September 23, 2013



Read All Our Fall Pilot Reports here.

HOSTAGES:  Monday 10PM on CBS starting September 23 – Potential DVR Alert

HOSTAGES, like this summer’s Under the Dome, finds CBS stretching its legs, expanding its brand into new areas.  The serialized drama will have a limited run of 15 episodes this fall, sharing its timeslot with the midseason thriller Intelligence, but as with Dome and The Forgotten, it’s not a miniseries, but rather intended to tell a story that can continue into future years.  It could well follow in the footsteps of The Forgotten and collapse after a strong start–but it’s also one of the few don’t-miss fall pilots.

Based, like Homeland, on an Israeli format, the American version of the story has been written and its pilot directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff, best known till now as writer of the features The Day After Tomorrow and Traitor.  (In series, Nachmanoff will share showrunning duties with the more experienced Rick Eid, whose credits include a pair of Law & Order shows and CSI, and who clearly knows how to make trains run on time.)  It leaps into its premise, before filling in some gaps with an extended flashback:  the night before surgeon Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) is scheduled to operate on the President of the United States (James Naughton), her home is invaded by a squad led by renegade FBI agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott), and she’s told that if she doesn’t poison the President on her operating table the next day, she, her husband Brian (Tate Donovan) and teen children Morgan (Quinn Shephard) and Jake (Mateus Ward) will all be killed.

That’s an arresting idea, and it’s well performed and crisply directed, but it’s also roughly similar to last year’s pilot for The Mob Doctor, where the physician heroine was ordered to kill a gangster during surgery or suffer the consequences.  What makes Hostages much more promising is the efficient way it sets up additional potential storylines that can simmer over the season.  By the end of the pilot, the timeline for the drama is set at 2 weeks, which is reportedly the period in which this season’s episodes will take place, an effectively tight ticking clock.  We learn that Carlisle and his team have been watching the Sanders family, and they–and we–know all the secrets its members are keeping from one another, which are numerous.  There’s also mystery behind Carlisle’s own motives, and although the pilot doesn’t tell us much about his fellow captors, the fact that they’re played by substantial actors like Rhys Coiro and Sandrine Holt suggests that they won’t be anonymous for long.  (After shooting the pilot, CBS announced that the recurring role of the First Lady had been recast, with Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio replacing Kate Burton–possibly because of Burton’s commitment to Scandal, where she ranks higher as Vice President–but Mastrontonio is hardly trading down.)  Interestingly, the show produced a teaser reel of scenes from “upcoming episodes” that haden’t actually been filmed yet, just to give an idea of where the series is going–sort of a real-life version of the parody “Next on Arrested Development” teasers that ended that show’s episodes–and while they’re hugely spoilery, so I won’t describe them all here, they suggest the show has no shortage of sharp narrative turns and melodrama in store.  (A few bits from the “upcoming episodes” reel have been included in CBS’s promos for the series.)

Naturally, a series like this is only as good as its plotting, and even great dramas like Homeland have lost their footing over the course of a season (and 24, with its amnesias and cougars, is legendary for stretching some of its storylines to the point of inanity).  Hostages, though, is off to a good start–not subtle or innovative, but compelling.  Collette, less flashy here than in The United States of Tara, has a marvelous empathy and ability to display criss-crossing emotions at once, and McDermott, off his crazytime stint on American Horror Story, is well poised for villainy.  The script is reasonably smart and swiftly paced, and with Jerry Bruckheimer as Executive Producer, production values are unlikely to be an issue.

Hostages faces off against NBC’s event debut of the fall, the Silence of the Lambs-but-this-time-Lecter-isn’t-a-killer The Blacklist, with its big-time James Spader centerpiece performance (and the reliable Castle on ABC as well).  Hostages won’t have the benefit of a lead-in from The Voice (although Mom should give it a very decent launch), and serialized shows are tricky, since once you lose viewers, they tend not to come back–that’s why CBS has mostly avoided them in the past.  Even with all those challenges, Hostages appears to be the class of the hour, and that should help keep its viewers from attempting to escape their captor.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."