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Fox Keen on Eddie’s Offbeat Appeal

Apr 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The tide is turning for down-on-his luck Keen Eddie.
Fox’s freshman fish-out-of-water detective show, which has waited in the wings for a debut date since fall, is about to inherit 24’s coveted post-American Idol time slot and kick off the network’s summer slate amid much Fox fanfare.
While summer has traditionally been a wasteland where series that didn’t cut it are burned off, that’s not the case with drama Keen Eddie. With baseball playoffs wreaking havoc on fall launches of its new shows, Fox is shifting gears and starting its fall season in the summer by introducing several new scripted programs.
That starts with Eddie, which debuts June 3 at 9 p.m.-following Junior Idol-and will have every bit of Fox’s promotional muscle behind it.
“We’re very fortunate that we have American Idol as it ramps up toward the finale, which is going to create a huge audience as a platform and jumping-off place for the launch of Keen Eddie,” said Marcy Ross, senior VP of current programming at Fox. “That was done very, very strategically.”
The promo push will get under way this month, as ratings monster Idol enters its home stretch. Fox likely will air 90-second Keen Eddie promos in the middle of American Idol, instead of just traditional 30- and 60-second spots, Ms. Ross said.
“We’re really trying to event-ize this show and roll it out as if it was a film, with some great trailers for the show within American Idol,” she said. “I think that’s going to tell the public that we’re serious about it.”
In a further vote of confidence for Eddie, the network has ordered several additional scripts beyond the 13 episodes already in the can. That generally doesn’t happen until a show has proved itself with Nielsen homes. Fox also spent the money to extend talent deals past the traditional June deadline to keep the team together in case it renews the show.
The show centers on a down-on-his-luck detective named Eddie Arlette, who screws up a major drug bust in New York and gets exiled to London to fix it. He ends up with a feisty female roommate, a swinging partner, a really ugly dog-and a new start.
Eddie also marks a new start for executive producers J.H. Wyman and Simon West, two feature film guys making their first foray into television who hooked up with TV veteran Warren Littlefield. The vet was looking for new blood to develop TV shows for his production company, Paramount Network Television-based The Littlefield Co.
Mr. Littlefield, the former NBC entertainment president who returned NBC to No. 1 under his watch with hits such as Seinfeld, ER, Friends and Frasier, also executive produces. He assembled the team and orchestrated the show’s sale to Fox, which outbid several other networks.
An admirer of Mr. West’s film work, which includes directing Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Con Air, Mr. Littlefield agreed with the filmmaker that the iconic strong leading man who had a sense of humor and stood for something was missing from today’s TV landscape. “Those guys seem to not be on television anymore,” Mr. Littlefield said. “We both shared a desire to see if we could, instead of just doing a procedural police drama, do something that was more character-oriented.”
Mr. West and Mr. Littlefield then recruited Mr. Wyman to create and write the show. Mr. West and Mr. Wyman, who wrote The Mexican, first met almost two years ago to discuss working together on films. In passing, Mr. West asked whether Mr. Wyman would be interested in doing a TV series with the story line “American detective goes to London, a fish out of water.”
From that one line, Mr. Wyman created Eddie Arlette and his offbeat vivid world in London. Both Mr. Wyman and Mr. West said they were influenced by cop shows of the ’70s, such as Kojak, The Rockford Files, Baretta and Mannix. “I wanted to do a show where the name of the guy, that was the name of the show, and he was a tough cop like Kojak or Rockford or any of those single-named Seventies tough guys,” Mr. West said.
But Eddie is more than just a tough guy.
“Here’s a guy who is so sure what’s underneath every stone that he doesn’t look anymore,” Mr. Wyman said. “When he gets to London he’s forced to look because he doesn’t know what’s around every corner. The stereotypes he’s used to are no longer there, so he has to re-examine the world around him and his place in it.
“One of the main things that I wanted to do as well, if you took every character at the end of Keen Eddie and you sat them all around and you said how has your life changed by meeting Eddie Arlette, they would all have a really good answer. … I want Eddie to be this exceptional tourist that goes there and takes the locals on a guided tour of their own city, their own soul.”
Finding the right actor to play Eddie wasn’t an easy task. The producers were looking for a handsome, classic all-American guy with an irreverent, unpolitcally correct attitude who could just make you smile.
“You would have thought it was the easiest thing in the world to go to Hollywood, where there would be a million of those guys, but there just wasn’t anybody that clicked,” Mr. West said.
Two days away from halting production, after the producers had seen hundreds of actors, Mark Valley’s audition tape landed on their desks. At the time Mr. Valley was best known for his three-year stint on Days of Our Lives and was starring in the Fox series Pasadena, which was headed to cancellation.
It wasn’t love at first sight for Mr. Wyman. “I’m like, this guy’s too good-looking to be a good actor. He’s on soaps; give me a break. I hate this guy already,” Mr. Wyman said. “I put in the tape and within a minute and a half I’m like, I love this guy. This guy’s the guy. I’m hiring him right now. I thought if he could turn me from absolutely loathing him to loving him in a minute and a half, America will just adore him.”
Mr. Valley accepted the part immediately.
“[Eddie] has a sense of irony,” Mr. Valley said. “He has the ability to see some hidden meanings and separate meanings in things. He’s sort of burned out and tired of the same old thing, but then there’s this certain kind of hope he has for people and for humanity.”
While the series is character-driven, each episode is closed-ended. There’s a case to solve each week and a second story line that delves into Eddie’s personal life, such as his relationship with his roommate Fiona (played by Sienna Miller), which provides romantic tension. Music and lots of quick jump-cuts in the visuals give the series an energetic tone.
The series is shot entirely on location in London with an all-English cast and crew except for Mr. Valley, who got to live his own real-life fish-out-of-water scenario as an American actor living in the United Kingdom.
“I would find myself repeating things that had happened in the scripts as opposed to the other way around,” Mr. Valley said. However, “Eddie had a much more exciting life than I did in London.”

Mr. West, who is British, relished the chance to run a show set in his hometown and show American audiences a hip, modern London. “They always think of it as an old place,” he said. “To us Europeans we tend to think of ourselves as very advanced and sophisticated. We don’t think of ourselves as the old Mary Poppins view of London. I was trying to resist the temptation to use the Queen and red buses and bobbies with funny hats.”
It takes nine days to shoot an episode and about 50 percent is shot outside of the studio, Mr. West said. He said when the pilot was tested by American audiences, the fact that the show was set in London was high on their list of reasons they enjoyed it.
While the series is shot on location, Mr. Wyman and his five writers are based in Los Angeles-seemingly a logistical nightmare with the eight-hour time difference. “I think [the studio and network] fully expected it to collapse within the first couple of episodes,” Mr. West said.
However, everyone involved said the shooting process went smoothly. Mr. Wyman was involved in every decision made even though he was based thousands of mil
es away. Mr. West was in London and directed two episodes along with directing the second unit on numerous other episodes. And Mr. Littlefield spent five months in London organizing much of the production and hiring directors.
It also helped that Mr. Wyman had all 13 stories done before the show started production. “I really don’t sleep very much,” said Mr. Wyman, who is also working on several feature films and developing other TV projects through his Frequency Films. “I’m fortunate to have that as part of my chemical makeup. I’d do my L.A. business during the day, and then eight hours later my London business would wake up.”
If a scene needed to be rewritten, Mr. West would call Mr. Wyman, who would pound it out at night in L.A. Mr. Wyman had the rushes delivered to him by satellite each day so he could make notes and tweak scenes. “We really ran like a Marine Corps,” Mr. Wyman said.
Mr. Wyman, an American by birth whose grandmother is from Liverpool, England, said it was tricky to hire writers for the show because it’s difficult to write for English characters and adhere to the distinct vision he created for the show.
Another challenge shooting overseas was the ever-changing exchange rate between the dollar and the pound. “We had the incredible shrinking budget, because we started off with the pound being a certain amount of money and then the pound grew stronger and the dollar grew weaker and we would evaporate.”
An episode of Eddie costs about $2 million, on par with the average freshman network drama, Mr. Littlefield said. While the finished show looks expensive, Mr. Wyman said the production stayed within budget.
“I am extremely frugal,” Mr. Wyman said. “I don’t want to be part of anything that doesn’t make money and that isn’t financially responsible. I treat every dollar like it’s my own. Being financially responsible and creatively excellent are not mutually exclusive.”
While Fox bought Keen Eddie in August 2001, it didn’t make it onto Fox’s fall 2002 schedule, leaving the cast and crew filming 13 episodes overseas in a vacuum.
“It killed us to not be in the game,” Mr. Littlefield said. “We wanted to be on in September. We wanted to be on in January. We wanted to be on in March.”
Fox executives said they loved the show and wanted to make sure they gave it the best possible chance to succeed, which was hard to do in the fall when baseball playoffs force pre-emption of new series that can ruin momentum.
“There just really was no perfect slot for it,” said Fox’s Ms. Ross. “Every couple of months scheduling [executives] would look and try to imagine where it could go. We’ve pretty much kept most of our shows on the air since we launched.”
Fox told Mr. Littlefield it could force the show on in the spring on Friday nights, but Mr. Littlefield was afraid the young male audience the show was capable of attracting wouldn’t be around the see it. Then Fox proposed the summer plan with Eddie inheriting 24’s time slot.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Mr. Littlefield said. “The notion that we could inhabit that time period and kind of carry on that legacy [of 24] seemed outstanding. We feel really good about our turn at bat and the chances that we have.”
The delay also had several creative benefits, such as giving the executive producers time to find their stride and go back and shoot extra scenes to add to the first few episodes once they discovered what was and wasn’t working.
There also wasn’t pressure to change elements of the show because of audience response. “From my experience on Pasadena [which Fox pulled after airing only three episodes], it was really nice to not have to worry about what the [ratings] numbers were,” Mr. Valley said.
Because they’re following a nontraditional launch path, Fox executives are still mulling their options if viewers embrace Eddie. If Fox orders more episodes by the middle of July, halfway through Eddie’s run, Mr. Littlefield said it could be back in production in London by the end of August and the producers could have new episodes ready as early as November.
Keen Eddie’s wait is almost over, and Fox executives will soon see whether their bet on summer is going to pay off.
“All you ever hear is people saying, `Give me [something] different. We’re tired of the same dry legal franchises. Give us something that’s a little left of center,”’ Ms. Ross said. “And also to all my friends who say why is TV all the same, well here’s my answer: Just shut up and watch this.”