Mark Valley of 'Human Target'
San Diego's ComicCon, which takes place in the summer, is a launching pad for new shows and a hype-building opportunities for shows that are already guaranteed to be on the air in the fall.
In contrast, San Francisco's WonderCon takes place in March or April, so it ends up being a chance for bubble shows to mobilize their fans and make cases for renewals in the months to come.
As a result, the most frequently asked question in WonderCon TV press rooms tends to be, "So what are you hearing about renewal?"
"Good things," Steinberg told reporters before the Sunday (April 4) "Human Target" WonderCon panel. "I feel like FOX, they've been a fan of the show from early on. I think they got it. I think they like where the show is. I think that even they are aware of the fact that this was such a difficult launch for us, just beeing all over the schedule. On some level, I think it's about, 'Let's may a great show and then let's figure out how to get people watching it.' I think that that's kinda how Kevin Reilly things and how the network thinks. So I'm hopeful. The show has a lot of room to grow, but I'm hopeful we'll have a chance to do it and make a bunch more of them."
Indeed, "Human Target" has had an oddly jinxed roll-out this spring, starting with FOX scheduling the show for a special Sunday screening after an NFL playoff game that was supposed to start late afternoon, but instead aired early afternoon, mitigating any possible ratings bump. The show then jumped time slots multiple times, suffered through "American Idol" preemptions and even got bumped by the State of the Union. Through it all, "Human Target" has generally won its Wednesday 8 p.m. time slot.
"You know what's the weird thing? The temptation early on is that somebody screwed up, but they kinda didn't," Steinberg said of the roll-out. "It was just a series of really bad breaks -- the State of the Union, the Chargers winning -- the odds of all of those things happening are so slim and the odds of us surviving them all are even slimmer, so I think for us, the show seems to be doing pretty well creatively and it seems to be received well and we're still alive. We should have been dead after those first four weeks. So I think those things together are enough to give you an opportunity at a second swing at it."
WonderCon audiences were given two chances to watch the "Human Target" finale several weeks early, catching one of the show's best episodes to date, an hour that explains the backstories for several major characters and also ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Steinberg, of course, insists that he wasn't using the cliffhanger to force FOX's hand on renewal.
"Coming from 'Jericho,' I know that that doesn't work," Steinberg said. "If they're going to cancel your show, they're going to cancel your show. But I think that for us it was just that we've told a lot of stories that we like and we've set up a mythology that we like and the finale should be big and it should be bigger than the rest of the season. It should be a great big bang to go out with. I feel like that's where our show's mythology earns its way."
Speaking of that mythology, "Human Target" has had a first season which was composed mostly of stand-alone episodes with only occasional hints at serialized arcs. Although the finale hints at bigger things, Steinberg emphasized that "Human Target" isn't going to suddenly try to become "Lost" next season.
"It's such a difficult balancing act," Steinberg admitted. "There's always the temptation to let mythology overwhelm the show. I think that, both strategically for us early on and in terms of, I know it can be done, I've seen it done, to be able to make a show where week-to-week its its own movie, but there's something underlying it and then as a treat, every six or seven or 10 episodes, there's a payoff to that. I think we'd like to preserve that. It's a real challenge and I think you can rattle off a lot of shows there were eaten alive by giving in to the mythology and I think we have something here where if it grows properly and we take care of it properly, I think can do both, the way 'The X-Files' did when it was really hitting on all cylinders. It's hard to do, because people want to know more, they want to know more about the mythology that you're leading them with. The challenge is to be able to get those stand-alones to be good enough where even if you don't get what you wanted, you're get something that was enough fun where you're willing to go, 'OK, I had enough fun this week that I'm willing to put it off for another week.' It's a hard juggling act to do."
That doesn't mean that Steinberg and the "Human Target" team are adverse to change.
"I think that the first season for me, I guess, was getting the three-way dynamic between Guerrero and Winston and Chance to stand on its own two feet and to be right and to get those dynamics right. It's a hard thing to do to throw three guys into a relationship where we're saying they're best friends and they've known each other forever, but we're not going to do a premise pilot, we're not going to show you why any of these things are true, we're just going to dump you into it. In terms of second season, I think we'd love to open the team up a little bit and be able to see a regular female, be able to see more people who recur."
That includes actors like Autumn Reeser and Lennie James, who appeared in multiple episodes this season, becoming part of the "Human Target" universe.
"The fun of shows like 'Rockford' and 'Magnum' was that anybody you saw could come back in a very different capacity from when you saw them last, so I think that's a structure we all like a lot and hopefully we'll be able to play more with."
"Human Target" airs Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on FOX.