Sometimes, if you go looking for magic, you may find it. Then the problem is -- what do you do with it next?
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, ABC premieres "The River," a drama series starring Bruce Greenwood ("Star Trek," "John From Cincinnati") as Emmet Cole, a wildlife expert and TV personality who heads up the Amazon in search of something unusual. When he doesn't come back for a long time, his wife, Tess (Leslie Hope, "24"), and estranged son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), set off on a rescue mission, funded by Cole's cagey ex-producer, Clark (Paul Blackthorne).
They find Cole's boat, the Magus, but what they discover aboard it makes no sense, and it quickly becomes apparent that what Cole was looking for was no new species of bug, bird or four-legged beast but something far stranger and more dangerous.
Also starring are Eloise Mumford as the resourceful Lena; Daniel Zacapa as the loyal mechanic Emilio; Thomas Kretschmann as the lethal bodyguard, Capt. Kurt Brynildson; Paulina Gaitan as Jahel; and Shaun Parkes as A.J.
Executive producers for "The River" are Michael Green, Oren Peli, Zack Estrin, Jason Blum, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey and Steve Schneider; writers are Green and Michael R. Perry. ABC Studios produces with Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks Television.
The show is shot with a found-footage format in the style of Peli's 2007 film "Paranormal Activity," itself inspired by "The Blair Witch Project," which was in turn inspired by reality television shows, such as the fictional "The Undiscovered Country," with host Emmet Cole.
"The audience has been so embracing of the reality format over the last 10 years," says Peli, "so there has been a resurgence of found-footage movies that the audience has embraced, but there hasn't really been any TV show that was scripted found footage."
Although, says Greenwood, Cole's show isn't exactly cutting-edge.
" 'The Undiscovered Country' is a very old-style show," Greenwood says. "The music that we use, the graphics, it's antiquated. He's in that old mode, but he's also an anthropologist and a scientist, and he's deeply involved in the preservation of all these things he holds so dear."
"He's this guy who believes deeply in his family and in showing people the wonders which are all around us, the flora and the fauna, the physical wonders of the world. And he's in love with the idea of people becoming more attuned to their natural selves. That drives his love for his show and informs the way he teaches his son and informs the way he communicates with his wife. Ultimately, over the years, he's come to understand that not everything is as it appears.
"His catchphrase, 'There's magic out there,' slowly comes to mean, to him, more than just face value. The magic eventually means there really is something supernatural, otherworldly, out there. So he goes on this quest down the Amazon thinking it's going to be a short trip, thinking he has a couple of answers, a couple of clues that are going to provide answers to the big questions, and he gets sucked in. The more he discovers, the more he realizes that nothing is what it appears.
"And there may be as much negative power as there is positive power, and that's what he has to protect. When he gets in the thick of it, he realizes that he can't bring back this magic, because it's weighted as much on the dark side as on the light side. Now he's still trying to figure out what it is, and how he can get out of its thrall and protect his family at the same time."He knows they've come after him, so he's trying to keep them at arm's length and trying to continue his quest."
Hope, a world traveler in her own right, has a few theories about what's going on up "The River" (actually a brackish estuary on the Hawaiian island of Oahu).
"Nothing is what it appears," she says, "not the circumstances, not the characters. I can tell you that the deeper in we go, the more that crazy stuff starts to happen. The rules bend; they don't break, they bend. One of the things we've been playing with is, the further in we go, what are the effects of the bending rules on our psyches? How does that start to bend our perceptions of things and our reality?
"But I would say, there's stuff out there that we don't understand, that we don't know about. I experienced that myself anyway in Hawaii. That place is rife with spirits and all sorts of stuff going on. I know that, without spoiling it, by the end of our first season, there's that much stuff going on. The more that is revealed about these characters, the more mysterious they become."