SDCC07: Panel Report - The 4400

More powers and more Promicin are on the horizon...

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Craig Tomashoff from TV Guide hosted a panel at SDCC dedicated to the USA original show The 4400. For those of you who may not have seen this yet, the premise is that people have been disappearing without trace for decades. Suddenly 4400 of them are deposited in a lake outside Seattle by a huge ball of light. They have been returned from the future to ensure the survival of the human race. Oh, and they have superpowers.

On the panel were Craig Sweeny (producer), Ira S. Behr (executive producer/writer), Jeffrey Combs (Dr. Kevin Burkhoff), Jenni Baird (Meghan Doyle), Conchita Campbell (Maia Rutledge/Skouris), and Megalyn Echikunwoke.

Tomashoff began the questions for the panel by asking about the current controversial issue on the show:

-Is the spread of Promicin a "going green" theme? Behr recalled that the end of the last season was the question "would you take it?" But there's still a 50-50 chance of either "getting an extraordinary ability or crapping out." In season four the writers are dealing with the concept that it's not just '4400' any more. Now "we can be like them." After the Promicin-heavy last season an executive asked Behr if there could be no more. His response? "No."

-Tomashoff turned the tables on the actors and asked if they would take the shot of Promicin, choosing to get an ability or die. Combs laughed and replied that he "already did." His character is now working on improving the odds of survival. Sweeny said that with only a 50-50 chance he wouldn't risk death. Baird instead asked the audience, asking "who of you would take it?" She described the outcomes and the reactions to it as "morally ambiguous." While it's illegal, some powers are too useful for the government to exploit, and they have their own super-powered agents. "What would you do, send 'em all to prison?" Behr would take Promicin, and he'd like to have telepathy. As a final remark to the majority of the audience who were not willing to take the shot Behr said that "by the end of season four, it might not matter..." Campbell definitely would not take the shot, because she's so young. Echikunwoke, though, said "of course!"

-What's appealing about the science-fiction genre and how is acting in it different? Combs appreciates the ideas and good storytelling in sci-fi, explaining the genre as holding a mirror to society and appearing removed in order to examine it from the outside. The 4400 may take place in an alternate world, but it still has all the same ethical issues. Baird emphasized the acting aspect, saying that it's no different acting in sci-fi than anything else. It's all about being the character and reacting in the moment. Combs added that they "just act, and fill the vessel of the character." Echikunwoke admitted that the 4400 is her first foray into science-fiction, but that she loves the "element of possibility," seeing it as limitless. The acting is the same, just trying to "make it seem real." The "heightened reality is cool and fun."

-Tomashoff asked about the surprising elements of the show, and if the actors know what's happening down the line. Sweeny said that while the actors don't know what's happening very far ahead, if there's something major coming up the writers will give an actor a heads-up and tell him or her what they're working on. For instance, the actor who plays Shawn was told ahead of time that he'd be having mental problems as a result of Isabelle's tampering so that he could prepare. Baird called the scripts and storylines "surprising stuff." She felt it's better the actors don't know the future, because the characters (at least most of them) don't. Combs said that some are more surprising than other, such as the episode Ballad of Kevin and Tess in which he was made up "like Quasimodo, or the Fly." It took five and a half hours of makeup! Echikunwoke called "every script surprising" because with the way things happen there are "no limits."

-Tomashoff next asked about the Marked, the new menace threatening the 4400. Behr called them the main organization to oppose Collier now that he has the book and prophecies from the White Light cult. The Marked are ten people from the future whose psyches were implanted into prominent people in the present. They're there to "keep that status quo and oppose Collier."

-Tomashoff asked one final question before turning over the microphone to the audience: what's in store for the rest of this season? Behr said that the show will continue to move forward and evolve. Different factions will be at odds and the end of the season will see "a lot of dead bodies" and a "totally different playing field."

-Why did Isabelle grow up instantly? Behr defended the series as a whole, explaining what it means to work on a serial. There are lots of different characters and stories that are always changing and evolving, and quite often it's not clear where they will end up. He referenced Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, saying that like that show 4400 is "not easy on the audience." It's dangerous to get too attached to a character and what you, as a fan, think will happen. "At the end, seen as a whole, the entire series will make perfect sense. Trust us."

-To Combs, what were the differences between working on Deep Space Nine and Enterprise? Combs called the two shows similar and different. While they shared the same infrastructure and crew they were totally different in "tone and personality." Combs will always "cherish Deep Space Nine" and "owes it all to Behr."

-My wife, attending Comic-Con for the first time with me, asked the next question: is Promicin glowing and green to look like the Re-Animator serum? Behr started to say that it was all a coincidence, then stopped and announced "of course!" He next told a story about seeing Combs in a local Ralphs after watching Re-Animator, but being too shy to approach him. Now Combs is Behr's "friend and good luck charm." Sweeny admitted to having dreamt of "Combs injecting a green substance into his arm" and told Behr about it. Behr's response? "Done!"

-What do you think about Heroes? Behr responded by saying "I have nothing to say. I've never watched it. Would there be Heroes without 4400? No. Does it matter? No." He added cryptically that all of his comments about the 4400 and way it was handled will be on the season four commentary and in no other place. Behr also mentioned the new 4400 companion book, which he called the best of its kind.

-Jeffrey Combs, which was your favorite character to play? Combs called them "all my babies" and said that he cherished all of them.

-Why does Behr work with Combs so often? Behr said that "some people just remind you of their characters. As an actor he's quirky and interesting. As a human he's boring. So normal." Behr also said that as an actor Combs can do anything, so it's fun to write for him.

-How do you make your characters stand out? Combs attributed it to his acting instincts, that he treats each character differently and does different things. He likes to challenge himself.

-Will Burkhoff turn evil? Combs said it's up to the writers, but for right now "it's refreshing not being evil."

Sadly, that was the last question before the panel had to wrap up. Of the many panels that weekend, the 4400 one really stood out because of the personalities of its members. Behr is a very interesting man, opinionated and eccentric. Combs is one of the best actors anywhere with incredibly memorable characters scattered throughout his career. To top it off, 4400 is one of the best shows on TV right now, a true science-fiction serial with real characters in a very real world. Plus, it's got superpowers!

-Scott Rubin

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