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Faith, Media & Culture

(Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Ties That Bind airs Wednesdays @ 9:oo PM (ET) on UP TV.

UPdate: Newly-released Nielsen ratings show that last week’s premiere of Ties That Bind  scored over one million viewers and was particularly strong among the 18-34 demographic sought by advertisers.

Pioneer Woman. TV Viewer know Kelli Williams from her roles as Lindsey Dole on ABC’s The Practice, Dr. Gillian Forster on the Fox’s Lie to Me and Jackie Clark on Lifetime’s Army Wives. Now, the actress is swinging for the fences again, playing Washington State mother/police detective Allison McLean in UP TV’s Ties That Bind. While her previous shows aired on networks that were well-established in the scripted series business long before they debuted, this is UP’s first entry into original series production. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the actress about the special challenge and opportunity of helping to build a new network brand.

JWK: What drew you to this particular show?

KELLI WILLIAMS: I felt like Allison’s character was really interesting. I mean the idea of the hybrid show I had never quite seen before — unless my memory is not serving me well. The idea (is) that you have this procedural side of the show — which is (Allison’s) work — and then this serialized side of the show with (her) ongoing relationship with (her) husband and kids, (her) niece and nephew (and her) brother. That really was interesting to me…Over the years of watching TV shows, I (always) wished we could go home with the cops from Law & Order or whatever and see how the job affects their world and vice versa. This show has the potential to do that.

JWK: You’ve done procedural shows in the past, such as The Practice and Lie to Me. Army Wives was sort of an ongoing family drama. Do you have a preference between the two genres?

KW: They’re so different I think you sort of use different muscles for each one. For procedural shows, there’s a lot of exposition. You’re dealing with the story of the week. If it’s a medical shows, there are all those words you can barely pronounce. Sometimes it’s harder to memorize that stuff and to connect to it…On the family drama side, it’s all about feeling and emotion and life stuff.

JWK: On Ties That Bind, you actually do both. Is it difficult to flex all those muscles in one episode?

KW: There were days (on the set of Ties That Bind) when I would typically do all of the procedural stuff — all of the cop stuff — for those locations. Then we’d switch over to the family side. It was always kind of a funny move. I had to kind of have a reset because it was like I’m going into a different mode of thinking and being. I always think it’s good to play those transitions. It’s just something that I want to explore more of if we get more seasons.

JWK: In real life, you’re a mother of three children.

KW: Yeah.

JWK: Has that helped prepare you to play Allison?

KW: I think that it has helped me, basically, with everything in my life. Real life, raising kids and trying to raise them to be good people takes a lot of work. It’s all about (appearing) effortless, yet there’s so much effort. You do it the best you can. I’m sure it’s informed my work as an actor getting jobs and also as an actor doing the job. You just can’t take (the chaos at work) quite as seriously because there’s so much other chaos at home.

JWK: Ties That Bind touches on something a lot of women — and men too — have to deal with. The cop-mother balancing act may be dramatic but  the struggle of balancing work life and home life is something a lot of people can relate to.

KW: I think that’s true. (In) a lot of families both parents work. They try to balance work and family life and it’s not always what it used to be with one parent being home. I think that that in itself is a new challenge. You (and your spouse) are trying be true partners in work and life. This is what Allison (deals with). They both have careers (Allison’s husband is a construction contractor). They both want the best for their children. So, they have to figure it out together.

JWK: You first got noticed by the public on The Practice which was a big hit for you on ABC. How is doing a show for ABC different than doing a show for UP?

KW: The Practice — I don’t know if this is going to sound right — was a very grown-up show. The fact that it was part of the machine of David E. Kelley Productions (meant) it was a BIG production. We had eight days for every episode, we had a pretty nice budget, all that stuff. It was the biggest show I had done to (that) date. It put me on the map.

Certainly, the legal aspect of it was difficult only because I didn’t know anything about being a lawyer. I was constantly looking stuff up, asking our advisers. David Kelley was very much about the words being exactly as he wrote them. You didn’t change anything. So, I kind of grew up in that world. You dot every i, cross every t. It was fine because his words were (great). There was a certain flow to them — especially with his closing arguments. They were very beautiful (and) easy to memorize because he wrote them so well.

So, (with Ties That Bind), we’re this little show for this little network that’s finding its way and branding itself. It’s a very exciting time because we’re here (at the start of) a new network. We have a fraction of the budget (but) we have such a talented creator and showrunner in Sheryl (J. Anderson).  She really wants to work together and have a collaborative process — so, if things don’t quite sound right coming out of my mouth, she’s up for changes. I don’t change the integrity of what she’s getting at but just little words here and there. I have a lot of creative freedom with this job.

And, I also feel very grown up with it. I am the mother of teenagers whereas in The Practice was I was the newbie young lawyer. I felt like a kid — and I guess I was. It was 20 years ago.  So, it’s very different. I think a lot of my history of working as an actor and my experience has brought to Ties That Bind in a way that I can serve it well. I’ve been doing this longer than a lot of our crew members have been alive.

(My experiences on both shows have been) so positive. They’re just so different.

JWK: Ties That Bind is UP’s first original scripted TV series. That sort of makes you sort of a pioneer at the network.

KW: Yeah, it’s really fun to be the first one for them. They’ve been so open to all of us. (Original Programming Chief) Barbara Fisher and everybody at UP have been really, really supportive. They want to make the best show they can make. I think the fact that they even let us go to make the show has been remarkable. I feel like this show has a lot of potential.

JWK: This being UP TV, you do have the scene where the family prays together over dinner — which is something you don’t see on network television too often these days. But the show doesn’t hit you over the head with religion.

KW: No, it’s not a religious show. It’s a family show. Someone of any faith can identify with it. You don’t feel like you have to worry about (watching with) your kids and whether it’s appropriate or not. We’re gonna show real-life stuff…(but with) integrity and sort of a moral ethic.

JWK: However imperfectly sometimes, the characters are trying to do the right thing.

KW: Yeah.

JWK: And, when it comes to the crime drama side, I like that it’s not the serial killer of the week kind of thing that we see played out on so many shows these days. It’s a bit more humane in tone.

KW: Yes, it’s definitely more human-based. Of course, we are the busiest (small) police force in the world. We have a crazy amount of crime. I ask real cops (on-set) “Does it entertain you how often we catch a case?” I’m always (reaching for) my weapon when the truth is that rarely happens in real life.

JWK: It’s like Murder, She Wrote where the small town of Cabot Cove probably had the highest per capita murder rate in the world.

KW: Exactly.

JWK: Changing the subject a bit, I understand that you’ve had your SAG card since you were a year old and doing diaper commercials.

KW: That’s so funny! My mom moved out here (to LA) in the sixties to become an actress. She was hired to do a commercial. There was something where the baby they hired was super huffy (and they couldn’t use her). (My mom) was like “I have a baby. She could be the baby I’m putting a diaper on.” That was 1970 but then I didn’t join the union really until 1988. I was 18.

JWK: Was your original SAG card still good at that point?

KW: Yeah. When I went to join the union I thought I had to get two jobs. I forget how the process is, the Catch-22. (I got one job) and they said “Now, you’re eligible. You did a commercial in 1970…Raggedy Ann Diapers, thank you very much.

JWK: You’re husband’s a writer.

KW: Yes. His name is Ajay Sahgal. He started out as a novelist. He’s a screenwriter. He’s been a journalist. He’s now a comedy writer. He’s done all of it.

JWK: Any chance he’ll be writing any episodes of Ties That Bind?

KW: That would be really fun.

JWK: Where are you from?

KW: I was raised in LA. My mom had the dream of being an actress. I just grew up around it.

JWK: What’s your relationship with your mother like today?

KW: My mom is so wonderfully supportive of my career and work. She’s great. She gets it all — from auditions to jobs, the whole thing. It’s really nice to be able to have that.

JWK: Do you sometimes bounce lines off her?

KW: Oh, yeah! Sometimes she helps me with auditions on tape. She’ll be my scene partner. Growing up, I was a scene partner for a lot of her auditions. That was sort of my acting school. I never went to a traditional acting school.

JWK: Getting back to your family on Ties That Bind, at the core of the premise is your character’s relationship with her inmate brother (Luke Perry in a recurring role). Where would you like to see that relationship go as the series continues?

KW: I certainly want (them) to work on it, that’s for sure. I think he and Allison have a lot to work on together. I look forward to delving into the story of their past — how they got to their places in the world (and) what happened there. Certainly, my (character’s) ongoing relationship with his kids and wanting to raise them (herself) — which he’s not happy about; There’s a lot of interesting conflict to play…but, beyond that, I’d like to see them work on their relationship and get along more. We’ll see. I have no I idea what Sheryl has in store. I’m sure things are percolating.

JWK: Talking about getting along, would you describe the Ties That Bind set as a happy one?

KW: Oh, yeah! It’s a lovely set! We cram a lot into our days. We get a lot of page counts done and everybody is there to get the job done and make a good show.

JWK: You say you had eight days to shoot an episode of The Practice. How many day to you get to do an episode of this show?

KW: We do them in blocks. We do two shows at a time. Each show gets six days. One block is five-and-a-half per show which is really, really fast. So, we’re crossing our fingers for a little bit more time.

JWK: I’m guessing that you sort of split the shooting by doing the cop stuff in one five-and-a-half day  block and the family stuff in the second block.

KW: Yeah. Just based on locations, it’s easier for us to get all of that stuff done at the same time. We’ll be at the precinct and we’ll do all of our interrogations and all of our bullpen stuff done in the first couple of days (at) the precinct. Then we’ll go on location and do all the location stuff. You’re having to cross reference from one episode to another while shooting which is a whole new thing for me…You’ll be in a different episode and then you’ll jump to a different storyline and different characters. That can be a bit confusing.

JWK: Any other projects coming up that you’d like to mention?

KW: I’m taking a little time off then I’m going to do another episode of NCIS?

JWK: Do you have a recurring role on that show?

KW: This will be my second episode so I guess (my character) officially becomes recurring. I went and did one last season. It was fun to work with Mark Harmon. I’m happy to go back. I get to work in Los Angeles which is great. I haven’t worked in Los Angeles since I did Lie to Me five years ago. So, it’ll be nice to do.

JWK: I’m told that Jason Priestley, who like Luke Perry is another 90210 alumnus, will be guesting on the show.

KW: He plays someone from my past. I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to reveal but there will be some tension with him — which is hard since he’s such a nice guy.

JWK: Speaking of 90210, Ties That Bind, with its teen characters, I think has a sort of young appeal similar to Fox, particularly in its 90210 days, or the CW currently. So, in that sense, it really is expanding UP’s audience. It’s easy to see why both parents and their teenage kids would find something appealing in the show.

KW: That’s true. Moms can have their old crushes on Jason Priestley and Luke Perry.

JWK: While Ties That Bind is UP’s first scripted show, I could easily see it on a more established network.

KW: I think that’s a nice compliment — that we can live anywhere. I mean we’re happy to be on UP but, if we can make a show that looks like a more established  network show, then we’re headed in the right direction.

We’re really having some really fantastic guest come on (like) Jason, Luke Perry (and) C. Thomas Howell. And, our (regular) cast (is) top-notch. They’re just all such good actors.  Everyone just raises the bar of the show. We’re here to make the best thing we can make.

Note: You can read my review of Ties That Bind here.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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