'Lost' EP Finds His Way to 'Bates Motel'Cuse embarks on transmedia storytelling in new A&E series 3/25/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Any network executive knows that engaging viewers
beyond the television is an integral part of launching
a series. Carlton Cuse knew it years ago, when he was at the forefront of “transmedia”—extending
a story onto multiple platforms—with
Lost, with its myriad unanswered questions,
earned a fervent fandom unlike any
other. To feed the audience’s
and fellow executive
producer Damon Lindelof
alternate reality game
(ARG) that wove its
narration into the
network show; its
“Dharma Wants You”
website earned a 2009
Emmy for creative
achievement in interactive
Now partnered with
Kerry Ehrin (Friday
Night Lights), Cuse
embarks on the same
multiplatform storytelling model for the
Psycho-inspired Bates Motel, which premiered
March 18 on A&E. In the works is
a transmedia project centered on a book
whose meaning will play a large part in
the series’ first season. Cuse also held a
contest for viewers to create the show’s
opening title sequence; although they ultimately
opted for a professionally made
one, it allowed the audience to “participate
in the creative process,” Cuse says.
The contest drew much attention, but the
viewers did not yet know the show.
Cuse, however, they do know. Showrunners
are often unknown, but Cuse says the
story of Lost “was as much a star as any of
the actors on the show,” and it secured him
and Lindelof seats on late-night talk shows.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I
think I would be on Letterman reading
the top 10 list, sitting on the couch with
Jimmy Kimmel or being interviewed by
Diane Sawyer,” he says.
That fame is a far
cry from when Cuse,
fresh out of Harvard,
worked as an assistant
to a studio executive.
At one point, he found
himself in a bathroom
showroom in the
San Fernando Valley,
where he was tasked
with hunting down
a replacement green
toilet seat. That’s when
he wasn’t busy buying
organic dog food.
“I had an epiphany
where I thought,
‘Wow, this is what I’m
doing,’” Cuse recalls. “But I recognize
that it was part of the journey.”
Through honing his writing at night,
Cuse got a job on Michael Mann’s Crime
Story and later, though he set out to
become a writer, became showrunner
of Fox’s short-lived Adventures of Brisco
County Jr. in 1993.
“I liken [being a showrunner] to the
decathlon, which is, I think, the ultimate
Olympic sport,” Cuse says. “To
be a champion…you have to be good
at 10 different things. I think it’s true of
Cuse landed his first big hit in 1996
with Nash Bridges, the first series Leslie
Moonves greenlit as head of CBS’ primetime.
The show, which ran six seasons and
continues to air abroad, had a now-familiar
writer on staff in 2000-01—Lindelof.
More recently, with the inimitable Lost
attached to his name, many speculated on
Cuse’s move after that monster hit ended;
he even penned a piece in The New York
Times about it. Cuse put the speculation
to rest after meeting with Universal Television’s
Bela Bajaria and Russell Rothberg,
who were interested in rebooting the Psycho
franchise—with him at the helm.
“Carlton was the first person I went
to because he’s such a fantastic showrunner,”
Bajaria says. “He has this gift of
being able to create and invent a mythology.
He’s a terrific writer, but he has that
other extra piece.”
Up until Bates, Cuse had worked exclusively
with broadcast networks and
their larger episode orders; it’s a reality
of broadcast television Cuse says many
showrunners find overwhelming.
“I think that’s one reason cable has become
the place where the shows are that
win awards,” Cuse says.
Though the schedule of any showrunner
is strenuous, Cuse makes time
for his passion for baseball, which is
“bordering on obsessive,” the Boston
native (and Red Sox fan) says. Not only
does his son play baseball, Cuse is good
friends with C.J. Wilson, All-Star pitcher
for the Los Angeles Angels.
“If I could come back in another life,
my dream job would be to own a Major
League team,” Cuse says.
For someone who went from picking
the right toilet seat to picking what to
wear on Letterman, Cuse’s dream doesn’t
sound too far-fetched.