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It started with two men sword fighting in front of a Starbucks.
Writer-producer Eric Kripke dreamed up that surreal image last summer. His previous series Supernatural was inspired by a similarly random mental snapshot — “a girl on the ceiling on fire.” Now he had this new idea, the coffee shop sword fight. Kripke didn’t know who the fighting men were or why they were using medieval weapons. He only knew he wanted to somehow take modern-day America and roll it back pre-industrial times, to write a quest story like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, only in a land peppered by freeways and fast food restaurants.
“I wanted to take everything I love about Lord of the Rings — swords and swashbuckling and quests and damsels in distress — put all that deep nerd fantasy stuff on the American highway,” Kripke says.
Here, in a piece originally published in November, is the story of what happened next.
For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
Kripke he took the idea to primetime’s reigning master of big concepts, producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, Person of Interest), who saw the potential, particularly the inherent appeal of a back-to-basics rustic setting. “It’s wish fulfillment,” Abrams says. “We’re constantly being bombarded. It’s a silencing of the din that we live in right now.”
Moreover, Abrams says stripping away technology can help a show creatively, just like with the stranded island castaways on ABC’s Lost. “One of the things that’s difficult and frustrating about all the technology we have is it eliminates a lot of potential for drama,” Abrams says. “[Characters] can communicate instantly, they can research things, they can jump on a plane and be anywhere. Writers contort themselves to eliminate cell phones from scenes. And one of the beautiful byproducts of Kripke’s idea is that there’s no longer that immediate access.”
But Abrams didn’t like Kripke’s apocalyptic device for wiping out modern conveniences. Kripke originally wanted to have the country depopulated by a super virus. But that was deemed too familiar, too much like Stephen King’s The Stand. Instead, Abrams suggested an idea his company had been kicking around: Surviving the fallout of a nationwide blackout.
A few weeks later, the duo had a meeting at NBC’s Burbank offices.
Now if you’ve ever wondered how producers sell a TV show, pay attention to this next part.