Mild spoilers for the series premiere for CBS' Salvation are below.
While CBS' biggest guns are fall favorites that have been around for many years, such as The Big Bang Theory and NCIS, the network has used recent summer seasons to test out shows that go against the traditional narrative grain. This week's big premiere, the sci-fi-tinged thriller drama Salvation, firmly fits that atypical mold with its impending asteroid concept. CinemaBlend recently had the pleasure of talking to co-creators Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro, and they told me lots of reasons why Salvation is such a fun and different addition to CBS' lineup. According to Kruger:
There is a lot of cynicism right now about network television and the kinds of stories that can be told. CBS, to their credit, has allowed us creative freedom like we've not experienced in forever, and they have backed the show. They see the beauty and the grace that has come out of the show, and they have minimally interfered. [They encouraged] inventive storytelling, and a mature storytelling. And they're very supportive. They know it's unique, they know it's different, and they've embraced it whole-heartedly and we feel really supported. That's the one important thing that we want to get out there. This is not your ordinary CBS show. It's a special show, because it's doing things that you don't get to see that often on television.
Anybody who tuned into Salvation's premiere knows exactly what she's talking about. With a completely different outlook and tone than CBS' relatively recent quasi-apocalyptic drama Under the Dome, Salvation centers on a limited group of people who are clued in on the existence of an asteroid that is set to high-five the Earth in six months. Already not your average drama for any network series -- nor does it deliver the average pilot stumbles -- Salvation feels like a pretty sweet throwback to the high-octane doomsday flicks of the '90s, just injected with realistic characters and a more sensible planning structure.
Admittedly, I have zero clue where the actual line of realism is drawn here, at least as far as what real-world behavior and protocol would be, but the actors keep their performances close to the chest, without any hammy grandstanding. That speaks to both the smart writing and the acting, and both Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro stressed how fully invested they are in Salvation as a character-driven show, as opposed to plot-driven (even with an asteroid coming), and how they strived to make the situations as relatable as possible, by getting audiences to think about how they would handle things in Grace's position, or in Liam's shoes. According to Shapiro:
I do think that's part of the fun of it, especially in the first few episodes. On an individual level, the characters really are gonna be tested to see how far they will go. A lot of the characters - particularly Grace and Harris - are creatures of the system; they are people who drank the Kool-Aid long ago. And it doesn't come easily for them to step outside the rails there, but they're going to find that they really have to do it. They don't have a choice if they would like to save the planet.
To further separate Salvation from big Hollywood disaster flicks, this show doesn't seem to have anyone set for the Big Hero position, though Grace is obviously a frontrunner. Tanz seems just a little too off-kilter to wear the shining armor here. Kruger and Shapiro also talked with me about how the show looks at the idea of "villains," but that's for another day.
Something else that makes Salvation feel unique is that it's taking two of the U.S.' superpowers in terms of think tanks -- Washington D.C. and the private entrepreneur sector -- and creating a tag team out of them that asks viewers which side they'd put their faith in. And it turns out that's a question Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro actually put forth to others when putting the show together.
Liz: What we thought was really interesting is, we took a poll in the writers room at the beginning of all this and said, 'If you could choose between Elon Musk and the government solving the greatest problems facing the world to date, who would you throw in with?' Because we're gonna find that the Elon Musk and the Steve Jobs of the world are going to see problem-solving very differently than the bureaucracy of the government. And we really wanted to take a look at that. We have entities that want the same thing, but they have very different operating systems.
Craig: Bureaucracy is not the fastest, most nimble way to solve a problem, but they do have unlimited resources and a depth of experience. On the other hand, the SpaceX's of the world -- like our Darius Tanz -- they're nimble, they're fast, they're not bogged down by what was in the past. They're willing to try, they're willing to fail. But they don't have the same number of resources to throw at the problem like the government does. So it was interesting, because the writers room here was split pretty evenly. Everywhere we go, people are split pretty evenly.
It really is a perfect little breakdown for angles on tackling the question. (Or imperfect, all things considered.) But by the end of the episode, Jennifer Finnigan's Grace has assured Santiago Cabrera's Tanz that he will have full access to government resources to find a way to fix the asteroid issue, and if that fails, a way to expand his civilization-saving spacecraft so that many more people can be taken off this planet in order to colonize another one. But will the government actually do that? And will unlimited tools actually help Tanz save the day? Don't count on it happening immediately, in any case.