Vince Gilligan originally write the script for his upcoming CBS drama “Battle Creek” a dozen years ago. So when asked at press tour about the selection of the Michigan town as the setting, Gilligan admitted that he couldn't remember what he did last week, let alone a script he wrote that long ago.
In this case, “Battle Creek” co-star Josh Duhamel stepped in to refresh Gilligan's memory, explaining that the “Breaking Bad” creator had been fascinated with the name of the city (which he has never visited) just from seeing it on Kellogg's cereal boxes since childhood.
CBS had “Battle Creek” – which stars Dean Winters as a cynical Battle Creek cop and Duhamel as the perfect FBI agent who sets up a field office across the hall from the detective squad – in development a dozen years ago, didn't make it at the time because the right actors couldn't be found. Then Gilligan got involved with other things, including a little show about a chemistry teacher turned meth cook, but the huge success of the final “Breaking Bad” season rekindled interest in the old script.
Gilligan was actually on vacation in Europe, visiting the castle that the French taunters hid in in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” when Sony executives told them CBS wanted to make the show again, and wanted to bring in longtime “House” showrunner David Shore to help run it.
“And I said, 'Oh my god,'” Gilligan recalled, “because 'House' was a great show, and David is a great writer.”
CBS is selling “Battle Creek” as the next series from the man who created “Breaking Bad,” but Gilligan isn't actively involved in it, due to his commitments to the “Better Call Saul” spin-off. When he appeared at tour last week for that show, he described “Battle Creek” as “a show I”m real proud of from more of a spectator point of view.” Shore is in charge of the day-to-day, the casting choices, and everything else. Under normal circumstances, Gilligan likes to publicly give credit to other people he works with, but in this case, it seemed less a case of sharing the spotlight than acknowledging that he had no business in the center of it.
“I'm just sorry I'm not as big a part of the show as I would like to be, because of my duties on 'Better Call Saul,'” Gilligan said. “I'm proud to be a part of this. The first episode is something I loved… I'm lucky to be up here on the stage with these folks.”
But given how CBS is pitching the show, I asked, will Shore try to in some way replicate Gilligan's voice to appease people looking for something akin to the adventures of Walt and Jesse?
“To be honest, I don't (plan to),” Shore said. “I think that's a fool's errand, to try to replicate 'Breaking Bad' or anything like that. 'House' was very different from 'Breaking Bad,' but I have found in dealing with Vince and talking to him – we literally made the same joke 10 minutes before we came out here, in unison – I think we have a similar sensibility. And I think that's why I responded to the material. But for me to try and replicate his voice would be foolish.”
Though the pilot script sat in a drawer for over a decade, Shore found himself leaving much of it intact, including a “Magnum, P.I.” reference that wasn't even particularly timely in the early '00s.
“I always want the shows to feel out of time,” Shore said. “I'm very worried about current references. I feel it becomes dated quickly. Certainly, if you're writing about characters, that doesn't change. It's universal. When I read this script, it was 10 years old and it felt 30 years old – and I don't mean that in a negative way. There's a nostalgia in Vince that comes through. In a weird way, it's the core of the show. In spite of the darkness of the world there, it's a show about hope.”
One aspect of their writing that Shore and Gilligan have in common is an interest in finding humor in dark situations, and it's something Shore hopes to continue with “Battle Creek,” where the crimes Winters and Duhamel investigate are serious, but the tone is often light and/or strange.
“It was a very funny script Vince gave me, and I want to carry that going forward,” Shore said. “It's gotta be grounded, it's gotta be real, it's gotta come from the characters. It's not a sitcom in any way, shape or form, but I'll be very proud if it's as funny as I think it is.”