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'Alphas'' Bruce Miller on the challenges of running a TV show

July 23, 2012|By Patrick Kevin Day
(NBC )

Veteran TV producer Bruce Miller has written for "ER," "Medium" and most recently served as the co-show runner for the SyFy series "Eureka."  He's now the sole show runner for SyFy's "Alphas"  about a group of people with superhuman abilities. The second season premieres Monday.

Before "Eureka" had you ever run a show before?

No, I'd been a second in command before that. I had worked on lots of shows. I had seen how lots of different show runners ran their shows. I had some really great examples, including Jenny Bicks on "Men in Trees" and John Wells on "ER." It was great to see those different styles of running a show. Luckily, I was fired from all those jobs.

How did you come to be the show runner of 'Alphas' in its second season?

I had been a big fan of "Alphas," and being on a network that’s a relatively small family of shows, I had known the people on "Alphas." I had followed them closely when they were in development and I had watched just as a fan in the first season. After the first season, completely independent of me -- and I don’t know why they make these decisions -- they were making some changes in who they wanted on the show and they asked me if I was interested in coming in and running it. It’s not often you get asked by a show you like. It was such a great pleasure. Here’s this astonishing cast, a really fun world and fun stories. And the first season of a show is incredibly rocky, getting that big machine up and running. Figuring out what hair looks good on which actors and how long your scripts have to be. It’s a big process. So coming in on the second year, it’s nice some of those kinks have been worked out.

Did you have to pitch your vision for the show before they gave you the job?

There are a lot of people here who were here last year, so there’s a lot of continuity in story and intention of story and how the world is going to keep moving. Really, I had casual conversations with the network about the show, how I liked the show, what I wanted to see on the show, that really didn’t have anything to do with me being involved. So they already knew my take on the show and where I thought it should go. You want to have an idea of what you want to do and what you like about the show and don’t like about the show. But also you wait to get your creative team and don’t say, "This is where we’re going" but say to them "What do you think is cool about the show, what do you think is cool to see?" So we started the year with a retreat. It’s something I took from John Wells on "ER." We went away and had three or four days of meetings where we sat and talked about character. You talk about the character of, say, Doctor Rosen (David Strathairn). What you like about him, what you don’t like about him. What you’d love to see him do, what are you favorite things he’s done this year. You get down to what kind of food do you think he likes, and those kinds of things. Out of those conversations comes, if he’s in this place in his life and what would really knock him back on his heels and really change his life quite a bit. That’s why we’re focused very much on his daughter, who’s mentioned in the finale of last year and how fascinating that relationship was. And the writers from last year and the new writers we brought in this year who had all watched the show were all excited by that relationship and so you say "OK, what’s interesting about these characters?" and go from there. So there is a bit of me having ideas and being excited about things and having a plan. But what you want to do is bring the team together so you can have a better plan. You want to be playing chess, not Candyland.

Stanton Parrish seems to be the show's major villain, but it's surprising how little he's been seen on camera.

John Pyper-Ferguson, who plays Stanton Parrish, is a great actor and a terrific guy. It’s difficult to be in one or two scenes in an episode. You have a tendency to feel like your character is adrift. But we’ve had so many conversations and tried to talk it through. I certainly had a sense of how that character was going to go throughout the season. We talked about the whole season. And he did say to me, he gets to do the most amazing stuff on our show and yet he’s only in one or two scenes.  On the one hand, you’re disappointed, on the other hand, you’re like, “Wow, that’s the scene I get?” We have episodes upcoming where you see him in the Civil War. We somehow fooled the network into letting us shoot a whole bunch of stuff that happens in the Civil War. We went big.

What are your other duties as show runner besides the writing?

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