The method of piloting new ideas to television networks is slowly changing, and Syfy is definitely pioneering new methods in gauging audience reaction to the latest concepts and ideas.
Becoming key to network strategy is the Internet. Just a few years ago, Sanctuary (created by Stargate SG-1 producer Damian Kindler) was a web series with a premise that breaks the existing mold and a whole lot of ambition. After a successful online run, Sanctuary migrated from the web to television and has become an asset in Syfys original programming lineup.
And now there is a new show that looks set to follow in its footsteps, featuring a slew of actors familiar to fans of the science-fiction genre.
Among them is Ryan Robbins, probably best known for his role of Henry Foss in “Sanctuary.” He can now be seen in a totally different light as the leader of a fantasy resistance movement in “Riese: Kingdom Falling.”
Originally produced last year as a web series, “Riese” proved to be so popular that a second chapter was developed, quickly capturing the attention of Syfy. Since its original online broadcast, the series has gathered a tremendous amount of critical attention and has also been compared to “Sanctuary in terms of quality, scope and aspiration.
But the big question is will the show continue on the web, or will it – like Sanctuary – make the transition into television?
“I was really fortunate to have a similar experience with ‘Sanctuary’ starting as a web series and then going over to Syfy and then Syfy taking it as a television series, which is now in its third season and going strong, Robbins told Airlock Alpha. Its in 183 countries now, and I’m hoping Riesehas a similar trajectory, it’s such a great show. I think the people at Syfy seem really happy about it and really excited about it so we’ll see. As long as people are watching it and talking about it then it’s got a shot. ”
Drawing many comparisons to Legend of the Seeker for the fantasy elements, Riese is the first live-action steampunk series produced for the web. Set in the land of Eleysia, which has essentially just witnessed a political coup dÃ©tat with Amara (played by Sharon Taylor, who was crucial in the Kandorian arc of Smallville last season) seizing control of the Kingdom. But she didnt do it alone and was aided by The Sect, a fanatical religious group that has its own sinister plan.
So why should people watch Riese? Well, for one thing it is completely unique in terms of scope and style, and Robbins likens it to Battlestar Galactica when it comes to themes and tone. The actor also was quick to emphasize that the series fits in perfectly with Syfys mandate to create new programming that you cannot find elsewhere.
They’re being more aggressive with” its strategy, Robbins said of Syfy. We don’t like to use the term ‘dark shows,’ but I think ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is a perfect example of what people want to see and the audience is ready for something more. And they can take something that’s a little heavier and with a little darkness to it.
“It doesnt have to be all this levity. There can be some conflict, you don’t need to be afraid to offend some people, I think it’s really good. ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was great at taking social and political commentaries and making them really relevant to the show by turning them on their heads.”
Robbins says that was a key to its success.
“And now we’re looking at other shows like ‘Riese’ where the writing is really great and it’s endless, you could go anywhere with ‘Riese,'” he said. “You could tell so many stories with the show and its a really dark sort of fairytale for grownups and there is nothing like it on TV, and I think Syfy is making some pretty cool choices.
But without spaceships, aliens or the paranormal is Riese really a science-fiction show? Fantasy shows like Riese have been embraced by the science-fiction as a genre in the past, with Legend of the Seeker and BBCs Merlin import being the most notable. There is no reason why Riese wont be next on a list of shows that have broken from the normal rules of the genre to do something just that little bit different.
According to Robbins, the attraction to fantasy epics goes further than just the lack of common place reality and instead science-fiction has now surpassed itself as a genre. It includes more than just traditional elements that one would come to expect and it might even be said that the only thing holding it back is the term science-fiction itself.
“The term sci-fiis an interesting term for me because it has kind of surpassed itself, he said. The sci-fi genre has gone so much further than science-fiction. You know you’ve got fantasy, and ‘Iron Man’ is considered sci-fi and you have all these other comic book adaptations. ‘Riese’ is like a fantasy dark fairytale but its in the sci-fi umbrella. Its almost like the genre needs a name change or something because it has far surpassed itself and its the most popular genre out there right now in film and TV. I love it , I love being part of it. I grew up a big comic book fan and I get to live a comic book life on the screen and its awesome.”
In Riese, Robbins takes on the role of Rand who is a key member of the Eleysian resistance movement dedicated to usurping Amara from the throne and returning order and civility to the Kingdom.
However, Rand isnt your typical idealist freedom fighter; he has his own agenda and his own personal goals with the resistance being a convenient way for him to push that agenda. As the web series develops, viewers will get to see snippets of Rands schemes but if the series does receive an on-screen commitment then there could be a lot more in store for the character.
“The way things are going I’d like to learn more about Rand and more about his backstory, Robbins said. I think it has definitely setup so that if ‘Riese’ were to go to series then we would see a lot more of Rand. Rand would become a very significant player in the series. I know what his backstory is and I am really excited to have the opportunity to delve into that a little more and to the relationship with Riese and with the resistance.
“Theres a lot more going on there than we get to see in the web series, you get the idea that there is a lot happening with this guy but he does have an agenda and he’s very passionate about his agenda. I think theres so much to explore with this character and he’s got so much going on that it’ll be really, really fun and I hope we get to do that.
And part of the fun is the nature of the character himself. Robbins, who has played the tortured Charlie Connor on Battlestar Galactica and the complex Henry Foss on Sanctuary, now gets a chance to play a badass.
For me, Rand is my ‘Braveheart.’ He’s my William Wallace, Robbins joked. He’s this really passionate, passionate leader and what guy doesnt want to play a role like that. It’s like a dream come true for me. I saw ‘Braveheart’ 20-plus times and I’ve seen ‘300’ so many times and every time I see one of those movies I’m like ‘I wanna play a guy like that.’ You’re either playing a Scot, or you’ve got a Scot playing a Spartan. Either way it’s very passionate. Maybe Rand should have had a Scottish accent, I should have thought of that.”
Although there are no Scottish characters on the series, there are several familiar faces that viewers can expect to see make an appearance on the show. In addition to Robbins and Taylor, Riese features a cast that are renowned within the science-fiction genre, including Smallvilles Allison Mack, Stargate: Universes Patrick Gilmore and Battlestar Galacticas Alessandro Juliani. The series is narrated by former Stargate SG-1 actress (and current Sanctuary star) Amanda Tapping.
A lot of us had worked together before which is helpful because we already have relationships and a lot of us are friends, Robbins said. We’ve known each other since we were starving, struggling actors and so on that it was really fun to play because there was an ease there and you know everyone so well. You trust each other and you can kinda play a little bit. As far as experience on the show I think just experience in general was key for ‘Riese.’
They did get a very experienced cast which helped to make the shooting easier. Shooting was a challenge although it never felt that way to us,” Robbins said. “Theres not an awful lot of money and you’re out in the freezing cold doing battle scenes in the snow and we’re quite exposed. But when its friends who are very professional and have that kind of experience it makes it so much easier and so much more fun.
Despite his experience on several leading shows, Robbins admitted that he is astounded at what series creators Ryan Copple and Kaleena Kiff have put together with the resources they have.
“I’m so proud of the creators and the people that got the show off the ground in the first place, Robbins said. I’ve known them for quite some time and it takes a lot of work, it’s a lot of hard work and it takes a lot of dedication to get something like this off the ground, especially with the production value.
“To do something that has such a massive production value for the Internet is a huge undertaking with very little capital gain. You dont make a lot of money on web series’ and so they took a really, really big risk and so far it seems to be paying off.
Riese: Kingdom Falling is now available at Syfy Rewind with new episodes being added on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Visit our sister site Rabid Doll to read more on Robbins’ work on Syfys Sanctuary.