The new mystery series “Cult” follows investigative journalist Jeff Sefton (Matt Davis) as the disappearance of his brother leads him into the dark underworld of rabid, cult-like fans of a hit TV show called…”Cult.” Which is about a cult with a charismatic leader named Billy Grimm who is played by an actor named Roger Reeves, who is played by in real life Robert Knepper. Still with us?
“What was interesting to me was to try to create a show that was truly unique, was truly different. And in doing so, yeah, it can make it a little harder to explain and describe,” creator Rockne S. O’Bannon admits. “It’s also a show with a lot going on, and I have a great deal of faith and trust in the audience to be able to hook into that. But we’re very aware that we have a complex, multifaceted show going on, and we’re trying to keep it as clear in our heads as possible.”
TV veteran and “Farscape” creator O’Bannon is no stranger to obsessed fans, he admits. “The origin of the show actually did come out of my ‘Farscape’ experience, where I witnessed the kind of incredible fan passion for a show and the ability of fans to kind of find each other through social media and connect up,” he says. “It started me thinking what if the show were something with a little bit darker edge and what kind of fans would that then draw?”
Multilayered mysteries and disappearances are one thing, but the show-within-a-show conceit also gives O’Bannon and his writers chances for inside jokes that play with the audience even more. For instance, the actual show ends with a “created by” credit for Steven Rae, the name of the creator of the fictional “Cult.” (Eagle-eyed fans might notice that Rae is also the pseudonym O’Bannon has used for some less respectable entries on his resume, like the 1995 TV movie “Deadly Invasion: Killer Bee Nightmare.”)
“From our perspective, there is nothing too meta,” O’Bannon says. “For me in creating ‘Cult,’ one of the things that I really got excited about was how to create a visceral experience for the audience and really try take the glass away from between the television show and the audience, take away that control. So to me, part of the fun of it is the fact that we’re actually incorporating what normally is the return of the audience back to the real world and keeping that as part of the entertainment. So I’m hoping that the audiences will hook into that and kind of go along for the ride.”
But is there any fear of life imitating art, of “Cult” fans becoming obsessed enough with the show to start acting out like the fans of the show within the show? While that would suggest some intense ratings for the new series, O’Bannon thinks that idea might be a bit too far-fetched. “We obviously hope that the show is incredibly effective and creates that kind of visceral experience for the audience, but I don’t know that it has the power to go quite that far,” he says. When asked if the network has a contingency plan for a rash of “Cult”-inspired kidnappings, O’Bannon’s answer is refreshingly simple: “No.”
“Cult” marks another CW series for star Matt Davis, whose “Vampire Diaries” character, Alaric, bit the dust at the end of last season. Luckily, the network had another role in mind for him. “I knew that they were going to write Alaric off the show, and I called my agents to let them know that I needed to find another job. And they sent me a few scripts over the weekend, one of which was ‘Cult.’ And it was clearly the best one of the bunch, and it really spoke to me on a lot of dimensions.,” he says.
The producer felt the same about Davis, making him an offer for the role right away. The only wrinkle came in coordinating schedules between the two shows. “I was shooting the final scenes of Alaric dying one week, flew to Vancouver to shoot ‘Cult,’ came back to shoot Alaric dying again for the finale,” he remembers. “So that was a strange overlapping effect that was only made possible due to the efforts of both productions being gracious enough to make it happen. It felt very synchronistic. It felt right. It just sort of all fell together at the last minute. And I’m very blessed that it did.”