Let's Pretend
selected from
Xposé Special #06
Jarod (Michael T Weiss) and his would-be captors A genius, who can assume any role, is on the run. A woman with her own dark secret is on his trail. That’s the basis of The Pretender. Co-Creator Steven Long Mitchell chatted to David Richardson – here's an excerpt

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Take a smattering of The Fugitive, add in a few elements of The X-Files, a hint of Quantum Leap and mix with some completely new ideas altogether, and you have The Pretender, NBC’s top-rated Saturday night adventure series.

Created (and executive produced) by Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W Van Sickle, the show follows the journey of Jarod (Michael T Weiss), an extraordinarily gifted man who has been raised by a corporation known as ‘The Centre’ since he was a child. Over the years, Jarod’s gifts have been abused and put to corrupt use and, now on the run in the outside world, he intends to put things to rights, helping others where the law has failed. His mental aptitude allows him to assume any profession he wishes; he is a Pretender.

“Craig and I had been aware of a book about Ferdinand Demara called The Great Impostor,” says Mitchell of the show’s genesis. “We were fascinated as we read it that there really were people that were so intelligent they could actually become other people. They could actually read a book on how to fly a 747, or how to perform surgery, and Ferdinand Demara had done a lot of these things. We thought, ‘What an interesting basis for one aspect of the show.’”

Mitchell and Long had met in Los Angeles during the early 1980s and formed a successful writing and producing partnership, working on a host of TV shows including Murder, She Wrote, Alien Nation, The Flash and Magnum PI. The Pretender reflects their desire to create a series that could be watched by the entire family, one that would appeal to anyone between the ages of “eight and eighty.”

“The other aspect was we looked at the world we live in, where not a lot of people take responsibility,” continues Mitchell. “We all read the newspaper and go, ‘Oh, look, there’s a hospital in Florida where surgeons cut off the wrong foot three days in a row – somebody ought to do something about that!’ and then we turn the page. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a hero who didn’t turn the page? What if we had a hero who would go and do something about it?’ There was a basis for the kind of justice we wanted him to exact which was an emotional justice – putting the bad guy in the position that he put the victim in emotionally. It all evolved from there.

“We knew we wanted him to be on the run, but we wanted to do a show where we didn’t have cops chasing him. We didn’t want a cop in the show unless he chose to be one.” As a result, the bad guys of the piece originate not from the establishment, but from the corporate sector. The Centre is a sinister by-product of free enterprise; out to make the big bucks, it tramples on the little man in its way.

“Originally in the pilot the network asked us to explain how The Centre works – who they are and what they do, and we still haven’t,” Mitchell says. “We peel that onion very slowly, and we want people to sit there and go, ‘Wait a minute, I think The Centre does this.’ Our feeling is, as creators, that everyone in The Centre – they know what they do, and they’re not necessarily going to talk about it to each other. "

The Pretender is a show that works on many different levels. Jarod might be a likeable good guy who we can all root for, but the villains of the piece are also very watchable. Take the fabulously cold and determined Miss Parker (Andrea Parker) and her colleague Sydney (Patrick Bauchau).

“In the pilot Miss Parker was the toughest man!” Mitchell claims. “What we’ve tried to do since then is to give a reason for her firmness and her emotional coldness, and see that she has a reason for it and she’s multi-dimensional. She’s not just a bitch.” Likewise, Sydney has also displayed many colors. “It’s a very bizarre relationship between Jarod and Sydney,” says the executive producer. “He is somebody who has raised Jarod, somebody he loves – but also hates. His prison guard and his protector...”

David Richardson

Continued in Xposé Special #06

Image © NBC