‘Ransom’ Executive Producer Breaks Down CBS’s Hostage-Saving Procedural
Who do you call when someone you love has been kidnapped and you can’t go to the cops? You turn to the team from CBS’s new drama series, Ransom, of course.
In the series, which kicks off after football on January 1, Eric Beaumont (Luke Roberts) is a crisis and hostage negotiator who works outside the law, and more times than not gets the results that puts the bad guys away.
In the premiere, we meet newbie Maxine Carlson (Sarah Greene), who desperately wants to work with Beaumont and his team (Nazeen Contractor, Brandon Jay McLaren) for an unknown reason. Will Maxine become an asset to the already solid team and what does she still have to learn that, hopefully, Beaumont can teach her?
Executive producer Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files, Hunted and the just-launched Medici currently streaming on Netflix) talked to us recently about how he set this project apart from other procedurals, casting Roberts as the leader of the team, and just how much viewers will learn about our cast of heroes as the series goes on.
Ransom is obviously different from Medici, but with this being a CBS procedural, how do you stay within the rules of a procedural yet make it different from everything else?
For me, the thing that really drew me to this is that it’s based on a real guy, this French negotiator named Laurent Combalbert. I didn’t know this world even existed—this world of private kidnap and hostage negotiation. It’s a huge business, as it turns out. They estimate there’s something like 30,000 of these that go on every year without the police.
I met this guy, Laurent, and I was so impressed by him. He really does go in with nothing but his mind. He does not carry a gun and he has to figure out what people need versus what they want so he can save peoples’ lives. He saves peoples’ lives with his brain. I just thought, this is a remarkable man, a brilliant man, who can go in there and resolve situations that seem impossible to resolve. He obviously knows an awful lot about human psychology and what was really great in terms of trying to devise the show is that he’s extremely analytical about what he’s done, and he’s written books and manuals. There’s just tons and tons of research about how you negotiate, the strategies and tactics you employ to gain leverage and get people to compromise and return people safely.
As far as the show is concerned, does this team always work within the confines of the law or are there times when they have to step outside the law?
In fact, in many countries in the world, private negotiation is illegal. There’s many times when the law requires they report what’s going on and they don’t. They are often, in reality, on the edge of the law, although frequently law enforcement sort of turns a blind eye to what they do. In fact, they want them to do what they’re doing, they just can’t officially acknowledge it. Laurent Combalbert, like Eric Beaumont in our show, frequently trains law enforcement in negotiating techniques. It’s a complicated relationship they have with the police and official law enforcement.
But good for stories, right?
Oh, it’s endless, endless for stories. There’s thousands of case files and the stories we’ve done are pretty fictionalized but the principles, the negotiating techniques, are real. Yeah, it’s endless the kind of cases that he can resolve.
When I watch procedurals, I always want to know about our regular characters, our heroes, so to speak. How much of that will be doled out with the team in Ransom?
Mostly, you get information about Eric and about Maxine, Sarah Greene’s character, and you get pieces of Zara and Oliver, but really most of that will be saved for season two, knock wood. We wanted to firmly establish Eric first and foremost and then fortunately we’ve got a terrific cast and there’s a lot of emotional depth there to explore future episodes.
How did Luke Roberts come to the show, especially since Eric Beaumont is very much the anchor for the team and the show?
Luke is somebody I had met before for other shows that I’d been doing. He was one of the first people who read for this and he put himself on tape in South Africa where he was finishing up Black Sails. Honestly, the moment I saw him put himself on tape, I knew he was the guy. It was just a matter of persuading everybody else that he was the guy because he projects that calm, intelligence and control that Eric Beaumont needs, but you sense that there is adrenaline and risk underneath. Also, beside the fact that he is an intelligent actor and comes across as an intelligent character, I like that Luke has this physicality. He’s a strong guy and it was really interesting that you have this guy who obviously could use his body and violence to resolve situations but chooses to use his mind; I like that contrast.
When creating a new series, how much do you look at other shows that are like the one you’re working on at the moment. Do you do that or better not to worry about what the others are doing?
I just focus on what’s in front of me. I’m afraid that if I don’t, I will subconsciously copy something else. I think in the back of my mind, I thought about procedurals I’d seen in the past that worked really well, but I didn’t go back and watch them again. I think, honestly, there are two challenges in the show. One is that he’s not a cop, he doesn’t carry a gun, and he isn’t trying to arrest anybody. The second thing is you simply can’t have a show where he’s just negotiating the entire hour, just talking to somebody on the phone or across the table. Really, the key for us for figuring out how to make a TV series was that there’s negotiation, but there’s also a mystery. There’s something that has to be figured out in order to conclude the negotiation. That’s what gives the team something to do and that’s what gives you a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the hour. You won’t know because you’ve only seen the pilot, I think.
What’s interesting to me about the show is that because it’s really just about saving peoples’ lives, there are many, many of these episodes where you have tears in your eyes by the end because it’s so emotional. [The team is] just trying to bring people back home and it’s surprising. It’s an unusually emotional show. Out of the 13 [episodes], there’s quite a few where, at the very least, you’ll have a lump in your throat at the end.
Ransom premieres January 1st on CBS after football.