Best Served Cold: The Unofficial Companion to Revenge

Best Served Cold: The Unofficial Companion to Revenge

by Erin Balser

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A critical and commercial hit, Revenge has a rabid and rapidly growing fan base. It’s consistently the #1 show in its timeslot and it’s ABC’s biggest primetime hit since Lost, the first series in four years to match that show’s success in the coveted 18-49 demographic. A fast-paced and complicated character-driven show with many plot twists


A critical and commercial hit, Revenge has a rabid and rapidly growing fan base. It’s consistently the #1 show in its timeslot and it’s ABC’s biggest primetime hit since Lost, the first series in four years to match that show’s success in the coveted 18-49 demographic. A fast-paced and complicated character-driven show with many plot twists and unanswered questions, fans will welcome insight and analysis into Emily Thorne’s master plan in this intelligent but playful companion to the series. Explorations of themes, characters, the show’s soapy and literary inspirations, and real-world events make this the must-have book for everyone who is watching Revenge.

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"The ultimate resource for truly dedicated fans. The authors' unabashed enthusiasm and total immersion in the 'huge, complicated, and fascinating world' of Glee is apparent throughout this highly readable companion volume. . . . Gleeks will want this volume by their side as they watch—or rewatch—episodes and delight in each and every detail of the show."  —School Library Journal on Don't Stop Believin': The Unofficial Guide to Glee

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ECW Press
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6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

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Best Served Cold

The Unofficial Companion to Revenge

By Erin Balser


Copyright © 2012 Erin Balser
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77090-333-3


plotting revenge

The Making of ABC's Soaptacular Hit

Revenge opens with a quote from ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." This sentiment is true not only for those seeking vengeance, but for those developing a TV series. Hundreds of shows are pitched every pilot season. Few are shot. Even fewer are picked up. And even fewer still make it past their first season and become bona fide hits. When Revenge was pitched to ABC, it received a lot of support from network executives; Paul Lee, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, admitted the project was one of the network's "internal favorites." But those behind the show — the ABC network, Temple Hill Productions, and Mike Kelley's cast and crew — were cautiously optimistic. They had all buried beloved projects before. But thanks to right team, the right cast, and the right concept at the right time, Revenge defied the odds.

While writer and creator Mike Kelley is given a lot of credit for the show (and rightly so) Revenge's journey started long before he came into the picture. It began with the Temple Hill Entertainment team, Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, two producers best known for a series of teen-targeted films about brooding vampires who sparkle.

Before becoming a TV and film producer, Marty Bowen was a talent agent. After graduating from Harvard University, Bowen moved to Los Angeles and landed a job in a talent agency's mailroom. He worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming a partner at the United Talent Agency. As an agent, he represented some of Hollywood's best and brightest, including The Sopranos star James Gandolfini and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. But after years of finding the right projects for his clients, the Fort Worth, Texas, native wanted to start making his own. "I wanted a creative outlet," Bowen explained to So he turned to his longtime friend Wyck Godfrey.

By this time, Godfrey had spent 15 years producing films for companies like New Line Cinema. His résumé included The Mask (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), and Behind Enemy Lines (2001). The Princeton graduate was ready to develop his own projects when Bowen came calling. In 2006, Bowen and Godfrey both left their jobs and started Temple Hill Entertainment, named after the house they had shared when they were just launching their careers.

The two found success right away with their first film, 2006's The Nativity Story. The Jennifer Aniston project Management (2008), a modest box-office success, followed. Then Temple Hill decided to bet big on a project that couldn't get off the ground: the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight trilogy. After floundering in development hell for a few years, the project needed producers to breathe life into it again. Director Catherine Hardwicke — who had worked with Bowen and Godfrey on The Nativity Story — suggested Temple Hill. They jumped at the chance to bring these books to the big screen, as they saw Temple Hill as a multi-platform company, working on the intersection of books, films, and television. "We stay in those three worlds," Bowen said at the 2011 ContentAsia Summit. "We incubate [ideas] in any of these various mediums." The gamble paid off. The first Twilight film (2008) grossed just under $400 million worldwide, launching one of the most successful film franchises since Harry Potter. Bowen and Godfrey — and Temple Hill Entertainment — had arrived.

With Twilight red hot, Bowen and Godfrey were eager to keep expanding and started to think about developing projects for television. Creatively, the medium had never been stronger. Patrick Moran, the head of drama development at ABC Studios (and, once upon a time, Godfrey's intern when he worked at New Line Cinema), encouraged Temple Hill to give the small screen a try. In 2010, he offered them a development deal, and Godfrey and Bowen went to work developing two projects for the network: a 14th-century adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and a primetime soap set in the Hamptons.

Bowen and Godfrey chose the Hamptons because they liked the "aspirational element" of the place, Bowen explained. It helped that TV viewers were already familiar with the setting, thanks to shows like Gossip Girl and tabloid tales like Diddy's infamous white parties. "We loved the idea of having rich people coming for the summer, interacting with the people who live there the year round," Bowen said. "We thought that there was really interesting drama to explore."

ABC agreed but thought the idea needed further development. So Temple Hill turned to literature for inspiration. Their first idea was a modern-day adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. "[It] was a step in the right direction," Bowen said, but they decided the Gatsby concept simply wasn't suited to serial storytelling. They tossed around a few more ideas and eventually landed on The Count of Monte Cristo. It wasn't the winner right away, but as Bowen and Godfrey went through more and more books and concepts, they found themselves coming back to Alexandre Dumas' classic tale of revenge. It "just stuck" and they took the idea to ABC.

The network liked the concept but asked for one major change: they wanted the story told from a female perspective. Bowen and Godfrey agreed. Thanks to Twilight and their film adaptation of Dear John in 2010, Temple Hill already had success with female-oriented storytelling and thought the network's suggestion played to their strengths as a production company.

The show's title came next. Paul Lee can take credit for that. The show would be called Revenge.

They had a setting, they had a hook, and they had a name, but they needed a visionary to bring it all together. That's when Mike Kelley came aboard.

Mike Kelley, born in 1967, grew up in the sleepy suburban town of Winnetka, Illinois. He landed his first TV gig in 1999, co-writing episodes of the NBC drama Providence. When Providence was abruptly canceled in 2002, Kelley went to work on The WB teen drama One Tree Hill. While primarily a writer for his two seasons there, Kelley gained some producer experience before leaving in 2005 to write for the biggest teen drama of the decade: The O.C. It was on that set that his boss (presumably TV producer Robert De Laurentiis, who worked with Kelley on both shows) gave him some advice that changed the course of Kelley's career. "It was one thing to write other peoples' scripts," Kelley recalled his boss saying to, "but you should really challenge yourself to do something that's personal to you, that has your own voice, before you get stuck in the rut of doing other people's shows." So Kelley quit, and he began developing something that would be wholly his own: a subversive series set in the 1970s called Swingtown.

Pitched as Boogie Nights meets The Wonder Years to potential TV networks, Swingtown looked at middle-class couples living in suburban Chicago as they dealt with the social and sexual changes that were shaking up America at the time. The show was originally intended for cable, thanks to its explicit sex, drug use, and swearing, but CBS decided to take a chance on Mike Kelley's script and ordered a 13-episode run. Swingtown premiered in June 2008 and was warmly received by critics, but it didn't turn on audiences. Midway through the series' run, CBS quietly moved it to Friday nights (a death knell in TV land) and, when it was finally canceled at the end of the year, no one was surprised.

The show failed, but CBS was impressed with Kelley. They offered him a two-year, seven-figure development deal. His first project under this deal was a drama starring Sean Hayes called BiCoastal. When that fell through, CBS asked Kelley to step in as the showrunner for The Beautiful Life: TBL, created by Ashton Kutcher and former Swingtown writer Adam Giaudrone and starring The O.C. actress Mischa Barton. Despite early buzz, TBL failed to find an audience and "died a merciful quick death," Kelley said, when it was canceled after two episodes. Kelley completed his final project for CBS — a 2010 pilot called The Quinn-tuplets that was never picked up — before parting ways with the network. "I wanted to hook up with a network that was a better fit for my sensibilities," he told Deadline Hollywood. And with that, Kelley was left to figure out his next move.

When ABC and Temple Hill heard that Kelley was free and looking, they jumped at the chance to meet with him. "We were fans," Bowen admitted. "I saw how good his writing was and how good [Swingtown] was." Kelley felt good about the meeting and liked the Revenge project. But he had one concern: The Count of Monte Cristo spans 20 years and has dozens of characters. He felt that a straightforward, linear narrative wouldn't do the story justice. So Kelley made a suggestion that would define the show: "My take on it was to do it through the eyes of a wronged child and have her come back for revenge." Bowen, Godfrey, and the network said yes. From there, the project and the partnership came together quickly, and ABC signed Kelley to write the pilot and run the show.

With Kelley in place, the team began looking for a director for the pilot, and they found a perfect match in Phillip Noyce. Known equally for box-office blockbusters and acclaimed independent films, Noyce is a versatile and respected director. Born in New South Wales, Australia, he studied at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School and made several award-winning short films before he transitioned into full-length features. Backroads (1977) and Newsfront (1978) brought him success in Australia before he decided to move to Los Angeles. His first Hollywood film, the 1989 thriller Dead Calm, made Nicole Kidman a star. The box office smashes Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), both based on Tom Clancy novels and starring Harrison Ford, followed. After 1999's The Bone Collector, Noyce decided to take a break from Hollywood and seek out new kinds of projects. "If anyone ever writes a summary of my work, I hope they call me a chameleon, because they'd find it totally impossible to categorize me, at least stylistically," he said in A Cut Above: 50 Film Directors Talk About Their Craft. He returned to Australia to make Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and The Quiet American (2002). Both films garnered Noyce several awards for directing in Australia and America, and The Quiet American's star, Michael Caine, earned an Oscar nod. Noyce returned to big-budget films in 2010 when he directed Salt, reuniting with The Bone Collector star Angelina Jolie.

Even though Noyce is best known for his films, he's no stranger to television. His TV credits included Tru Calling (2003), Brotherhood (2006 — 2007), Lights Out (2011), and Luck (2012) by the time ABC approached him to direct the Revenge pilot. ABC signing Noyce was part of a larger trend of feature film directors doing television; at least 10 pilots were directed or produced by film directors for the fall 2011 season. ABC, Temple Hill, and Kelley wanted Noyce because of his consistent delivery of high-quality projects. He also had a knack for working on projects built around strong female characters, making him the perfect person to take Kelley's script from page to screen. Known for being demanding and detail-oriented, Noyce brought this eye for excellence to every step of Revenge's development, from casting to the pilot's final cut. Every scene in Revenge's pilot was mapped out before a single second of film was shot. It's this thorough and rigorous process that makes so many of his projects a success. "Phillip is very demanding," Kelley told the Sydney Morning Herald. "He challenges me to answer every possible question he can think of — and he thinks of a lot."

With the creative team in place, it was time to find the cast. The team knew that they needed the perfect actress for the role of Emily Thorne, someone who could walk the line between girl-next-door charm and sociopathic determination. Emily VanCamp, who had recently left the TV show Brothers & Sisters because she wanted more creatively fulfilling work, was mentioned as a possibility, and the script was sent her way.

ABC was familiar with VanCamp, thanks to Brothers & Sisters, but they weren't sure if the Canadian actress, who had built her career on playing good girls, could handle such a dark and complex character. With these reservations in mind, Kelley and his team took a meeting with her. Kelley immediately wanted VanCamp to play Emily Thorne. "You look at her and you see the girl next door, your first girlfriend, or your friend's niece," Kelley said to Flare. "You don't think of her as somebody that's going to be bent on revenge." But ABC still wasn't ready to commit and asked VanCamp to go through an audition process. After her first screen test, she didn't hear anything about the part for over a month. Then out of the blue ABC called her and wanted her to do a second screen test — right away. She came in and "killed it," according to Kelley, and the part was hers.

The casting process was a bit easier for the role of Victoria Grayson. Kelley knew that the actress who would fill those sky-high Louboutins had to be formidable but also had to have class, grace, and nuance. It had to be someone like Madeleine Stowe. "You just don't forget her," Kelley told the Los Angeles Times. But they never dreamed she'd be interested in the part — until she called. Stowe had read the script and wanted a meeting. Kelley and Bowen were thrilled to hear from the former film actress, and it wasn't long before they secured their second star for Revenge. "We loved her," Kelley told the Futon Critic. "She brings complexity and craft and a feature credibility that I can't imagine the show without. We got very lucky!"

After their two stars signed on the dotted line, the rest of the cast fell into place. Phillip Noyce convinced Henry Czerny (Conrad Grayson) to join the project. Noyce knew Czerny from Clear and Present Danger; the actor played CIA deputy director Robert Ritter. Ashley Madekwe (Ashley Davenport) had worked with Mike Kelley on The Beautiful Life. He sent her the Revenge script, complete with a British character named Ashley, and Madekwe knew the part was hers. As for the rest of the Revenge cast — Gabriel Mann (Nolan Ross), Josh Bowman (Daniel Grayson), Christa B. Allen (Charlotte Grayson), Nick Wechsler (Jack Porter), and Connor Paolo (Declan Porter) — well, they got their parts the old-fashioned way: they auditioned for them. Bowman believes he was cast because he "had the right preppy look." Mann stood out because when he saw in the script that Nolan was a bad dresser, he put on every terrible piece of clothing in his closet. "I put on a red windbreaker and every other ugly, ill-fitting thing I could dig out," Mann told the New York Times.

The cast and crew went to work. They spent 11 days in North Carolina, creating the world that would become Emily Thorne's. ABC liked what they saw and gave the show a 13-episode order and a fall 2011 premiere. Kelley — who at this point was now primarily responsible for Revenge's creative vision — chose to approach the first 13 episodes by telling a self-contained story. That way, if the show was canceled, fans wouldn't be left hanging.

A strong marketing push from ABC helped Revenge to a solid premiere on September 21, 2011, and it wasn't long before ABC ordered a full-season pick-up. While many network television dramas have 24 episodes in a single season, Revenge got only 22. This is exactly what Kelley wanted, so he could create a tightly written story that could satisfy the show's fans without getting in over his head. "It's a really, really complicated show," Kelley said to the Hollywood Reporter. "I didn't have any idea, frankly, when I jumped into this how complicated the serialized nature of this can get."

Kelley took the same self-contained approach to the second half of the season, wanting to tell a complex, creatively satisfying story that could open up other plot lines if Revenge was picked up for a second season. "At the end of [season one], I think people will feel that a very significant book of Revenge has been written," Kelley told TV Guide. "It will free us up to do another book next season." It worked: a single scene in the season finale wrapped up several storylines while setting up the second season in a way no one expected.


Excerpted from Best Served Cold by Erin Balser. Copyright © 2012 Erin Balser. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Erin Balser is an entertainment writer and literary critic whose writing has appeared in publications such as "Green Perspectives," "Quill & Quire," and "Torontoist." She manages several entertainment blogs and is the coauthor of "Don't Stop Believin' The Unofficial Guide to Glee." She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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