10:22AM: Once thought of as a dumping ground or burning off point for shows that simply weren’t good enough for the Fall schedule, ALCATAZ’s January premiere may have been the best thing to happen to the series since the casting of Jorge Garcia. Explained Executive Producer J.J. Abrams, “One of the advantages of being a midseason show was that instead of just saying, ‘You know what would have been cool?’ you actually have the time — and if you’re lucky the ability — to make changes to this thing.” First and foremost among those changes, according to Abrams, was a far strong and more easily identifiable connection between the show’s lovely leading lady Sarah Jones (Detective Rebecca Madsen) and the infamous prison itself.
10:24AM: But just what makes what in essence is a police procedural different from the vast array of the police procedurals currently on the air? Simply put, Alcatraz housed the worst of the worst. What’s more, when the 302 prisoners who mysteriously vanished prior to the prison shutting down begin to reappear in modern times, they will present the team of Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) and Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) with a very unique challenge. Explained Executive Producer Jennifer Johnson, “These prisoners are ghosts. They reappear with no credit records, no friends and family members, they don’t have girlfriends, children. As such, our team is really going to have to think outside the box to track them down.”
10:26AM: Much to the chagrin of those in attendance, a reporter asks Jorge Garcia what it feels like to be back on an island. To wit J.J. Abrams responded, “In theory, any land mass is an island, so you can argue every show is on one. MARY TYLER MOORE was much like LOST!” Added Garcia on a slightly more serious note, “If J.J. asks me to do anything I say yes first and read second.”
10:28AM: “It feels like a little bit of a haunted house, the look of it, the feel of it, for anyone who has ever taken the tour, this place does not feel like any other prison that I’ve ever visited… or served time in,” joked Abrams.
10:29AM: Spoiler Alert! There is a deeper reason why Sam Neill’s Emerson Hauser was so struck by the disappearances on the island in the night depicted in the ALCATRAZ pilot. Teased EP Jennifer Johnson, “Each character has an intensely personal relationship with the island. Answers for which will be revealed a little bit by the end of the first season and season 2 should we be so fortunate.”
10:31AM: The third episode of the season will shine the spotlight on Jorge Garcia’s characters connection to the Prison.
10:35AM: Echoing the sentiments of pretty much the entire panel, Sam Neill waxed poetically about the infamous nature of what most definitely should be considered a character on the show. “Just the name [Alcatraz] puts a shiver down my spine. My first time visiting was 15 years ago and I believe there was something surreally cruel about being isolated in few full view of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Imagine the insidious nature of a prison where you sit behind bars and the lovely city of San Francisco is staring back at you.”
10:41AM: Fun Fact: If you’re the type of television viewer who relishes DVR-able details, pay close attention to the cell blocks shown during the show’s flashbacks. “As we go by various cells we’ve established the background life of various inmates,” explained Executive Producer/Director Jack Bender. Added Abrams, “Because we are desperately trying to make the most entertaining show possible, the truth is we are trying to layer the show. For example, we may see a character that might not be an episode’s central bad guy show up down the line. Hopefully audiences will begin to see connections.”
10:43AM: Despite J.J. Abrams name being synonymous with serialized television, ALCATRAZ is very procedural in nature. Why? Well, after hilariously recounting a story of once sitting down at a friend’s house to watch an episode of ALIAS and have “absolutely no f—ing idea what was going on,” Abrams came to appreciate the genre’s limitations. “This show was designed very much as an episodic show with overarching mythology,” said Abrams. “Each and every one of these episodes will see the worst of the worst come back while our team has to track them down. ALCATRAZ was designed for this. It’s very different from ALIAS.” Added EP Daniel Pyne, “If you watch it occasionally, you won’t be disappointed; if you watch it consecutively, you’ll understand through lines; if you watch it piecemeal you’ll be able to understand it.”
10:45AM: In response to an all-too obvious follow-up question that had J.J. Abrams pretty much just lay out what FRINGE failed to do in its initial disappointing first season, Abrams countered, “FRINGE was a show more about a condition than a premise. From the beginning the show was a much more personal ida that had Olivia and her whole backstory, and the parallel universe…. this show has an opportunity to both episodic case of the week with big questions looming.”