Portland: Coming to a Small Screen Near You

Three new television series join Grimm and Portlandia to bring our city center screen this season. We've got the trailers.

By Peter Holmstrom July 14, 2014 Published in the August 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

The Librarians: TNT, December 7

Premise: Spun off from a TV movie trilogy, the series focuses on a group of Indiana Jones types as they follow clues and mysteries to save ancient artifacts from evil forces.

Protagonist: Original movie star Noah Wyle will appear in half the episodes. The rest of the time, Rebecca Romijn, who played Mystique in the early X-Men films, leads an ensemble cast as Eve Baird, a counterterrorism agent assigned to keep the team alive. 

Behind the scenes: The show is created by executive producers Dean Devlin, Marc Roskin, and John Rogers, the team behind Portland-filmed Leverage, and will be shot in Portland with settings spanning the globe.

Why Portland? “I think the fact that Portland’s such an old city really helps us here,” says Rogers. “We shot European cobblestones down near Ankeny, a South American president’s palace in a local theater.... We’ve never been stumped in Portland looking for a specific location.”

We caught up with Rogers, who wrote the first draft for Transformers (2007), and well as the scripts for Catwoman (the 2004 version with Halle Berry), multiple TV shows, and the first and third Librarians TV movies. But first, the trailer.

On the Town: Throughout your career, you've tended towards fun, action-adventure projects with a sci-fi twist. What is it about those genres that make it especially enticing to work with?
Rogers: I think that in genre writing you can do big dramatic moments, or nasty little social commentary, and hide them in the pop and pulp splash of the work. There's something very sincere about that kind of material.

What is it about the prospect of doing a Librarian TV series that excites you?
I think we have a chance to do a show that's about, well, anything. Like the X-Files wandered tonally from horror to comedy to drama, but it all made sense within the genre.

Will the show have a different feel or dramatic motivation than the movies? Or do you see it as more of one-hour mini-movies?
You can never, on a weekly budget, completely duplicate the movies. Tonally, it'll be the same fun, banter-y action-adventure feel. We're much more a mystery show than a treasure-hunting show. 

Your work on Leverage had strong ties to Portland; what is it about the city that makes it fun to work with?
The people are great, the local government is very cooperative, the city is photogenic as hell, and the food is ridiculous. I'd shoot every show I produce up here if I could.

The previous films have included a large, global scope. Will the series have a similar dimension?
Yes, although a bit more small-town mystery vibe. As I mentioned, I do love those X-Files episodes where they go to some small town and things are just ... wrong.

Will Portland be the primary filming location for these exotic locales? If so, what makes Portland a good fit for such a diverse series?
As in Leverage, Portland will be where we shoot everything. I think the fact that Portland's such an old city really helps us here. We shot European cobblestones down near Ankenny, a South American president's Palace in a local theater. We've never been stumped in Portland looking for a specific location.

Will the show feature any iconic Portland landmarks?
Afraid that's actually a spoiler.  But let's just say, there's some very interesting architecture around here.

Backstrom: Fox, January 22

Premise: A disgraced Portland police officer gets assigned to lead a newly created “Special Crimes Unit.” Hard drinking, loudmouthed—he’s Gregory House meets CSI.

Protagonist: Rainn Wilson of The Office plays Everett Backstrom, who solves disturbing crimes while struggling to solve his own self-destructive behavior.

Behind the scenes: Based on the hit novels by Swedish author and criminologist Leif G. W. Persson and executive-produced by Hart Hanson (Bones, The Finder), Backstrom is set in Portland but filmed in Vancouver, Canada. (Is that how we know Portland has arrived: we're big enough for TV shows to set themselves here but film somewhere else?) We talk with Hanson below the trailer.

On the Town: How did you first become involved with Backstrom?
Hanson: The head of series development at the studio I work for, 20th Century Fox, sent me a photocopied translation of the Swedish book by Leif GW Persson entitled “He Who Kills the Dragon,” which featured Evert Backstrom. Thorn wanted to know if I thought there was a TV series in the book.  I think it was on about page 20 I called him back and said, “Yes, there’s a great series in here.”

Do you want the series to be a direct adaptation of the books? Or will you be using the books as more of a jumping off point?
The books provide the main character and a kind of universe for the series. Of course we go through 22 plots a year so it’s tough to get story from the novels—besides which they are novel stories, not hour-long episodic stories. Most of the secondary characters are combinations of the great cast of characters Persson provides in his books.

What drew you, aesthetically or creatively, to set the series in Portland?
Tone is very, very important to all series. Portland provides everything I need. The size of the city is right. The preoccupations of Portland—art, style, coffee, education, environmental awareness—are all good for Backstrom. And weather. Lots of weather. And when someone said to me, “Portland is the most politically correct city in the country,” I figured that would be the ideal location for the most politically incorrect man in the world to work.

And yet you’re not filming in Portland!
We would have loved to shoot the series in Portland. Our star, Rainn Wilson, is a Seattle boy and his wife, the writer Holiday Reinhorn, is from Portland. The studio looked into Portland, and the fact is that the incentives to shoot in Vancouver were simply too big to ignore. I have the distinction of having three cities annoyed with me: Portland, because we’re set in Portland but shooting in Vancouver. LA, because they are losing production to other cities. And Vancouver because they’d love to play themselves in a series for once instead of pretending to be somewhere else.

Intruders: BBC AMerica, August 23

Premise: A secret society bent on finding the key to immortality use a most nefarious means in this paranormal series.

Protagonist: Former LA cop Jack Whelan, played by British star John Simm (Life on Mars, Doctor Who), unravels the conspiracy starting with his vanishing wife, played by Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion).

Behind the Scenes: Based on the novel by UK mystery writer Michael Marshall Smith, the series was written by Glen Morgan (The X-Files, Millennium) and shot in Vancouver, with settings all over the Pacific Northwest.

The Portland Connection: A missing girl disappears from her Cannon Beach home only to turn up at the Portland airport.

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