JUNE 11, 2006

by Craig Sweeny

Adam "Hardball" Levy, Ira Steven Behr's assistant, sits in a conference room with us while we think up stories for The 4400.

When someone throws out a good idea, he makes the strangest little noise. Imagine a cross between a grunt and a chortle; that's how Adam expresses excitement.

Not long after we got together to start talking about Season 3, I mentioned a notion I'd had -- Dennis Ryland, testifying in public about his role in the promicin inhibitor scandal, is attacked by a 4400 hell-bent on revenge and nearly dies.

It got a big noise from Adam. Maybe the biggest ever. And we were off and running on The New World...

Season premieres are always tricky, but this one got more complicated when we learned, relatively late in the process, that Laura Allen would not be coming back to the show. And so we came up with this idea that Isabelle's rapid aging had affected her mother in largely the same way.

While we will certainly miss Laura, the storyline raised interesting questions for Isabelle. If, by sheer virtue of the fact that you were alive, your mother were dying -- what would you do? A tough question, and it was intriguing to play out the various ways Isabelle sought answers to it.

Ira and I always look forward to writing scenes for Peter Coyote as Dennis Ryland. In Mommy's Bosses, the Season 2 finale, the character made a very compelling argument for the rationale behind the promicin inhibitor program.

I turned to Ira while we were writing the scene and said, "Uh ... this guy's not winning the argument, is he?"

We got to write lots more stuff for Ryland in The New World. When we're writing his character, we like to imagine a "shadow version" of The 4400 -- an entirely different series, in which Dennis Ryland is the hero, doing whatever's necessary to protect our way of life from the evil mutants in our midst.

Oh wait. That's a different franchise.

The first alternate reality sequence between Tom and Alana had a very different feel than what made it into the episode. Our network asked us for a little more sex in the show this year, so we wrote a scene in which Alana, dressed as every schoolkid's dream teacher, has asked Tom to stay after class. She's giving him a private lesson to remember.

It was a lot of fun on the page, but it ultimately felt silly rather than sexy. So we shot a simpler version, which still serves to introduce the idea that Tom and Alana will be exploring new uses for her ability this season.

The NSA employees who interrogate (Torture? You make the call) Gary Navarro are named Agent Wood and Doctor Boll. We named them after Ed Wood and Uwe Boll, two notoriously pulpy directors. Some might say they're in competition for the title of "Worst Director of All Time." But not me. I just named the characters. No one in production got the joke. Now at least you will.

In the rash of assassinations that close the second act, we originally included a scene in which one of the promicin conspirators was killed by his sandwich.

No, really.

He was having lunch, and some unseen 4400, presumably able to control vegetation, made the lettuce grow until it filled his mouth and choked him to death.

This was intended to be an homage to my favorite comics writer, Alan Moore. He depicted a similar death during his remarkable run on The Swamp Thing (go buy it -- why are you reading this when you could be reading Alan Moore?).

Unfortunately, the scene looked ... bad. Even worse than Tom and Alana getting hot and heavy on a classroom desk. Guess we just don't have the budget to film a scene of a man getting choked to death by magic lettuce.

By the way, you'll meet some of the Nova Group members behind all those murders later in the season.

When we introduced the character of Matthew Ross last year, we struggled to find a unique voice and point of view for him. It's a hazard of writing a show with such a large ensemble.

Because we didn't want to waste the great Garret Dillahunt in the role, we decided to draw him much closer to Isabelle this year. I think you'll like him as her "handler" in the weeks to come -- some of their scenes together are quite twisted.

The good kind of twisted.

The scenes between Shawn and Daniel Armand, the founder of the Nova Group, were supposed to take place in the park. They were meant to have a jumpy, "paranoid thriller" type of vibe.

Instead -- because of an incredible downpour of sleet, slush, and hail -- they played in a car. A little more claustrophobic than we had intended, but that's what happens when you go into production in Vancouver in February.

Two hour scripts are a big job. They actually have twice as many pages as a one-hour script, and, oddly enough, take twice as long to write. But you get to work with a bigger canvas, and when it works, it's uniquely rewarding.

Hope you thought this one did ... even without the homicidal lettuce.

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