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NeXt creators compare Fox’s techno-thriller to The Exorcist and The Blob at Comic-Con@Home

By Josh Weiss
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Fox uploaded an exclusive sneak peek at its techno-thriller series NeXt during Comic-Con@Home's Sunday slate of programming. The show's panel kicked off with what are presumably the opening minutes of the pilot episode. A quote from Elon Musk ("with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon") leads us into a Stanford University lecture from tech mogul Paul LeBlanc (Avengers: Endgame's John Slattery). He warns the gathered audience against the adverse effects of scientific progress before we cut to six months later when a panicked man is hunted down and killed by a malevolent A.I.

After showing the clip, creator Manny Coto (a vet of 24 and Dexter) recounted an Alexa-based horror story that first gave him the idea for the project, which is centered around a piece of technology that develops a mind of its own and goes rogue. The anecdote, which he talked about earlier this year, led to a scene in the show that you can see in the new trailer.

"I have four kids and I have several Alexas in the house. They've become rather addicted to their Alexas," he said. "It's become almost a member of the family. But I remember my son being particularly tired [one] morning and I asked him what his problem was and he said, 'Alexa started talking to me in the middle of the night' ... I never really found out the answer, but that idea stuck with me because I found it very creepy."

However, that was just one part of the conception process. Coto also looked to public opinions related to A.I. from leading scientific figures (like Musk), while keeping himself updated on all the latest advancements, so that scripts wouldn't be rendered obsolete.

"I was constantly getting articles from the internet and what have you on new things that were happening," the creator admitted. "Every day there's a new breakthrough. It's a lot of keeping on top of it because you don't want to get blindsided by something that [says] what you're doing is suddenly old hat."

Watch the full panel below:

NeXt gets its title from the self-aware A.I. that takes after its creator, Paul LeBlanc. "He runs unchecked; he's very wealthy; he's used to saying what he thinks without considering the feelings of other people. He's smart [and] unorthodox," Slattery said of his character. 

The business side of Paul's empire is run by his brother, Ted LeBlanc, who is played by Ozark's Jason Butler Harner. The actor compared his character to Roy Disney and said that Ted's been living in the shadow of his older's brother genius for quite some time. This results in "some adversarial moments" between the two siblings.

When the threat starts to grow, a cybercrimes unit of the FBI — consisting of Shea Salazar (Fernanda Andrade), CM (Michael Mosley), and Gina (Eve Harlow as Gina) — starts to get involved.

"She's the youngest agent to have her own division ... and it's a real personal way in which she gets involved with all of this," Andrade explained of Salazar, who starts off rather skeptical. "A dear friend of hers, who was a father figure to her, dies in a rather mysterious way and in her search to find out what really happened to him, she stumbles upon Paul LeBlanc's information ... When they meet, even though they're not exactly compatible characters, he convinces her that this was not an odd accident; that this was caused by a super-intelligence."

"I’m very fascinated by how technology affects humanity and how quickly we adapt it into our day-to-day life without questioning it. We see that happening now during COVID time, biometric bracelets and all that stuff," Harlow added.

In his closing comments, Coto compared the main antagonist to a demon.

"In The Exorcist, it attacked the priests by their past; this thing kind of does the same thing," he said. "So while our heroes are frantically trying to stop this from becoming super-intelligent (to a point where we can't stop it) — and by the way, nobody else believes them that this is happening — it is, in turn, going after them and destroying their lives. And it happens fast, the season unfolds in a very short period of time. It's kind of propulsive, but it's also something that is dramatic and, in many ways, character-centered ... It really gets intense."

"The clock's ticking, we're trying to catch up with this thing, but it's like playing whack-a-mole. It pops up over here, it pops up over there," Mosley said. "To me, it's kind of like The Blob. It's this faceless, nameless, bloodless, lifeless thing that's just getting bigger and it's everywhere. All of the sudden, it's in the house."

NeXt premieres on Fox Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 9:00 p.m. EST. Coto confirmed that production ended just before the coronavirus pandemic put the filming of almost all live-action shows and films on indefinite hold.

Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020.