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You Gotta Have Faith

August 23, 2008

By Scott D. Pierce Deseret News

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — “Eli Stone” is about a lawyer who might be a prophet. And it’s one of the most entertaining shows on television.

“I think it’s resonated with people because they can laugh and cry in a single hour,” said executive producer Marc Guggenheim. “I think it’s because it deals with universal issues of spirituality and faith, and I don’t mean that in a dogmatic kind of way. I mean that in a human condition kind of way.”

Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) is not exactly the kind of guy you’d expect to end up as a prophet. When the series began, he was a hard- headed, driven corporate attorney whose clients were generally the bad guys with all the money. When he started having visions that were either the result of an aneurysm or God, Eli didn’t immediately embrace the idea that it might be the latter.

He didn’t make the connection even though his first vision was of George Michael singing “You’ve got to have faith” while dancing on the coffee table in Eli’s living room.

“Eli Stone” allows Guggenheim and executive producer Greg Berlanti and their team to explore questions of faith in a prime- time network television show.

“Everyone, including the most atheist of atheists, has asked, ‘Is there something bigger than ourselves? What’s our place in the universe? What’s our relationship to other people?”‘ Guggenheim said. “And the show traffics in that area. It traffics in questions of the heart. The show has a lot of heart.”

What it doesn’t have is any overt religion.

“Our mission statement for the show … was to just make it as big a tent as humanly possible,” Guggenheim said. “That’s one of the reasons why we kept it about spirituality versus religion, which has a different connotation.”

We see religious people, but “Eli Stone” doesn’t promote Catholics or Protestants or Muslims or Jews or Mormons or any other church.

“When Greg and I started talking about the series, one of the things we talked about was how we kind of wanted to contribute to sort of a larger discussion of spirituality,” Guggenheim said. “The word ‘religion’ connotes you’re either this sect or that sect or this belief or that belief, and we wanted it to be completely inclusive.

“And I always joke — semijoke — that this show is sort of the religious show for atheists. It should appeal to people of every religious stripe because, like I said, I truly believe that, even if you’re an atheist, you have an element of spirituality in you. Everyone does.”

And they’re not afraid to do it in a big way. In the 12th of 13 first-season episodes, Eli was convinced that his visions told him that an earthquake was about to make the Golden Gate Bridge impassable, and it became a question of who believed him and who didn’t.

It turned out that Eli was right — as shocked viewers watched as the bridge shook and parts of it collapsed.

At the same time, “Eli Stone” is a very, very funny show. And it doesn’t just have comedy, it’s got romance. And it’s got singing and dancing — production numbers that are, for the most part, part of Eli’s visions.

“It’s very emotional, and I think people have responded to that,” Guggenheim said. “People like the emotional release, both on the comedic side and on the dramatic side, that they get in a single episode each week.”

In the season finale, which repeats tonight at 9 on ABC/Ch. 4, Eli undergoes surgery to remove the aneurysm. But that won’t mean the end of the visions, apparently.

Asked if it will be the end of the musical visitations, Berlanti said, “By no means.”

“In the season premiere, we take on that issue head on,” he said. “And we’ll resolve pretty definitely whether or not Eli believes he’s a prophet.”

That season premiere is scheduled to air Tuesday, Oct. 14.

SPEAKING OF GEORGE MICHAEL, he definitely won’t be on “Eli Stone” as much this season as he was last season, when either he or his music was in about half the episodes. But he will be on. Well, maybe.

“Well, we’re definitely talking to George. He really wants to come back,” Berlanti said.

The problem is that the show is on a “tighter schedule” this season. As a midseason replacement series a year ago — with an order for 13 episodes and not 22 — the show “had time to sort of be flexible” with Michael’s schedule. Which is less of an option this season.

“We’ve been talking about a possible Christmas episode that he would do. … That’s our hope,” Berlanti said.

MRS. TOM CRUISE will definitely be on “Eli Stone” — Katie Holmes will be in the second episode of the new season, which is scheduled to air Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Berlanti readily admits it’s a ploy to attract attention and viewers to the show.

“We haven’t worked together since ‘Dawson’s (Creek),’ and I went and I begged her,” he said. “And she said, ‘I’d love to.”‘

He wasn’t anxious to give out too many details, but Berlanti did say, “She is also an attorney, but she doesn’t practice law in the episode. It’s not a one-scene (or) two-scene thing — she’s in a significant portion of the episode.”

And, yes, she’ll do some singing and dancing.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com

(c) 2008 Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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