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The Genesis of the Pretender

In 1996, the Pretender was born, long before there were books and graphic novels in the works. If you have just arrived, get to know a little bit of the history behind the Pretender Universe.

 
 Read our story below.

Start here: how it all started
1. how it all started
From genesis to DOA
4. from genesis to D.O.A.
2. let there be light
next
3. the pilot
5. welcome to 2013
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1. how it all started
Start here: how it all started
Jarod
Young Jarod

We love The Pretender. It has always been the most passionate expression of our life’s work. We hope our feelings have been reflected in the stories so far — and the ones yet to come. The creation and series were labors of love – the story of which we are thrilled to be continuing now in novels, graphic novels and eventually on film again. So forgive us if we ramble as we put down overall thoughts about the background and origin of the series.

2. Let there be light

What if there was a hero who could be anyone he wanted to be?

Miss Parker

We often like to say that we were there when they turned the lights ‘on’ at the beginning of The Pretender and we will be there to turn them ‘off’ at the end (but with your support we think that won’t be for a very long time).

The Genesis for The Pretender started something like this – we were sitting at a bar one day (it was happy hour, can you tell?) and one of us looked at the other and said, “What if there was a hero who could be anyone he wanted to be?” And the other answered, “Yeah, but didn’t know who he was?”

It was that simple.

But of course nothing of quality or worth having is really that simple, and years of sweat, blood, passion and happy hours followed until the idea of tP truly jelled.

Three ingredients of thousands were also thrown into the mix we called tP.

First, we’d always been fascinated by something we’d read about once called the CIA Genius Project. We’d gladly link you to the article, but it’s since vanished from sight. The upshot of the project and what was so inspiring was the fact that the CIA recruited prodigies from grade and middle schools across the U.S. and brought them into headquarters for special educational exercises. In the morning the kids would attend classes like Trigonometry, Biology, and the like, and then in the afternoon they had them work on brainstorming games like, Stealth Invasion Techniques and Thermonuclear War Simulation. There was no mention of how long recess lasted.

Second, we were both fans of the movie The Great Imposter, and the book by the same name, at Amazon.com, which is the true story of Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr. a man who ‘pretended’ to be people he wasn’t. We found his exploits fascinating.

Third, we both also loved the television show The Fugitive – TV Series. The series was about a good man on the run being pursued while searching for a deeply emotional and personal truth while at the same time helped others along his way. The creator of that show, Roy Huggins was one of our heroes. He was a television genius and we are proud to have paid him just a bit of homage in our series.

We did evolve one aspect of what he did though, and that was in the characterizations for our pursers.

Unlike The Fugitive’s Inspector Gerard, we wanted the people who were chasing Jarod to be multi-dimensional human beings who had personal attachments to him. We created Miss Parker and Sydney with the idea that if they both had interesting pasts and strong emotional ties to Jarod then their pursuit of him would cause them inner and mutual conflict as they story progressed.

And are we glad we did that.

So after years of talking and countless happy hours later, we came up with the story of Jarod and the rest is truly history. One that changed our lives.

We walked out of the happy hours into the light of the future and boy was it bright.

3. The Pilot

Under the best of circumstances, it is a hell of an experience to write the first episode of a series.
So many people to please- the studio, the network, etc.- that it’s impossible to please them all.

Under the best of circumstances, it is a hell of an experience to write the first episode of a series.

So many people to please- the studio, the network, etc.- that it’s impossible to please them all.

So we decided that the pilot script for this series couldn’t survive in that system, so we wrote it on spec. For those who don’t know, a spec script is one writers write without having pitched it to or being paid by a network to write it.
Very few series get their start this way (Desperate Housewives, written by a long time and dear friend, Marc Cherry, being one of the few we know of).

The great thing about a spec script is there is no interference – the creators can do what ever they want and that is exactly what we did with tP.

One of our primary motivations with The Pretender pilot script was to change our perception in the TV industry. Hollywood loves to pigeonhole writers. Work on a cop show – you’re a cop show writer. Write Sci-Fi, you’re on the SF list for life. After years of bouncing from one list to the next, we decided to create a series for which there was no list, was no pigeonhole – a script no one had read before and one we dared the reader to be able to put down.

Each scene was designed so that the reader/viewer was so hooked in that they couldn’t possible ‘click’ the remote and leave the story for something else. Every scene, every act break and even the last words and image of the story were designed to make you say – what’s going to happen next?

Up until that time, not a lot of scripts were written that way.

We love the idea of not only respecting the intelligence of the audience, but challenging them with fresh storytelling and mysteries they have to pay attention to and solve, instead of the characters merely solving them for them.

The script was fast paced and written in a way that, by the very end, you were forced to ask yourself – What the hell just happened? Was that guy really not a doctor? Who are those people after him? Was he lost or stolen or bought? And where is his mom and dad? Oh and of course – Was Miss Parker’s skirt really that short?”

Once finished, the script was sent to the four major networks (at that time there were only four) and to their credit, NBC was the first to say, “can we have a meeting about this?” That experience deserves its own story and will be saved for another time, maybe its own book, if anyone’s interested.

At the meeting, they told us they loved the script and if we would rewrite it and tell them who exactly all the characters were, what exactly the Centre was, exactly what Jarod’s origins were, how exactly he was able to be a Pretender, and essentially answer all the questions we posed – they would buy our script and make the pilot.

We looked at each other and said something few if any in Hollywood say; “You can keep your money, cause if we answer all those questions right now – there is no series.”

Silence. Stunned silence.

We stood to leave, all the while feeling like we were going to faint (since Hollywood also likes to pay well and we were walking away from it). Meanwhile, they were thinking they were going to faint, since nobody in Hollywood passes up so much money. And then to their credit the NBC executive said “Wait – we want to make it.”

As a side note – the two executives we met with that day both went on to stellar careers. Steve McPherson went on to run ABC (and was the man responsible for buying Desperate Housewives as a spec), the other was David Nevins who went on to run Imagine Television overseeing hits like 24 and who now, as of this writing, is running Showtime).

4. from genesis to D.O.A.

We’re not going to tell you the story of producing the pilot on these pages. That too is part of the story for another time – if and when you guys want to hear it. What we will say is, as hard as a pilot is to write and sell and get a network to green light, it’s even harder to produce (akin to landing on D-Day during a hurricane).

But the long and short of it is, after surviving what was also a story of epic proportions that caused at least one of us to start losing large quantities of hair, we ended up with a pilot that NBC didn’t know what to do with.

After all the hard work of writing and producing this work of passion, we were literally dead on arrival – NBC literally walking out of the first cut – because they just ‘didn’t get it’ and felt they’d made a big mistake.

The problem was, The Pretender wasn’t like anything else. It didn’t fit into a mold NBC was comfortable with. It was safer not to program it.

 

Not willing to give up on tP or the network, the two of us re-cut the show exactly how we thought it would work best – all of which is another amazing story. Hell, maybe we should just write the definitive guide book to The Pretender and tell the whole story. With literally only minutes to spare, we turned in our final cut and promptly went looking for our next job.

Then something happened, something wonderful.

NBC, who had already paid for the testing, let real people watch The Pretender. Then they tested it again. And again.

Then all of a sudden we received an interesting phone call.

It was from a very excited David Nevins telling us they had tested the show over and over – and that “America loves The Pretender – and we don’t know why.”

Got to love the honesty of a network exec smelling a hit.

NBC was ecstatic. The Pretender in front of live audiences had tested higher than their current hit, E.R. had as a pilot.

In fact, it tested higher than any pilot they had produced for over 30 years – since Bonanza.

Saturday night was to be rebuilt, with The Pretender as the tent pole series after its debut in the coveted Thursday E.R. time slot.

And the rest, as they say, is all a part of the bizarre history of TV.

The next five years of our lives were a wonderful thrill ride working with some of the most amazing people we have ever had the opportunity to know. Every day was a blessing and we are thrilled that one day many years ago at a happy hour bar one of us looked to the other and said – “What if…”

NBC was ecstatic. The Pretender in front of live audiences had tested higher than their current hit, E.R. had as a pilot.

In fact, it tested higher than any pilot they had produced for over 30 years – since Bonanza.

Saturday night was to be rebuilt, with The Pretender as the tent pole series after its debut in the coveted Thursday E.R. time slot.

And the rest, as they say, is all a part of the bizarre history of TV.

The next five years of our lives were a wonderful thrill ride working with some of the most amazing people we have ever had the opportunity to know. Every day was a blessing and we are thrilled that one day many years ago at a happy hour bar one of us looked to the other and said – “What if…”

Jarod as Pilot

Life is a gift.

There are Pretenders among us, geniuses with the ability to become anyone they want to be. In 1983 a corporation known as The Centre isolated a young Pretender named Jarod and exploited his genius for their ‘research. Then, one day, their Pretender ran away… 2nd edition with a special foreword from Michael T. Weiss, who played Jarod on the TV show!

More info →

The second in the exciting Pretender series of novels, Saving Luke is an edge-of-your-seat mystery thriller about Jarod, a child prodigy, stolen and raised by a clandestine organization that exploited his gift for their nefarious activities.

More info →

read what Jarod and Miss Parker have to say
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