Marilu Henner, who starred on the classic sitcom Taxi, appeared on the news program 60 Minutes to talk about her phenomenal memory – how phenomenal is it? She can remember every single day of her life as if it were yesterday.
A year before that show aired, executive producer Ed Redlich, was approached by his wife, Sarah Timberman, with a unique short story by J Robert Lennon, about a woman with super autobiographical memory, which has developed into CBS’ new crime drama Unforgettable, starring Poppy Montgomery. She portrays Carrie Wells, a NYPD detective with a flawless memory who, along with her partner Detective Al Burns (Dylan Walsh), uses her gift to solve cases.
Executive producers Ed Redlich and John Bellucci spoke about their fascinating new series at the TV Critics tour.
In getting this on the air, did the Marilu Henner’s 60 Minutes interview help things along because people are suddenly very interested in this kind of memory?
Ed Redlich: Yeah, that’s just been an amazing, fortuitous thing. I had done Without a Trace and obviously worked with Poppy, and I wasn’t eager to jump back into just another procedural, but my wife, Sarah Timberman, brought me this idea.
Then out of the blue 60 Minutes came and did this piece. It’s an extraordinary ability, and the fact that it’s real just helps us and informs us. And in talking to Marilu Henner, she’s been consulting with us, it was an incredible confluence of things all happening together.
Super autobiographical memory is a real thing, but is some dramatic license taken with what Carrie is capable of doing?
Ed: We are taking some dramatic license with the details of it. In the pilot, we wrote a scene where a man in the nursing home asks Carrie about a specific date, pulls it out of the air.
We wrote that, and it was a bit of sloppiness [on our part], and we’ll fix it before it airs, but there’s a wonderful moment where Carrie turns and says, ‘August 28th, 1988, was a Tuesday, and this happened, and that happened.’ Marilu watched it and within seconds of seeing it she phoned me and said, ‘April 28th, 1988, was a Friday. April 28, 1998 was a Tuesday.’
In the pilot the crime takes place in the apartment next door to Carrie that she had previously visited, so she was just being observant, noticing things had changed. How will she behave at a new crime scene?
John Bellucci: In the upcoming scripts there are situations where a crime scene may get completely eradicated, and Carrie’s had a chance to take it in for a few moments. They have to revisit the crime scene through her eyes.
She wasn’t actually there for the murder, but she goes in to investigate and, not to give it away, there’s all these creative ways they’re coming up with [her solving the cases], which I’m astonished by.
Ed: Any detective will tell you, as they move around in the course of an investigation, they are observing things, and things that had no relevance at one point will have relevance later. And because of who this character is, she is making connections with characters and with situations that are unique to the way she does it.
John: In a sense, Sherlock Holmes is sort of a model in a different way. He has a hyper-normal power of deduction, all detectives have it, but his is on such a level that that’s what is so fascinating, and it’s tied so basically into his personality.
We just wanted to come up with another in this great line of detectives, and this seemed a particular way in. It is what makes her a great detective.
Why was Poppy right for this role of Carrie?
Ed: From the very moment Poppy said the lines in the script, it was just clear that this is who this was. She had the intelligence and the humor, sensitivity and the toughness, all these things mixed into one.
So any moments in the script where we said, ‘Is she going to be too much of a victim here? Is this not going to be serious enough? Are we going to believe this?’ That just went away instantly. And as we watch the dailies, it’s just like she is this character.
Does every new procedural series have to have a twist? Does a crime solver have to have a semi-super power to interest or sell it to a network?
Ed: That’s a tough question. It’s just really hard for us to say. Again, we didn’t start out saying how do we get a procedural show on CBS? We started out with a short story that we just said, ‘This is interesting.’ And it grew into these characters, so whatever the magic and the luck or the talent it is that gets a show on the air, it’s gotten this one on the air.
How do you keep a character like Carrie likable? Will she ever be wrong?
John: She’s unbelievably likeable to me. She’s just tremendously aware. It’s like Marilu, actually. There’s a way in which she’s just more awake to the force of life and the experience of life. And she has so much vitality.
There’s a very, very strong degree of humor and a particular kind of irony, which informs everything about her. [There’s always] a smile behind the way she’s looking at things, or she wouldn’t survive.
Has Marilu Henner ever asked to be cast on the show?
Ed: She has never asked at all to be cast. However, we are considering that. We have a very interesting idea for a role for her that’s just in the very nascent stages.
(Note: It’s rumored that Marilu Henner will play Carrie’s aunt, who is, ironically, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease).