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Hellcats – Executive Producers Tom Welling and Kevin Murphy get passionate about cheerleading

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Hellcats - Kevin Murphy, Ashley Tisdale, Aly Michalka and Tom Welling
Kevin Murphy, Executive Producer, Ashley Tisdale, Aly Michalka and Tom Welling, Executive Producer © 2010 The CW Network

You would think that this year, with Smallville entering into its final season, the star of that series, Tom Welling, would have his hands full. But he is also the Executive Producer, along with Kevin Murphy (Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives), of The CW’s new show, Hellcats.

The series spotlights the coming-of-age story of Marti Perkins (Aly Michalka), a pre-law student at Lancer University in Tennessee. When her scholarship is cancelled, she realizes the only way to stay in school is to win a place on Lancer’s legendary cheerleading squad, the Hellcats.

Marti’s new roommate is Savannah Monroe (Ashley Tisdale), a petite, peppy Texan and captain of the Hellcats. The series focuses on the team as they ascend to the top of the fiercely competitive cheerleading world.

How did you decide on this as your first producing project outside of Smallville? Did you feel particularly passionate about cheerleading?

Hellcats - Heather Hemmens, Matt Barr, Aly Michalka, Robbie Jones and Ashley Tisdale
Season 1 gallery shot - Alice (Heather Hemmens), Dan (Matt Barr), Marti (Aly Michalka), Lewis (Robbie Jones) and Savannah (Ashley Tisdale) © 2010 The CW Network

Tom Welling: This project was based on a book called Cheer, and through that book we were able to understand that there was a whole world here that hadn’t been tapped into. Along with Kevin, who’s able to go in and really just bring it to life and create this universe for these characters, I just thought of it as a great story.

I think there’s a lot of heart and there’s a lot of struggle from all the characters, especially Aly’s. And it’s that journey of her finding her identity and what she’s going to do with her life that I found interesting.

Having been with The CW for as long as you have been, did you feel you knew what it took to get a show sold?

Tom Welling: I don’t know if it was that easy. I think that when this project started coming together, we knew that this was going to be a perfect for the The CW, and that there were some relationships that I had at The CW. If it wasn’t for Smallville, I wouldn’t have had those relationships. So I was able to go to them and speak to them very easily, with an open environment, and it really came together quickly.

Can you talk about how you are going to manage doing both shows? You obviously want to make Smallville’s final season special at the same time you want to get this launched properly.

Hellcats 1.08 - Ashley Tisdale, Sharon Leal and Aly Michalka
Episode 1.08 "Back of a Car" - Savannah (Ashley Tisdale), Vanessa (Sharon Leal) and Marti (Aly Michalka) © 2010 The CW Network

Tom Welling: Right. Fortunately Hellcats also shoots up in Vancouver, about 10 minutes away from where Smallville is. So that’s a huge benefit.

We have a fantastic crew on both shows, and everybody understands what’s going on. And so I’m doing everything I can, at the same time with a lot of support from both shows, to facilitate what each needs from me.

Is this to dance what Glee is to singing?

Kevin Murphy: Yeah. I think that, absolutely, the dancing is a huge component of the show, but it exists very much with one foot in the world of the characters. Nobody is going to tune in to the show to watch the awesome three minutes of dancing that we are going to provide. They are going to tune in because they really care about what’s going on with Marti and her law career and what’s going on with the relationship between Marti and Savannah, and the family relationships.

I would never had the temerity to try to compete with Glee in terms of razzle dazzle and the music and all of that. They’ve got that territory pretty well staked out.

How did you cast the two leads?

Hellcats 1.05 - Aly Michalka and Ashley Tisdale
Episode 1.05 "The Prisoner's Song" - Marti (Aly Michalka) and Savannah (Ashley Tisdale) © 2010 The CW Network

Kevin Murphy: When Ashley came in (to audition), I laughed my ass off, and I wanted to get up and hug her at the same time. I think that Ashley is an actress who can hold multiple colors in the same palette. The really wonderful thing about her take on Savannah is that she can be chirpy and annoying as a character, and at the same time. She’s so irresistible that you want to hang out with her and be her friend.

It was a long and arduous process finding Marti. When Aly walked out of the room, I just had one of those moments that you only see in MGM musicals. It was like, ‘Okay, that was Marti.’ There really was never anyone else after I met Aly. She had that mixture of determination and grit and assertiveness and vulnerability.

Tom Welling: When we were casting, the physical part was a huge component. Not only did they have to act and look the part, but then they had to audition through a dance number. These girls nailed it.

We were really looking for a lot from the actors on the performance side. When they are not on set, they are in rehearsals. There’s a lot of heart here, and the physicality will surprise you.

It’s also the nature of filmmaking in general, you can get warmed up and get into it and then all of a sudden you have to sit for 15 minutes and then they want you to do it again at that same pace. So it’s a lot of maintenance in between and the whole cast has a lot of responsibility to maintain their own fitness. It’s not easy.

I assume this season will drive toward nationals, towards a competition?

Hellcats 1.05 - Heather Hemmens, Aly Michalka and Ashley Tisdale
Episode 1.05 "The Prisoner's Song" - Alice (Heather Hemmens), Marti (Aly Michalka) and Savannah (Ashley Tisdale) © 2010 The CW Network

Kevin Murphy: Yeah, that’s the plan. I think it might be really cool to change things up and do part of (next) season getting into the world of cheer camp.

I think we want to surprise people as much as we can.

What can we expect from the last season of Smallville?

Tom Welling: I don’t think we know yet, I know it is all leading towards the (Superman) suit in some respect, but I don’t know what that is. But to go out with a bang after ten seasons is very exciting.

You’ve had a long time to think about it, and now it’s finally going to happen. Has there been talk about the suit specifically?

Tom Welling: I have my own ideas. I know in season three I had the idea, ‘Oh I think it would be great if Martha gives Clark the suit and he goes off to Metropolis.’ Well, it turned out in season four or five, we actually turned into a show which is pretty much a Metropolis show now; so my idea went out the window. What we’re going to do this year is still a mystery to me.