In a modern-day twist on Washington Irving’s classic story, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Fringe, Transformers) are bringing the adventure drama Sleepy Hollow to Fox, premiering this September.
The series stars Tom Mison (Parade’s End) as Ichabod Crane, who has been mysteriously transported from 1790 to the 21st century. Unfortunately, so has the Headless Horseman, whose head Ichabod lopped off before his perceived death. In this modern setting, the Horseman, with updated weaponry, has begun a killing spree that newly appointed Sheriff Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) must stop.
Ichabod teams with Abbie in an attempt to track down and capture the Headless Horseman, discovering two types of occult groups exist – one for good, the other for evil. But Ichabod’s world view from the 18th century causes friction between him and Abbie, an African American woman.
Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Tom Mison spoke of their new fantasy at the TV Critics tour.
How did this series come about?
Alex: Philip Iscove (the series co-creator) came into our office and said, ‘I have this idea that we can do a modern-day Sleepy Hollow.’
Roberto: But the twist that he had was of a man out of time. The first American, in a sense.
Alex: And the other thing that was very smart about what he brought was he actually managed to sidestep the time travel aspect of how did he get over 250 years into the future.
Taking the Rip Van Winkle story and finding a way to take the spirit of what was great about both of them and put them together. It felt like one of those ideas that clicked for us right away.
You mentioned Ichabod as this first American who has been transported to the modern age. You have a really sharp exchange in the first episode between Ichabod and Abbie about race and emancipation. What are you trying to say about America and how it’s changed?
Alex: I think part of what got us excited about Ichabod was that he could be this wonderful lens through which we now view our world. This is a man who actually was put to sleep right before the United States came together and he theoretically died fighting for the ideals that are now the founding principles of our country.
So what happens when you wake up over 250 years later to see what those ideals have become, how are they fulfilling the promise of what they were to be and how are they betraying them? That’s a very interesting thing to look at.
Roberto: And that can go from the mundane to the deep, including finding a 24-dollar sandwich in a hotel menu. That’s a lifetime of money to him.
Tom, being a British actor, can you identify with Ichobod’s bewilderment at the new world with being on American television on a genre show?
Sheriff Abbie Mills
Tom: Yes. None of what you see from Ichabod is acting. I’m genuinely that baffled constantly.
I think even more than it being different from British television is just it’s different from any television. Being on this is much more like being on a film set.
I think you can see the results that it looks much more like a feature film than something on TV.
At the moment, we in England are looking over here and seeing amazing television being made. And it’s nice to be a part of something that is taking that and ramping it even further and really testing everything that you can do in this medium.
Is this going to have an ongoing arc to it, or is it going to be close-ended episodes each week?
Alex: We were wildly influenced by The X-Files. Even when we created Fringe, it was the gold standard of all gold standards in genre television.
In the case of The X-Files, you could leave the show for a couple of weeks, come back and you wouldn’t be lost. Our goal is to make sure that you watch each episode, but also that you can have stand-alone episodes where the story can have a beginning, middle and an end.
Tom, how do you see Ichabod relationship growing with Abbie?
Tom: He thinks he’s the only sane person in the room. Everyone around him is a maniac. Then he finds this one girl who has a similar secret to him, so they bond with each other very quickly.
I think it’s going to be really interesting to follow throughout the season, that you see people who are put together out of necessity and then they start working for a common aim, even though they’re 250 years apart.
What are you most interested in seeing explored?
Tom: I’m looking forward to the quest to try and rescue my wife (a witch, who may be responsible for his time travel) from her purgatorial netherworld, which is something I’ve never done in my career!