The discovery of "found footage" is riding the pop culture zeitgeist these days, ranging from the surprise box office hit "The Devil Inside" to the popularity of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise.
The producers of ABC's "The River" are hoping to bring that same shaky feeling of jumpy and erratic camerawork that exposes strange doings to "The River," about a film crew that may have met a strange fate in the Amazon. One of the key producers of the series, which will premiere Feb. 7, is Oren Peli, who wrote, directed and produced the first "Paranormal Activity" film.
Peli said in a session promoting the series during the ABC portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour that he first came up with the idea of a documentary film crew getting caught in the rain forest and a rescue mission trying to find them as a concept for a movie. After talking with Steven Spielberg and other producers, he reasoned that the concept might make a compelling television series.
But fellow executive producer Michael Green said that although the series is filmed in Hawaii and pivots on people who are lost and in a dangerous situation, it will not be similar to "Lost." The show will be more intent on scares and strange bumps in the night.
"Each episode will be its own horror movie," Green said. "There will also be longer arcs that will reward viewers who hang in there. But our inspiration is much more 'The X Files' than 'Lost.' "
"The River revolves around the disappearance of wildlife expert and TV personality Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who journeys around the world with his wife and son. When he goes missing deep in the Amazon, his family, friends and crew set off on what the producers call a "a dangerous and deadly journey" to locate him. They encounter weird happenings and unseen dangers.
Although the emphasis is on scares, Green said the key to unnerving viewers will be to make the characters relatable. "I asked the network how scary are you willing for me to go, and they said I could be as scary as you want as long as you care about the people."
Some of those characters may be put in dangerous situations that producers hinted might leave to their demise, making some of the performers wonder how long they might last on the show. Leslie Hope, who plays Cole's wife Terri, recalled how she thought she was pretty secure playing Keifer Sutherland's pregnant wife during the first season of "24," only to have her character get "stabbed in the gut" and killed in the season finale.
Zack Estrin, another executive producer, joked that because of that, Hope's character would be around "for 40 episodes."
-- Greg Braxton
Photo: Cast of "The River." Credit: ABC