Exclusive Interview: 'Viva Laughlin' Showrunners Tyler Bensinger and Stephen DeKnight
Exclusive Interview: 'Viva Laughlin' Showrunners Tyler Bensinger and Stephen DeKnight
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
In conjunction with our 2007 Fall TV Guide, BuddyTV will be publishing exclusive interviews with the creators and showrunners of some of the hottest new shows this fall throughout the week.  Check back all this week for interviews with: Cane Creator Cynthia Cidre, Chuck and Gossip Girl Creator Josh Schwartz, Journeyman Creator Kevin Falls and Director Alex Graves and Reaper Creators Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas.

Tyler Bensinger and Stephen DeKnight are the showrunners and executive producers of CBS' new genre-bending series, Viva Laughlin.  Half murder mystery, half drama and half musical, it's based on the British series Viva Blackpool and stars Lloyd Owen as Ripley Holden, a wannabe casino owner in Nevada.  Produced by film and stage star Hugh Jackman, Viva Laughlin gets a special premiere Thursday, October 18 at 10pm after CSI before moving to its regular time slot, Sundays at 8pm.

The duo spoke to BuddyTV about how the new show stacks up against the British original, working with Hugh Jackman, and their fondness for The Singing Detective.  Below you will find a transcript as well as the mp3 audio file of the interview.

Hi, this is John from Buddy TV, and we're talking to Stephen DeKnight and Tyler Bensinger, the executive producers and co-showrunners of CBS' series Viva Laughlin. Hi guys.

Tyler Bensinger: Hey, how are you doing?

I'm doing outstanding. Now whenever I talk to people about this show Viva Laughlin, I have an almost impossible time describing it to them. How would you describe this show to people?

Tyler: Fantastic, and I'd stop right there, because why go on?

I have to agree. But the premise of the show, how do you, is it a mystery? Is it a suspense, is it drama, is it a musical?

Tyler: It's all those, actually it's a murder mystery, family drama comedy with music.

It's based on a British series, Viva Blackpool. Had either of you seen it before becoming involved in this show?

Tyler: I saw Viva Blackpool after I became involved with this show, and Viva Blackpool is magnificent.

Stephen DeKnight: I saw parts of Viva Blackpool on BBC America before signing on, and I had the same reaction.

Tyler: If we can get close to Viva Blackpool, we'll be in great shape, it's tremendous.

Are you relying on that kind of formula? Where are you being similar to that, and where are you departing and making your own show?

Stephen: It's a little tricky. As much as we love Viva Blackpool, it was designed for a very short run, so they could condense everything. We had to, of course, expand everything, hopefully through five, six, seven years. So it's definitely our spiritual guide, we take elements from that show and sprinkle them onto the American version. But we love Viva Blackpool, and we try to work in as much of that feeling as possible.

Tyler: We're very similar that the music plays as the emotional soundtrack for our characters, so that we're really sticking to what Viva Blackpool does really with music. And how we integrate music to sort of floor the story, but also to tell the audience where our characters are emotionally.

And I'm very interested about the music. How do you decide what music to use for the show?

Tyler: We try to get really at this point, we're really getting numbers that are really exciting and full of energy. For example in the pilot, the first song is “Viva Las Vegas,” the second song is “Sympathy for the Devil,” and the third song is “Let it Ride” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. So we're picking really popular, great songs that both drive the story and are incredibly exciting to watch.

Stephen: The kind of songs that we look for, ones that when they come on the radio when you're driving, you just feel compelled to sing along with, especially when you're alone in the car.

Definitely, and are you at least inspired by Viva Blackpool? Will we be seeing some of the same songs from that show, or are you going in a different direction for that new one?

Tyler: Different direction, we're not using the same songs, or we haven't yet. But it's true to the spirit of Viva Blackpool, in the sense that it's this show with similarly great music. And eventually law of averages, we'll use a song that Viva Blackpool used. There's some great ones, “These Boots are Made For Walking,” “White Wedding,” there's stuff that eventually we will probably hit.

Yeah, OK. And Hugh Jackman is involved on the show, he's starring and I believe he's producing it as well. What is his involvement, and what is it like working with that kind of actor?

Tyler: He is the executive producer of the show, or one of them, and he was instrumental in getting the show off the ground to start with. I don't think it ever would have happened without Hugh Jackman, so he is sort of the founding father in a weird way, next to Viva Blackpool. And he is about the most talented guy you've ever met, because he's a great actor and he's got a great voice, and he moves like Gene Kelly. It's kind of awe-inspiring.

Stephen: He's the full package, and a nicer man on the set you have not met, which is refreshing to see from such a cute star.

Are there any of the other cast members who are not as excited about the musical aspect? I imagine when they signed on for the show, they knew they'd have to be singing eventually.

Stephen: We actually had the opposite reaction is, a lot of cast members are saying, “When do I get a musical number?” Not every character has a chance to really be spotlighted in a musical number, yet they're very excited about it.

Tyler: I mean some of the others, Lloyd Owen who plays the main character has got a phenomenal baritone. Mädchen Amick has got a great voice, so does Melanie Griffith, who's also a great dancer. P.J. Byrne who plays Jonesy's got a great voice. And some the actors are less so, and they're catching up, yeah.

Stephen: But by less so we also mean they're a hell of a lot better than we are, you know, they're on the verge of being like professional level. And the more of these things, the better they get.

Tyler: Lloyd Owen, the star of the show is a big deal in Britain on stage and musical theater. Hopefully he'll be very famous in America, but he's a huge deal in Britain.

Now I'm just wondering what your thoughts are, because there seems to be a large British invasion of television. Obviously The Office started kind of, and then your show, and also the CW has Life is Wild. ABC had Footballers' Wives for a little while, David E. Kelley is developing Life on Mars. Why is everyone all of a sudden attracted to these British shows on television?

Stephen: No, I actually don't think that it's all of a sudden. If you look sort of the past 20 years of TV, there has been a lot of developing from British shows, typically comedy like Three's Company. I believe, I think I've got the right show, was based on a British TV show. If I'm wrong about that, I'm sure the fans will write it. But I know that it was a very popular show like this.  There's a long history of looking towards Britain for shows. The great thing about British TV shows like Viva Blackpool, is they have the ability to do these short-run, fully produced, six-episode shows. It's six and out, and there's never any more of them. When you do something like that, you can get just the highest quality, because it's a concentration of creativity.

Tyler: There was actually a second season of Blackpool.

Stephen: Was there?

Tyler: Yeah, but it was… My response to the question of British TV, I think they do it better than we do, to be honest. I think a series like, you know, one of the series that I think was the best series ever made was The Singing Detective by Dennis Potter. And you know we learned that Viva Blackpool is really grown out of Singing Detective, and what they've done in taking risks on TV.  Because I think they have less at stake, especially money-wise, they take more risks. And the payoff for taking those risks is great, and we see what's best about British TV, we don't see the stuff that doesn't work over there. So we get the best of their best, and it's something to be emulated.

Stephen: I think the parallel here would be shows that are on Showtime, HBO, FX. Shows that only run 12 or 13 episodes a season, instead of a full 22, which I believe is mostly… British shows have a much shorter season, and it is a lot easier to keep the creativity and the momentum going through 12 or 13 episodes than 22.

Yeah, well I hope you do, because it's definitely in that spirit. Your show's very, Viva Laughlin is different from most of what people will see on the networks. And as a huge fan personally of Viva Blackpool, I saw the pilot of your show and I thought it was that same kind of league. That's why I hope a lot of people will give this show a chance.

Tyler: Have you seen The Singing Detective?

I have not seen The Singing Detective, but…

Tyler: You like Viva Blackpool? Singing Detective is sort of the Rosetta Stone, it's quite possibly the most amazing series I've ever seen. You know, it's really well worth watching. And those who like The Singing Detective will like Viva Blackpool and Viva Laughlin.

Stephen: Dennis Potter, who wrote The Singing Detective and Pennies from Heaven, he absolutely really is the godfather of this kind of show, with people breaking into song, singing along to popular tunes, gold standard. It's truly an amazing experience.

I will definitely have to check that out, then.

Tyler: Yeah, because the way he's used music is the way we hope to use music and have done so far. You don't break into music as much as the music just comes upon you and feels integral to the story. You know it's a magical thing when it works.

Stephen: Well one of the things about using music on this show is that we never want to stop the action throughout a musical number. It always comes organically out of the story, and forward to the story.

Yeah, definitely. I have to agree, especially in the original series, a lot of the musical numbers coincide with major dramatic shifts in the plot. It's not “Stop the plot, we're gonna sing,” it's “We're gonna sing and move the plot forward.”

Tyler: That's exactly what we're trying to do.

-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of CBS)