While many TV viewers have been tracking hurricanes this season, Shaun Cassidy has been eyeing one particular storm.
After a somewhat rocky ratings start for ABC's Invasion, about the sinister aftereffects of a devastating Florida hurricane, the network last week finally provided Cassidy's new show—its entry in the supernatural-series sweepstakes this season—with a full season order.
But the 47-year-old former Hardy Boys teen idol, now a showrunner and writer, was encouraged even prior to the announcement. ABC had continually expressed its happiness to Cassidy about the creative direction of Invasion, showing its trust in him by providing only minimal weekly script notes for the character-based serial mystery.
Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, where Cassidy has established his production company, attributes getting Invasion's plum 10 p.m. Wednesday post-Lost time slot to a variety of factors, including its compatibility with the 9 p.m. juggernaut.
Yet the program's positioning on ABC's prime time schedule has proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the network, studio and Cassidy. Invasion has been improving on its time-period average versus last year and winning in adults 18-49, but the concern stems from the fact that the show has been losing more than half the frighteningly huge audience delivered by the sophomore giant preceding it. The rookie series, whose ratings have stabilized over the past two weeks, also has to face off each week against tough competition: Jerry Bruckheimer's CSI: New York on CBS and Dick Wolf's Law & Order on NBC.
Cassidy has been through this exercise before with a number of short-lived but critically acclaimed series, including American Gothic, which lasted one season on CBS a decade ago, and 2000's Cover Me, which aired on USA.
Cassidy's longest-running series is CBS' CIA thriller The Agency, which he executive-produced during its two-season run. He was forced to quickly retool the series when it debuted shortly after 9/11. The events of that day made Cassidy want to bring the darkness out of the shadows in his next series: “For my money, there are all sorts of scary things happening in broad daylight.”
That led to Invasion, which almost provided Cassidy with a repeat of his 9/11 experience on The Agency. Debuting shortly after the Gulf Coast was ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, production was already well under way on the show, and it was too late to alter scenes.
Invasion is set in Homestead, Fla., where Cassidy's wife, Tracey, lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1992; she witnessed firsthand the dramatic changes the storm brought to the community. Cassidy thought it would be interesting to set a mystery show in a small town on the heels of a disaster.
“Our timing has been rather strange in that it was a big hurricane season last year and this year has been one like we haven't seen in our lifetime,” he says.
Cassidy did not want the hurricane in the show to “feel like an exploitive event, so we went back and looked at what we originally shot just to make sure it was being given the gravitas that it deserved in light of recent events. And it did, actually, so nothing has really been altered. The show really isn't about a hurricane; it is about community.”
His shows have earned Cassidy the respect of networks and studios, which keep coming back for more. Warner Bros. has brought in Cassidy, who also co-created the series Roar and Players, as executive producer to launch several series, including CBS' Cold Case. Warner Bros.' Roth first met Cassidy in 1997, when the former oversaw programming for Fox. Roth was impressed by Cassidy, even though Roar, a highly anticipated action-adventure show for Fox set in fifth-century Ireland and starring then-newcomer Heath Ledger, tanked in less than two months.
“He is a uniquely talented, very passionate, outstanding writer and producer,” says Roth, who rushed to sign Cassidy two years ago when Cassidy left his longtime home at Universal after all his mentors had departed.
Major themes for Cassidy, the son of actors Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones and half-brother of David Cassidy, are family relationships and the paradox of optimism in the face of calamity.
Family themes were evident again last year in CBS' short-lived The Mountain. Cassidy wrote for and executive-produced the program about a namesake who reluctantly inherits a ski resort, then has to contend with a bitter older brother who is already working there.
“People talk about my shows having a dark streak,” Cassidy says. “But I'm really interested in family and all of the machinations of family.”
Still, it is hard to overlook that “dark underbelly,” as Cassidy calls it, running through his shows. Gothic, the 1995-96 series, was about a demonic, twisted sheriff in an idyllic little town. The disturbed lawman's affable personality belied his insatiable and murderous appetite for control.
Cassidy credits his dysfunctional upbringing in New York and Beverly Hills as the inspiration for Gothic, which he describes as another of his “family” shows—a moniker perhaps more in tune with the Mansons than The Waltons.
To explain his penchant for mixing complex, layered plots with compelling and evil characters, Cassidy quips, “I'm Irish. I have no choice.”
He has a sense of humor: The first pilot he wrote after making the jump from acting and singing in the early 1990s was a comedy for Fox called Fear of Family.
He always preferred to spend his time between takes with the writers while working on ABC's The Hardy Boys from 1977 to '79. During his first year on the show, he released the single “Da Do Ron Ron.”
Cassidy jokes that he made the transition from pop star to producer because “I made a deal with my audience. They agreed to stop buying my records, and ...” he shrugs.