On Tuesday, January 26th, NBC hosted their annual Winter Press Tour, via an online Webinar, where they hosted panels with the cast and creators of the upcoming shows Debris, Kenan, and Young Rock.
To kick off the tour, the executive producer and showrunner of Debris J. H. Wyman (Fringe), joined the stars of the show Riann Steele (NCIS: New Orleans) and Jonathan Tucker (Kingdom). Debris is a science fiction series that follows the story of a British Agent and an American agent that work together to figure out why mysterious wreckage has begun falling out of the sky. Hundreds of pieces of this debris are falling all across the Western hemisphere and they are leaving negative effects on the people that find them. As the pair of detectives work to understand what’s happening, outside forces work to acquire the debris to use for their own evil purposes.
At the start of the panel, Wyman revealed that this show is quite different from his hit sci-fi series Fringe. Wyman said “For me, this is a new concept as far as the things that I’m trying to say as an artist about the world that I see. And with “Fringe,” I was so lucky because I had five years to sort of exorcize, sort of, demons. But yeah, this is a very different concept of the things that happen. With “Fringe,” it was very specific, and this is sort of really out there. I designed this program more to sort of deal with what I’m kind of going through now. So, the case is going to be really fun very, very different. I mean, there’s always going to be a little bit of my DNA in the show. And I love my fans from “Fringe,” and everybody was so supportive. So, there’s something in this for them. That’s for sure. But it’s definitely its own thing.”
Wyman also discussed the importance of bringing good sci-fi television to network TV as opposed to just leaving this sort of program to streaming and cable services. Wyman feels like there is definitely room for science fiction on network television and that there are so many people out there that are just waiting to hear stories like these. “I think sci‐fi has really, sort of, come into the more mainstream as far as it’s no longer alternative. It’s no longer something that’s very strange, for a certain crowd. So, hopefully, this is that” he said.
The stars of the series Jonathan Tucker and Riann Steele shared a bit about their characters and what viewers can expect from the show this season. Tucker said “I play Bryan Beneventi. I have served overseas in Special Forces and have made my way through a process that we’ll see in the show into this new coalition agency called Orbital, which is a relationship or partnership between the CIA and MI6. And I’m probably, just for the simple logline, much more about intuition. I’ve had a lot of actual experience on the ground and am guided by my gut. And I’m beautifully balanced by Riann’s character.”
Steele said, “I play Finola Jones. She is part of MI6, and she also joins the coalition from the UK side under Orbital. And Orbital was a creation of my father. But you’re meeting Finola in a very particular point in her life and in her journey of grief. She’s just lost her mother and father, but, through duty, is taking on this challenge to continue his work. And, so, we follow her along this journey and, obviously, partnering with Bryan and finding ‐‐despite the issues, finding a way to trust each other.”
To close the panel, Wyman shares why he is drawn to telling stories in the science fiction sphere. He revealed that he believes that the best sci-fi programming isn’t necessarily just about the special effects and the fantasy elements but it’s about exploring the human condition. Wyman said, “I’ve always been fascinated by the space, that there’s got to be something more. I think that comes from ‐‐ maybe there’s a side of me that wishes the world was a little bit more advanced as far as how we all get along and how it all makes sense. And, so, it allows me, like, a universe to sort of examine things that you can’t examine in any other kind of show.”
The next session was for the new single-camera comedy Kenan. The series will follow a recently widowed father, Kenan (Kenan Thompson), as he balances raising his two daughters (Dani and Dannah Lane) with starring as the host of an Atlanta Morning Show. Kenan focuses on the unique dynamic between Kenan and his father-in-law( Don Johnson) and brother (Chris Redd), who help him take care of his two daughters, while also showcasing what his life is like working as a high-profile morning show host and his layered relationship with his executive producer (Kimrie Lewis). The panel included Thompson, Johnson, Redd, Lewis, and the Lane sisters, as well as, the executive producers David Caspe, Jackie Clarke, and Ken Whittingham.
While Kenan, is set to premiere in February, this series has been in the development stage for longer than most series. Thompson shared a bit about the process of bringing this series to fruition. He said “Yeah. It was a long process from starting with trying to find someone to settle in on an idea with. And me and Jackie talked for the first time over the summer, I think, two years ago. And we both had a similar idea, what we thought would be a good show that we, kind of, haven’t seen before and would also maybe fit the tone of stuff that we have, so just trying to figure out a different twist on the positive father‐figure type of thing.” He also shared that the pilot that will premiere in February will be different than the original pilot he shot when Chris Rock was involved. “I think we are all pretty grateful that we had a chance to live with the material for a while. The universe has just unfolded in a way to where we have the cast we are currently dealing with now. And even until the last hour, we ended up getting some pretty great people in it. So, it’s been a long road, but it’s apparently been a very necessary road” he said.
During the panel, Don Johnson also touched a bit on what it’s like to work on a comedy series after sustaining a long career in drama. Johnson said” It’s amazingly joyful, hard work, but the good thing about it is that I have these ‐‐ I get to work with these guys that are just so good and such professionals and they pick me up, and they are supportive, you know. And, basically, I just watch them and say “OK. I’ve got to try to keep up with that.” Johnson also revealed that he joined the cast of Kenan after receiving a call from his long-time friend Lorne Michaels and then getting on the phone with Keenan and discovering the instant chemistry they have.
One of the writers and executive producers of the series, Jackie Clarke, explained why it was important to her that Kenan’s wife in the series would be deceased. Clarke revealed that when she was little her mom had passed away and she liked the idea of showcasing a family with someone like Kenan who truly did everything and was so devoted to his daughters. For the final question of the panel, Clarke shared a bit about how her personal life influenced the series. She said “I was 6 when my mom died, not to have the last be a super bummer, but I turned out OK… I had a sister that’s only a year apart from me, and we really leaned on each other a lot. And I think that’s one of the things we explore in this show is that Kenan is really ‐‐ because he spends so much time making sure everyone else is OK, he maybe hasn’t taken care of himself. And we use these delightful sisters to egg him on and say ‐‐ it’s like something really terrible happened, but there’s still a lot great going on. They are so lucky that they have these people around them, even with their foibles, that have their best interests at heart.”
The final panel of the tour was for the sitcom Young Rock, which takes a look back at Dwayne Johnson’s life. The series takes viewers through Johnson’s childhood years living in Hawaii surrounded by wrestling icons, to his teen years in Pennsylvania, and his football years at the University of Miami. Young Rock is a true coming-of-age story that highlights the unforgettable moments of Johnson’s life, as well as, the important relationships that helped to get him where he is today. The panel featured Johnson alongside the cast of Joseph Lee Anderson, Bradley Constant, Adrian Groulx, Uli Latukefu, Stacey Leilua, Ana Tuisila, and executive producers Jeff Chaing and Nahnatchka Khan.
Naturally, since Johnson is from a wrestling family and created a name for himself in the sport the series is filled with a lot of big wrestlers. One of the executive producers, Nahnatchka Kahn, explained that it took a lot of work to perfectly cast the wrestlers in the show, which include André the Giant, Junkyard Dog, Iron Sheik and so much more. Johnson said “ from my perspective, it was truly a love letter to professional wrestling, which is a business that I grew up in and a business that I’ve loved all of my life and learned some of my most valuable, while very unorthodox, lessons coming out of the world of pro wrestling, so to be able to highlight and showcase these men who were, in essence, my superheroes. They didn’t wear capes when I was a little boy. They were these men in the professional wrestling world.”
In the pilot episode, a reporter is conducting a sit-down interview with Johnson, which is what leads him to start talking about his past. Kahn explained that this format will not be in place for the entire series and explained a bit more about what viewers can expect from the show. She said “ I think we’re going to be following candidate Johnson on his 2032 presidential campaign. So for the course of Season 1, we’re going to be at different press events with him, and Randall is going to try to get some insight into who Dwayne the man is in the future. But we also are going to have some other elements coming in and to sort of vary it up that way, but really following him on the campaign tour, on the campaign trail is what’s going to carry us through that 2032 timeline in Season 1.”
During the panel, Johnson and Kahn also shared how important it was to them to make sure the show was diverse and truly reflected Johnsons’ unique background. Johnson said “It was important for us to showcase diversity but, also, it was important for us to be real and authentic and this, it is my life and it is who I am. And I’m half Samoan and half Black and that combination and considering the families that came together in the world of pro wrestling. Where, as you see, we have the Iron Sheik from Iran. We have André the Giant from France. We have the Junkyard Dog. We have my dad. We have the Wild Samoans from Samoa. And these are the ones that we just showcase in the pilot, and there’s more to come down the road.”
To close the panel, Johnson thanked everyone for watching the pilot and being part of the press tour yesterday. He said “We hope you enjoyed it. And I will finish my end of talking by saying I’m so proud and grateful to this cast and to Nahnatchka and Jeff and Hiram and Ryan and NBC for this opportunity.”