David Titcher created TNT’s THE LIBRARIAN franchise, which led to that network’s current series THE LIBRARIANS. Now Titcher has brought his love for mixing historical fact and supernatural possibility to HOUDINI & DOYLE, on Fox Network Mondays at 9 PM . Set in 1901 London and based on the fact that famed American escape artist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were in reality friends with one another for a time, HOUDINI & DOYLE brings the two men together with fictional police constable Adelaide Stratton to solve crimes that other authorities are eager to bring to hasty conclusions. The cases all have possibly but not necessarily mystical elements – Doyle (played by Stephen Mangan) wants to believe in spiritual causes, while Houdini (Michael Weston) is eager to prove trickery, and Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard) is open to various explanations.
Titcher notes with amusement that his fellow producers on the show are HOUSE M.D. creator David Shore and HOUSE supervising producer David Hoselton.
DAVID TITCHER: I will tell the story that my wife went to a psychic four years ago, and the psychic said something good was going to happen with a triangle of Davids. I have it on tape somewhere.
AX: How did David Shore and David Hoselton become involved? Did you feel that you needed a second partner to help you write this, or a partner to get it on its feet, or …?
TITCHER: To get it on the air, you need some strong, creative elements. David Shore is a very strong, creative element. And he’s also Canadian, which was important for the whole piece of it [HOUDINI & DOYLE is a co-production between the U.S. Fox Network, Canada’s Shaw Media and Britain’s ITV]. And then we needed a show runner. And coincidentally, I had been hearing very good things about David Hoselton. So we were looking for a show runner, and I suggested, “Hey, how about this guy David Hoselton,” not realizing that I happened to be talking about David Shore’s good friend, they went to law school together and all that. But I had this idea, like, decades ago. And I was always trying to do it as a movie. So every few years, I would bring it out of my drawer. And the problem was, I had too many ideas. I had seven different ideas for what the movie was going to be about, and you can only do a movie about one thing, so finally, it was like, “Hey, do it as a TV series, then you can tell all the stories.” And then everybody came on board.
AX: In casting it, what were you looking for in your leads that you felt needed to be embodied?
TITCHER: Well, they did most of the casting. I looked at all of the stuff and gave my comments, but they were looking for very specific things. The Houdini role was the most difficult to cast, and luckily, we found Michael [Weston], because we went through hundreds and hundreds of people. David knew Michael, who he had done some episodes of HOUSE. And Michael did a great job. That was the hardest role, because you need somebody who’s likable, even though he’s written as a bit of an a****le, and also be believable as Houdini. This is one of the great physical specimens of our time.
AX: Was it important to have a visual contrast between him and Doyle?
TITCHER: Yes. There were a couple people that I think maybe looked too close to each other, so it was [important] to have all three of them – it’s the three of them together. It’s called HOUDINI & DOYLE, and they’re the famous people, but Adelaide’s a strong element, she’s the third viewpoint of the show.
AX: With Arthur Conan Doyle as a character, were there any concerns about not being too similar to SHERLOCK, or ELEMENTARY, or any of the other Holmes-derived series?
TITCHER: We’re period, and we’re paranormal. So off the bat, those were two things that separate us from those shows.
AX: In the first few episodes, at least, what is going on is not overtly paranormal, there are natural explanations. Are later episodes going to get into things where there isn’t a natural explanation?
TITCHER: We’re always verging on that. We tend to stay with most of it can be explained, but we always wanted a mysterious element that we’re not sure about. And as the season goes on, there’s something that happens in the lives of our characters that is unexplainable. So there’s a little bit more as we go on, but there are rational explanations for a lot of what goes on.
AX: HOUDINI & DOYLE deals with misogyny, but on the other hand, the show has some color-blind casting for the era when it is set …
TITCHER: We really did the best we could. There was a real strong effort, because as much as [diversity] is important in America, it’s even more important in England. They’re very much into diversity. So we did the best we could at a time when England was not very diverse. But within that, we did I thought a pretty good job. We have Indians, and we have black people, and tried to cover as much as we could in terms of that.
AX: In researching the show, did you find anything that particularly surprised you?
TITCHER: Well, I’ve been researching this for so long that the surprises happened way long ago. Stephen [Mangan] alluded to Doyle being a renaissance man. They [Houdini and Doyle] both were, and they both did these amazing feats. Houdini was the first person to use a parachute in Australia. The more recent books get into the fact that Houdini actually did spy for the American government. M5 or M6, whichever one was around then, recruited him, and then that guy knew the head of the American Secret Service, that recruited him. So he was actually doing stuff – and he did work for the Coast Guard. Because he could do feats of strength – he swam, he did a swimming thing for the Coast Guard to capture drug runners. And he was also in the first action movies, in silent films. He could have been an action star. He just had so much energy and was always trying to do so much that he would flit from one thing to another.
And also, [they both had] their interest in the paranormal. It was the obsession of their lives. Doyle was basically the head of all the spiritualists, and spiritualism in 1901 was a very big religion in the world. There were séances in England, and the prime minister of England and the prime minister of Canada all had séances. Houdini tried to get a law passed against faith healers and mediums, and the problem was that everybody in Congress was into that. So Houdini was obsessed with stopping these fake mediums, and Doyle was the biggest believer in them. They were both fascinated in the same thing, but they took completely different angles on it, even though at the beginning they were friends, and they make accommodations for each other. And Doyle thought that Houdini had supernatural powers and was just covering up. And Houdini thought that he could convince Doyle that it was all ridiculous.
AX: Does Doyle as a character in the show think that Houdini may have actual powers, or at this point, does he just think that Houdini is just very good at what he does?
TITCHER: Yes, [Doyle thinks Houdini has uncanny abilities], but we don’t really get into that. We’ll probably deal with that a little bit later on. I mean, Houdini an assistant who worked with him on magic for twenty years. And this assistant saw him do all the fake tricks and everything, and at the end of twenty years, he said something to indicate that he thought that Houdini had magical powers. He wanted him to heal his son, it was like that. “After all I’ve done, you think I’m magical?”
AX: How arced versus how standalone is Season 1?
TITCHER: Every episode has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a procedural, but we tried to have a really strong running arc with the season. So there is something developed through the whole season, actually a couple of things, and they’ll reach a climax by the end, one very strong climax and one will be more mysterious.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about HOUDINI & DOYLE?
TITCHER: Let me just put it this way – our co-executive producer walked into my office when we were about two months in, and he goes, “David, I’m going to really have to raise the level of my game, because this show’s really good.”
This interview was conducted during Fox Network’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: HOUDINI & DOYLE creator David Titcher on new supernatural Fox series