Based on the popular DC Comics graphic novel, Fox’s new mid-season action/drama Human Target premieres in January. The story spotlights Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), a unique private contractor/security expert/bodyguard hired to protect. For Chance it’s about one thing only, saving his clients’ lives. When normal measures of protection fail, he is hired to become the human target.

The show’s executive producer, Jonathan E Steinberg, spoke with us about this series’ journey from comic book to the screen, and all the changes made along the way.

The premise of the original Human Target comic is that he doesn’t just get next to the target, he takes their place; he impersonates them. Why did you change that? Was that just not feasible because you basically would be using a guest star as your lead every week?

Winston (Chi McBride), Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) and Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) © Fox Network

It’s feasible to use a guest star every week. I think that the hard part for me when coming up with this story was that the conceit that he becomes the person really works well in print; it’s fun and allows you to play with identity in a cool way, but as soon as it becomes flesh and blood, it’s a strange credibility that is detrimental to the story. That was one of the earlier obstacles with us, how do we make it real? If there was a guy who did this job, how would he do it? He probably wouldn’t do it by putting on a rubber mask.

So I think that was the beginning of it. After that it became clear to us that we wanted to create an action hero that was like the action heroes that I grew up with, the Indiana Joneses. The John McClanes. It’s very hard to fall in love with Indiana Jones when he looks like somebody else every week. And so I think that a lot of what we wanted to do was really make sure that this was going to be a guy that you wanted to spend time with and that could be charming in that way.

But the original version of this TV series was something like Quantum Leap, where we’d seem him, as Mark Valley, and all of the other characters would see him as whoever he was in the mirror.

Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) held at gunpoint © Fox Network

We talked about being literally faithful to the underlying property, but this one just felt right. It felt like something I hadn’t seen. I’ve seen Quantum Leap. I haven’t seen this in a really long time, and that’s what attracted me to it.

Early press material about Human Target suggested that it had a Science Fiction element, is there some element that we’re going to learn about?

There certainly won’t be aliens or anything. It think there’s a bit of the action genre to it – there’s a bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in this story – it doesn’t exist, probably won’t exist for some time, but it feels real. So I think in that sense there will be some liberties with the universe we live in, but hopefully within a pretty strict measure of reality.

I’ve seen a lot of far-fetched plots, but a mass transit program in California?

Yeah, like I said, it’s Science Fiction!

Will we find out how he knows everything that he knows?

Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley), Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) and Winston (Chi McBride) © Fox Network

We have a pretty good grasp on the mythology of where he came from, and what we try really hard to do is that any questions that are asked, including by implication, ‘How does he speak Japanese? How does he know how to do these things?’ is at least rooted in some way in that mythology. It may not feel like we’re revealing pieces of it, but I think we are. And I think as we mete out more answers about where he came from, who taught him how to do this and who is still out there in his past that’s going to become an obstacle or an ally, I think we’ll start to get some of those answers answered.

Christopher Chance didn’t interact with many of the other characters in the DC universe, but do you have any rights to do nods or incorporate them if you so choose?

We’re certainly not ruling it out. I think that the mission for us early on is to get him to stand on his own two feet, not as part of that universe, but as a franchise unto itself. So I wouldn’t rule it out, but I think for the time being, we’re really just trying to meet him and spend some time in that world.

The pilot looked very expensive. Can you keep that up on a week to week basis?

I’m not sure the pilot will be the biggest episode we do in terms of the way it feels. It will cost the most, but I don’t know that that ultimately means that it will be the fastest or the ones with the coolest stunts. I think for us it’s just a problem-solving exercise of how do we make as much as we can with what we have and make it feel big and cool.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane