel Kaplan, had found by these young writers [Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder of The CW’s Supernatural] and we flipped for it. Sarah’s manager got it to her, and she fell in love with the piece, too. We had been talking about this group for over a year trying to figure this out. For Sarah, she wasn’t really sure about network just because she wasn’t sure she would get what she wanted. When CBS read this thing and flipped for it and loved Sarah for it, that kind of started her thinking about being more open-minded to doing network because of the subject matter and this piece that she was so excited about.”
DOES GELLAR PLAY BOTH SISTERS ROLES? Yes! “She plays two characters: One is Bridget, the sister who takes over Siobhan’s life—Siobhan’s the other sister. The sisters reunite after having been estranged for a long time, and when they reunite, Siobhan dies. She falls…you know, in a boating accident.” So it’s like Hayley Mills of Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap and its more modern remake? “Yeah,” Traugott admit, with a laugh. “That’s kind of a comedic reference, and a reference old old Westerns—yeah, Sarah’s playing both roles.”
IF SIOBHAN DIES EARLY, DO WE SEE HER IN FLASHBACKS—OR WHAT? Yes, exactly. “You’ll see her that way. Not necessarily tonally nor stylistically, but the show comparable to Damages. I love Damages—by the way, it’s my favorite show—but in the same way that Damages tells part of the story in the present, through the past. Not just flashbacks but through actual stories in the past. That’s what’s happening here. Hopefully if we go to series, the audience will come to understand what the fall out was between Siobhan and Bridget. Why Siobhan would never want to see her sister again, why Bridget was in a kind of dark place in her life—all that stuff will be told as we move forward in Bridget’s stories through flashbacks with Siobhan.
WILL BUFFY FANS BE PLEASED WITH THIS ROLE FOR GELLAR? Duh: yes! “For the Buffy fans, she wanted part of what she initiated. As a matter of fact, her and her manager know this, but I know one thing she wanted to guard against was making sure that she whatever she does in TV, she does something that her fans who had grown up loving Buffy will also be excited about. And we think this show has that quality to it.
HOW WILL THIS PLEASE BUFFY FANS EXACTLY? “It’s a very different show. I mean, Buffy is so specific and a great, cool genre piece,” Traugott says. “But in the same way with Sarah, I think what’s remarkable about her as an actor—and very few people have this ability—she can play both sides well. If you remember Cruel Intentions, she was the villain, but you found yourself kind of rooting for her anyway. That’s what we’re looking for. How do we find something where her character has some edge, there’s some darkness to her, she doesn’t always do the right thing, but at the end of the day, you’re also rooting for her? And that’s what we were looking for in this. Obviously, Buffy was a hero, a kick-ass hero, and we wanted to be true to that with Sarah.”
IS GELLAR’S BRIDGET SUPPOSED TO BE A HEROINE? “It’s not like that, no,” Traugott clarifies. “I wouldn’t say that. It’s not that kind of a show. It’s more of a thriller. But we think it shows a lot of different layers to Sarah, and her character is so interesting and compelling. Very different from the Buffy character, but there’s a lot there for the audience to grab onto.
WHAT’S THE FORMAT? PROCEDURAL? SERIALIZED? “There’s an overriding arc that the writers have kind of figured out for the first several seasons, if we get so lucky,” Traugott says. “But there’s an overriding arc in part of Bridget’s drive of trying to figure out who is trying to kill Siobhan and now her, in Siobhan’s shoes. And week in and week out we will be telling episodic stories, relationship stories, hopefully wish-fulfilling kind of stories, because she is living this kind of fantastical life all the while trying to figure out who’s after her. She’ll be with Siobhan’s husband, which is obviously new to her because she’s in a relationship with a man she doesn’t know but he thinks he knows her. She’ll be dealing with Siobhan’s friends, and they’ll be trying to kind of safe-crack this mystery.”
WHAT OPENED THE DOOR FOR A SHOW LIKE THIS ON CBS? HOW DOES IT FIT THAT BRAND? “You know, to read the script, you would not have thought CBS, but I think when [CBS’ entertainment president] Nina Tassler and her team read it and flipped for it, and we came in and talked about it, they had passion for this. They talk a lot about The Good Wife and how, a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t have thought that the The Good Wife was a CBS show. But you go from a CSI kind of a show—a pure procedural—to The Good Wife, which has a procedural element but it’s obviously very character-driven and has a lot of great story and characters on it. Hopefully, if we do it right, Ringer can be the next evolution of that. That is, on paper it’s not necessarily a CBS show but worked exceedingly well in that Good Wife way.”
WHAT’S THE PILOT’S PRODUCTION SCHEDULE LIKE? “We’re just ramping up now where we’re getting into casting, we’re getting into pre-production stuff, we’re getting into director,” Traugott says. “All of our stuff is starting now. The goal would be to shoot—you know, like all the other pilots—sometime in early to mid March.”
WHY IS GELLAR PERFECT FOR THIS ROLE? “I’m just a fan of Sarah’s,” Traugott says. “I’m excited that there’s a piece of material she’s excited about and obviously as a producer, I wanna get this show on the air, and as a big fan of Sarah’s, I just want to watch her on TV again. It seems like America wants to, and it seems like CBS was a fan from what I saw. Hopefully if we do our jobs right we’ll have an opportunity. We’re excited. She’s iconic.”
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky
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