August 27, 2014

THE SKED Fall Pilot Report: CBS’s “Stalker”


STALKER:  Wednesday 10PM on CBS starting October 1 – Change the Channel

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation aren’t necessarily in their final form. It’s not unusual for pilots to be reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot, before hitting the air. Consider these reports to be guides to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

PLAYERS:  Series creator Kevin Williamson, of The Following, The Vampire Diaries and Scream fame.  Stars Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott, and a supporting cast that includes Victor Rasuk, Mariana Klaveno and Elisabeth Rohm (the latter added in a recasting after the pilot was originally shot,).  Pilot director Liz Friedlander.  Warner Bros. Television.

PREMISE:  LAPD Lieutenant Beth Davis (Maggie Q) runs the Department’s Threat Assessment Unit, whose mandate it is to investigate stalking incidents of all kinds:  celebrity, cyber, family, etc.  Her new colleague, fresh from New York under shadowy circumstances, is Detective Jack Larsen (McDermott), who’s glib, knowledgeable and definitely hiding something.

PILOT:  Although not as insistently gory as Williamson’s The Following, the Stalker pilot is just about as unpleasant–and in one respect, maybe more.  I’m going to reveal a moderate SPOILER here, one that’s made clear in the first 15 minutes of the pilot, so those who want to know absolutely nothing about the show should look away:  Larsen, it turns out, knows the ins and outs of a stalker’s mind so well because he is himself a stalker, of his ex (the role Rohm will be playing in the series) and their child  Even in a TV era that prides itself on dark heroes, that’s pretty creepy stuff (although it would be no surprise if later episodes provide a backstory to make Larsen more sympathetic than he at first appears, as Tyrant did with its protagonist). One’s tolerance for Stalker may depend in large part on the willingness to go along for that ride.

In all other respects, Stalker couldn’t be a more conventional or tiresome procedural, although one that deals with a particularly distasteful brand of crime.  (The Following, for all its pretensions and silly twists, is far more ambitious.)  The pilot gives Rasuk and Klaveno very little screen time, as Larsen works with Davis on both of the episode’s two storylines:  an attacker who follows his prey and then sets them on fire, and a college student who’s released sex footage of his roommate online.  In each story, Clue A leads to Culprit B, climaxing in Violent Confrontation C, with very little characterization for either cops or criminals.  Along the way, as he has in The Following, Williamson indulges in ample low-grade horror-movie clichés, like attackers suddenly (and loudly) leaping out of the dark, and the victims who think they’re safe… only they’re really not.

Maggie Q is a tremendously appealing and convincing action lead, as she showed on Nikita, and although that series was mostly concerned with people double-crossing each other and blowing things up, occasionally there was an episode that showcased how deep her talent goes.  Stalker provides little indication that it intends to tap any more of that than her commanding air.  A few years ago, having leading man McDermott play a character as dark as Larsen might have been a bit of a thrill, but after American Horror Story (two iterations) and last season’s Hostages, we get it–he can play bad.

PROSPECTS:  Stalker is getting its ideal timeslot, following Criminal Minds on Wednesdays.  Its competition–the only moderately successful Chicago PD and the perpetual bubble-dweller Nashville–was regularly challenged if not beaten last season by the aged CSI.  So if Stalker doesn’t work, it’ll have no one to blame but itself.  Sometimes CBS succeeds with mediocrity, and sometimes it succeeds with schlock.  If Stalker is a hit, there won’t be much mystery about which it will be.



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."