It is premiere week on The CW, that traditional time for a few of their proven favorites and new offerings to be showcased at least a week or two before the other networks. Up this week, America’s Next Top Model, new show Hellcats, The Vampire Diaries, and another new show whose name might be familiar but with a tone that is anything but. That show is Nikita, a continuation of sorts of the La Femme Nikita franchise of the 1990s.
“The difference is that this tells the part of the story that no one’s seen before. This tells the story about Nikita after she’s already left the agency, after she’s escaped,” said executive producer Craig Silverstein at our press roundtable session at Comic-Con in July. “She’s being hunted by the agency that created her. She’s trying to take them down at the same time. And as we’re following that story we’re also following the story of a new young recruit who’s brought into to replace her.”
The CW is no stranger to rebooting old ’90s’ franchises and giving them a new spin. Still, Nikita is quite different than the soapy fare of 90210 and Melrose Place. Why this franchise?
“They were looking for a female, kick-ass action show, their Alias they wanted,” explained Silverstein. “Warner Brothers owns Nikita and the rights to the name. It was just up to me to try to figure out a take that was different enough, that it wasn’t a straight redo.”
Don’t go looking for this version of Nikita to be a copy of its predecessors. Silverstein made it clear they’re taking a fresh approach and shooting for something different. “You’re getting the origin story and you’re getting the sequel. You don’t know how this story is going to end, you don’t know where this story is going. That’s what made me comfortable enough to write it, otherwise it was like ‘it’s all done.’”
Series’ star Maggie Q couldn’t agree more about the direction the writers are going, “They’ve given us almost every single tool possible to make this the best it can be. For me, working with them and our vision for something very new. The CW’s viewership is quite young and there’s a lot of people who don’t know anything about Nikita, never seen the original film, which makes me feel really old. Because of that I think that it’s important to understand that you’re starting fresh with a lot of people while having to pay homage to a film that most people really loved when they saw it.”
Still, this is The CW. The previous films and USA TV series created a franchise with a dark concept. How did Silverstein make it a match for this network, which has spent the last few years launching mostly light teen fare? “I had to clear with them early on that I wanted to do a dark, violent, grittier version than anything that was really on their network. I said this is not going to be Gossip Girl with a gun.”
It may not be Gossip Girl, the comparisons with the Bourne films came up a lot at Comic-Con. Silverstein even called his Nikita the female Jason Bourne. Maggie Q acknowledged that people love Jason Bourne and those films because while he might not be the strongest or best fighter he wins with smarts. “It’s intelligence that audiences are craving now in TV. The level of TV in America is so high. There’s such good TV in America it’s shocking. The audiences are getting smarter. They don’t want to see a TV show where you’re just shooting people because anyone can do that.”
Craig Silverstein is letting the Bourne franchise influence set the series tone toward action, “The good thing is that we know what kind of action works for us. We’re not going to be doing over the top giant action car flips and stuff like that. It’s more about a really intense fight between two people. You know the way the Bourne movies really grounded action. It wasn’t huge and over the top. And we know how to do that.”
No matter what the influences, without the right Nikita this show would have never gotten off the ground. Silverstein found that while the casting process was really hard, finding his perfect Nikita in Maggie Q ended up being very easy. She was in fact the first person cast for the series. “I thought, this has got to be someone who is gorgeous, is believable fighting, and is a good actor and you could believe is smart that would plan all this. We had some girls who were beautiful, you could believe they were smart and then they would hold a gun and it would all come apart. They were tough and not hot enough and we just knew Maggie had it all. Warner Brothers saw it immediately, The CW saw it immediately.”
Silverstein has high hopes as well for his choice of Nikita’s former handler, Michael (Shane West) as well. He promised a great upcoming fight scene between Nikita and Michael. “I want to show a new side of Shane West. I want to show he’s a badass.”
Lyndsy Fonseca, who plays newcomer Alex, recognizes that the action has been sometimes challenging but fun, “Every episode has got a lot to do. A lot of stunts, a lot of intense stuff, so it’s really a grueling schedule. But it’s great, we’re having a good time.”
One of the ways this version of Nikita is similar compared to the original series is its being filmed in Toronto. Silverstein likes how that will offer a different landscape, “Snow looks great. You can’t get that in Los Angeles.” He also likes the pool of talent in the area and will be casting a lot out of Toronto as well as New York and Los Angeles.
Nikita will also be true to the previous versions in terms of its sexiness. Silverstein finds that element to be a must, “That’s why we cast Maggie Q and Lyndsy Fonseca. Sex sells and it’s always been a part of the concept from the beginning, from the original film on.”
This new Nikita has won over The CW enough that it is taking over the prime Thursday 9pm timeslot. The dark and violent tone does seem to be a good pairing with The Vampire Diaries. “They’re ripping out throats on that left and right,” joked Silverstein about his lead-in show. “They (The CW) seemed to be okay with it, and true to their word they let us get away with everything we wanted to get away with. I think it’s really brave of them and maybe will bring a new audience to them as well as satisfying the audience they’ve got.”
As long as it’s not Gossip Girl with a gun, I give Nikita a fighting chance. Literally.
Nikita premieres on The CW Thursday September 9th at 9pm.