Naturally amplifying the intense emotions and visuals that helped powerfully translate a gripping sci-fi novel to the television screen during its premiere season can be a harrowing process for some thriller series. But the second season of last summer’s profound number one scripted series, ‘Zoo,’ which debuts on CBS tonight at 9/8c, with a special two-episode premiere, promises to strengthen not only the show’s story and character development, but also its stunts.
Based on author James Patterson’s best-selling 2012 novel of the same name, ‘Zoo’ follows mankind’s fight to protect their humanity against the increasingly frightening and life-threatening animal attacks against them that have arisen around the world. To coincide with the drama series’ Season 2 return this summer, Patterson also continued the story in his new novel, ‘Zoo 2,’ which was released on June 7.
‘Zoo’ showcases how a wave of violent animal attacks against humans is sweeping the planet. Jackson Oz (James Wolk) is a young renegade American zoologist who spends his days running safaris in the wilds of Africa with his best friend Abraham (Nonso Anozie), who has a deep understanding of wildlife. Shortly after the attacks begin, Jackson begins to see a link between the strange animal attacks and his late father’s controversial theories about impending threats to the human race.
In Los Angeles, news reporter Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) is intent on being the first to break the story behind the mysterious animal behavior. She seeks the expertise of Mitch Morgan (Billy Burke), an off-kilter veterinarian, who prefers the company of animals over people. Chloe Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder) is a French investigator who meets Jackson in Africa. As the worldwide assaults become more cunning, coordinated and ferocious, Jackson and the others are thrust into the race to unlock the mystery of the pandemic before there’s no place left for people to hide.
Patterson generously took the time recently to talk about writing the book, and producing the television adaptation, of ‘Zoo’ during CBS Television Studios’ New York summer press junket at The London NYC Hotel. Among other things, the author and producer discussed how he decided to adapt his novel into a sci-fi series for CBS because television audiences want to watch increasingly unique storylines and characters, which the screenwriters and actors are able to help make interesting. He also revealed that airing the drama during the shorter summer season allows the cast and crew to take more calculated risks in the character and story developments.
The author began the interview by discussing how he decided to adapt his ‘Zoo’ novel into a television series for CBS. “I always thought this book would make a good movie or TV series, as it’s very visual and unusual. I think the trick sometimes when something’s different is to convince people that they can adapt it into something that will also be unique,” Patterson explained. “I think with what’s happening now on cable, everyone has become more interested in making series that are very different. So we were approached to turn this novel into a series.”
The thriller’s executive producer added that “The people involved, including those at (production company) Midnight Radio, are talented. There are good writers on the show, and the casting was also really well done.” Further speaking of the casting process on ‘Zoo,’ Patterson revealed that the other producers and executives who he collaborates with “asked me a lot about which actors I thought would fit into each role. I don’t know if they listened to me, but I think that James Wolk was a good choice.”
The writer also noted that Wolk and his co-stars will occasionally approach him with questions about their characters and storylines on the show. In order to provide detailed commentary and responses to the cast, Patterson revealed that “I read all of the scripts, and look at all of the rough cuts. I’ll then get back to them with my feelings and thoughts.” He laughed as he added, “Sometimes they listen to me.”
The producer then discussed the process of working with the series’ writers on the drama’s stories and characters’ arcs. “At the beginning of the series, I don’t know if they listened, but they came to the same conclusion that I had. We felt that we can’t have this uniform structure where we just go from city to city, and showcase a different animal, in each episode,” Patterson noted.
“We decided that there should be different story elements throughout the season, such as all of a sudden there aren’t any animal attacks. Or there’s suddenly an evolution in South America. So we wanted to explore what’s really going on in those situations. But in certain situations, we don’t really understand what’s going on,” the best-selling novelist also divulged. “We also wanted to explore such things as how an evolution amongst mankind will mean for humanity.”
With the inaugural season of the television series being based on the stoyline of the first book, Patterson also explained how the show’s current sophomore season will deviate from both the initial season and novel. “The show’s characters were all established in the first season. What I think is good about this season is that they’re digging much deeper into the characters’ lives. I think they’re all comfortable with each other now,” the author stated.
Patterson also revealed that what he likes about having a 13-episode season is “that everyone gets to take a breather, and then come back refreshed. They can take that time off to figure out how they can make the show better, and I think that’s what happened on this project. I think the characters and plots are better this season, and there are a lot more surprised.” The producer added that he hopes that after each episode of the second season airs, audiences will be saying, “Did you see ‘Zoo’ last night? I can’t believe what happened.”
The novelist added that everyone involved in making a summer series that’s only airs half the amount of episodes that regular season shows broadcast “is open to more experimentation, which is great. Everyone is recognized, as audiences like things that are different. It’s easier to take risks when there are only 13 episodes, as opposed to 26. It’s also easier to sign actors when there’s a shorter shooting schedule.”
The writer then discussed the process of how working on a television series adaption compares and contrasts to developing a film that’s based on his books. “I think the process varies with every project,” Patterson revealed. “We’re finishing up a family movie (‘Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life’) now, and I was very involved in that. There’s about 80 minutes of animation in it, and I look at it every time it changes. There are a lot of suggestions there, and they’re very open to those suggestions.”
The producer also noted that one of the key elements of ‘Zoo’s first season and novel is that Jackson is helping to find a cure for the animals. The writer revealed that search will continue to be a key element throughout the new second season, “but it won’t be easy; it will definitely be complicated. If you’re putting red herrings out there, they can’t allow audiences to say, ‘Okay, I know where this is going,’ and they get bored with the story.”
Patterson ended the conversation by discussing the personal relationships that Jackson further develops with his friends and colleagues. The writer noted that the zoologist’s romance with Chloe “will become more intense. I also think there’s going to be more tension” between Jackson and Abraham. “But I think it’s awesome that the actors have become so close, despite the conflict between their characters.”
Watch the ‘Zoo’ Season 2 promo below.
Written by: Karen Benardello