LOS ANGELES — The characters Toni Collette and Dylan McDermott play in the new CBS drama “Hostages” are like two grand chess masters. She plays a noted doctor whose family is used as leverage by his character to get her to kill the president of the United States during an operation. Each is trying to think 20 moves ahead of the other.
“You can really see that in the last shot of the first show with her,” McDermott says pointing to Collette. “In that moment, you think ‘It’s on.’ I think until that moment, he had underestimated her by thinking it was enough to come into her house, wearing ski masks and threatening her family, to get her to do what he wanted her to do. In that moment, we realize she’s formidable.”
McDermott is talking about the character, but he just as easily could be talking about his co-star. Both actors have built up impressive acting resumes, highlighted by Collette’s Emmy-winning work in “United States of Tara” and McDermott’s Golden Globe-grabbing performance on “The Practice.”
Both bring an intensity to the roles that will make this cat-and-louse game addictive to watch. Their chameleon-like ways add an element of uncertainty to the series where the good and bad guys aren’t as clearly defined as they are in more traditional dramas.
The actors will be going through their battle of wits in a different TV format. “Hostages” is an example of the new way of thinking with television executives where only 15 episodes are ordered rather than standard full season of 22. What this does is create a specific arc where the story will start and end. If the show’s a success, another arc would start. McDermott is familiar with the structure, which was the model used for his “American Horror Story.”
Executive producer Jonathan Nachmanoff says the nature of the story is what dictated the short order. “When you are doing something that is this intense and this much of a thriller, it’s hard to string out 22 with repeats, with weeks that are off, and keep your suspense. So you need to air all in a row,” Nachmanoff says. “When we had talked to CBS originally about it, we said, ‘Look, we normally like orders of 22.’ They get you to syndication faster.
“But the story of this show doesn’t work that way. It really has to be run in a row. Shows that are doing this and doing shorter orders, there’s no repeats. There’s no interruption. They run, and that’s because the stories or the series concepts dictate it.”
The actors don’t know the complete arc of the story, but they have been given bits of information to help them play the roles.
McDermott doesn’t want to know how the arc goes. Collette has a different take.
“I want to know,” she says. “That keeps me engaged with the project. I very much respond to the material and in a film, you are working with a solid script. TV is more of a leap of faith because you are working with a premise, an idea. It’s easier to make that leap when you are working with such good people.”
New: “Hostages,” 10 p.m. KGPE (Channel 47.1); “Mom,” 9:30 p.m. KGPE (Channel 47.1); “The Blacklist,” 10 p.m. KSEE (Channel 24.1) Returning: “How I Met Your Mother,” 8 p.m. KGPE (Channel 47.1); “2 Broke Girls,” 9 p.m. KGPE; “Castle,” 10 p.m. KFSN (Channel 30.1)
New: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” 8 p.m. KFSN; “The Goldbergs,” 9 p.m. KFSN; “Trophy Wife,” 9:30 p.m.; “Lucky 7,” 10 p.m. KFSN Returning: “NCIS,” 8 p.m., KGPE; “The Voice,” 8 p.m. KSEE; “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 9 p.m., KGPE; “Person of Interest,” 10 p.m. KGPE; “Chicago Fire,” 10 p.m. KSEE
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355,