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Accused EP Howard Gordon on Early Casting Hurdles, 'Full Circle' Finale and His Plan to 'Push' Format in Season 2

For the past three months, Fox’s Accused anthology has unspooled weekly episodes that thrust all manner of characters into the defendant’s chair in a courtroom, to face a variety of charges and outcomes.

Accused wraps its freshman run this Tuesday at 9/8c with “Billy’s Story,” in which Keith Carradine and Laila Robins play the parents of a grown, drug-addicted son.

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TVLine spoke with creator/showrunner Howard Gordon about how his time on 24 had him itching to tackle an anthology, overcoming actors’ “network bias” when casting Season 1, and the plan to have Season 2 push the format in exciting ways.

Howard Gordon - Credit: Courtesy of Fox
Howard Gordon - Credit: Courtesy of Fox

Courtesy of Fox

TVLINE | As someone who comes from the most serialized show in television, 24, what about an anthology such as Accused appealed to you?
Exactly what you just said — having come from 24, which was among the first shows, and certainly the first network show that I remember, that was really a serialized show that bucked at the time the conventional wisdom of how television was made. I’ve been in writers’ rooms on shows that are very long, cast-driven narratives, and this particular format [for Accused] was based on a BBC show [created by Jimmy McGovern], so for me as a writer and as a watcher of TV, it fit my attention span and also offered the variety I felt like I wanted to have creatively, in terms of addressing a diversity of content and diversity, tonally, in storytelling. I loved the freedom and the elasticity of the format.

Again, as a consumer, I was finding my attention span challenged by some shows. I found myself thinking that if a show is six or eight episodes, I’m more inclined to watch than if it’s, like, 12. And if that stands to reason, then imagine how cool it is to just have to watch one and not be held hostage by the whole [season-long construct]? Both as a creator and as a watcher, it felt to me intuitively like there was a hole to be filled, and I’m really glad that Fox gave me a chance to do it.

Meaghan Rath in “Morgan’s Story” - Credit: Fox
Meaghan Rath in “Morgan’s Story” - Credit: Fox

Fox

TVLINE | As I watched episodes, I realized that this is the TV procedural inverted. Instead of each episode being about the investigators and the courts with mere smatterings of what the suspects and victims went through, Accused is, like, 95 percent about the suspects and victims, so you get the whole, rich story of what each character was up to and what led them to do what they did…. 
What it had to grab onto, for an audience, was the familiarity of a courtroom drama or even a procedural, but as you said perfectly, it’s the opposite. And what really interested me were those moments.

We’re in these really revolutionary times, whether we’re talking about wealth inequality, race, gender, truth, AI, where all that stuff is grist for the mill for this particular show. Those are the big ticket residences but at the same time it’s just about people. It is a very, very human drama, and when you have a detective or a doctor I think you enter a story a bit differently. This enters it from the most deep, subjective, personal place. It’s the old “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances” and that always to me makes great drama.

Michael Chiklis in “Scott’s Story” - Credit: Courtesy of Fox
Michael Chiklis in “Scott’s Story” - Credit: Courtesy of Fox

Courtesy of Fox

TVLINE | If there’s a “downside” that I experienced as a reporter, it’s the promoting of the show. Because when y’all got renewed our staff was like, “What picture do we run…?” You can’t necessarily go with Michael Chiklis.
It’s so funny, that is a great question. Everyone at Sony and at Fox, in creative and promos and everything, had the same question — “OK, we love these scripts but how do we tell an audience…?” I think we should actually address that in general because, yes, Michael Chiklis has been the out-weighted face of it, and so has Whitney [Cummings], Malcolm[-Jamal Warner]…

I think the other side of it is that these actors had a really good time doing this show and they’ve been tremendous ambassadors, very generous with their time and attention. It is truly like “a little movie” every time and we all are very proud, collectively, of the work. So I hope that, image not withstanding, the show seems to be gaining some traction in a world where who the hell knows what’s on any given moment.

Whitney Cummings in “Brenda’s Story” - Credit: Courtesy of Fox
Whitney Cummings in “Brenda’s Story” - Credit: Courtesy of Fox

Courtesy of Fox

TVLINE | Was Season 1 a dream to cast? And do you already have actors lined up for Season 2?
Season 1 was me getting on the phone and telling everyone, “Here’s what it’s going to be….” And frankly there’s a network bias. For whatever reason, network television isn’t the most popular kid on the block, but at this point in my life I really didn’t care. I like being a little contrarian. But I realized I had a slightly steeper slope in terms of casting. That’s me long-windedly saying that in Season 2, now that people have seen it, other actors are telling their friends, “I did the show and it was pretty cool.” So I’ve got a lot of [interest] for Season 2 which I did not have in Season 1.

TVLINE | You talked about the tonal variety you get to play with. Was there any conscientious order to the episodes? 
Very much so. I appreciate testing and research to a degree, as a guideline not as a rule. I don’t like to “create stuff by committee,” however I think there was a cumulative awareness that if we have too many downer endings that may be something to avoid.

Josh Hamilton and Betsy Brandt in “Jessie’s Story” - Credit: Fox
Josh Hamilton and Betsy Brandt in “Jessie’s Story” - Credit: Fox

Fox

I guess some of the shows, like the Meaghan Rath one, are thrillers, but there were other ones that I call “tragic with a side of tragedy,” like the Michael Chiklis one. But there was one this past week that was like a Wes Anderson movie. If you get a chance to see it, it’s completely delightful, with Betsy Brandt.… It feels like “a This Is Us episode meets Wes Anderson.” So, the fact that the series can accommodate that variety of tones and of outcomes is good.

I also think the audience likes not knowing what they’re going to get — not just inside an episode, but also what kind of show they’re going to get — as long as they know it’s going to be a good ride and worth the time they put into it. I take the audience’s time pretty seriously, because there’s so much competing for it.

TVLINE | I know what you’re saying, because as I was screening the Keith Carradine episode coming up this week, you don’t know where it’s going to go. You see that his character is the defendant, but defending against what?  
That’s exactly right. I call it compelling on one hand, manipulative on the other, but it’s a sleight of hand you do to keep the audience engaged. I want people to lean in and be like, “What do you think happened?” Then when you know what happened, the question becomes, “What would you have done?” I call that “the play-along.” Like, you think you know what it is and then kind of hopefully it surprises you — not in a random, bulls–t way, but in a way that feels organic.

TVLINE | I’m always loath to ask creators to pick “favorite children,” but is there an Accused episode you are most proud of, or that you like most how it turned out?
I’m going to get in trouble with all my children. [Laughs] I can’t say it. I can’t answer the question. I’ll just say  the Chiklis one because it was the first one that I wrote and kind of my “proof of concept,” in the same way your first kid always has that special place. But I really love them all, and I mean that sincerely.

“Billy’s Story” (season finale airing May 9) - Credit: Fox
“Billy’s Story” (season finale airing May 9) - Credit: Fox

Fox

TVLINE | What do you want to tease about Tuesday night’s season finale starring Keith frickin’ Carradine and the always-fantastic Laila Robins (The Boys, Homeland)?
I’ll tell you one thing: Keith is two handfuls of a year older than me but I was an incredible fan from Nashville. And when he was in that movie Choose Me with Genevieve Bujold, I wanted to be Keith Carradine. So to get to work with Keith is incredible. It’s an episode that’s very close to me because I have had several friends who’ve lost children over the years, and it’s about something. Everything is about time, and everything is about mortality, but the backdrop of all that is a father and a son, or these two parents and a son.

I think in a way it’s full-circle from the Michael Chiklis episode, which is about how as a parent of adult children you feel helplessness sometimes. We have these kids and they’re in the world and they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and there’s only so much control as as parents have. So, this one was really a pleasure. Laila of course I know I know from Homeland, and she is one of our national treasures. I’m very, very, very proud of this episode, and sort of sad it’s the last one.

Wendell Pierce and Malcolm-Jamal Warner in “Kendall’s Story” - Credit: Fox
Wendell Pierce and Malcolm-Jamal Warner in “Kendall’s Story” - Credit: Fox

Fox

TVLINE | Any topics on tap for Season 2? Anything you didn’t get to?
That’s what I find very encouraging about the show — I had way more ideas than time slots. I would say to expect “more of the same,” but we’re going to push it a bit this year. We’re going to try to push the format in ways. And this is not hard and fast, but we’re exploring that maybe not all episodes take place in the present. Some may take place in the past. Some may take place in the future, even.

TVLINE | But always one-and-done. Never a two-episode story?
So, that’s the great thing. I’m considering doing a second part to the Malcolm-Jamal Warner one, but also considering another episode that may be big enough to accommodate a two-parter. I think as we build these things the format is pretty elastic and who knows where we’ll go.

What has been your favorite Accused episode so far?

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