How Beauty and the Beast ditched the fantasy and found sci-fi

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May 21, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT

When it comes to Beauty and the Beast, the classic fairy tale about a beauty who falls in love with a man who's been cursed to look like a beast, the story falls firmly into fantasy. However, The CW's new reboot of Beauty and the Beast, which premieres tonight at 9 p.m., gives the tale a sci-fi twist, said co-creator and executive producer Jennifer Levin in an exclusive interview with Blastr.

[Spoiler alert!]

"The network had said to us, it can be any kind of beast you want," said Levin, who created the series with Sherri Cooper. "It can be a metaphorical beast, which we talked about for a little bit. We talked about the original [1987 CBS series], where he is sort of in his beast look all the time. What we didn't want it to be was a spell or anything like that, like in the Disney movie. We wanted to be more grounded, cause that's what drew us to it. Relating it back to our reality."

Instead they were inspired by a documentary on Pat Tillman, "the professional quarterback for the Arizona football team who after 9/11 signed up and went to Afghanistan. Anyway, I had been really moved by this documentary, and we started talking about that as a source for the beast. The military and stuff," she said.

That led to a beast in their series falling decidedly into sci-fi territory.

"We're not classic sci-fi geeks, and yet it taps into something that we care about and we relate to and feels like it could really happen. It felt relevant to us. For both people who are sci-fi people and for people who aren't," said Levin.

Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Catherine Chandler [Smallville's Kristin Kreuk], a gutsy homicide detective who's on the trail of someone, if it is a person at all, who saved her life years before when she witnessed the murder of her mother. Catherine discovers that Vincent Keller [Terra Nova's Jay Ryan], who was reportedly killed in Afghanistan in 2002, was her rescuer and that he's still alive. But Vincent has a terrifying, beastly secret involving what happened to him when he served in Afghanistan. In an effort to find out more about her mother's murder, Catherine begins a complex relationship with Vincent, a relationship that threatens them both.

According to Levin, the one thing that hasn't changed is the powerful relationship between the beauty and the beast. To that end they worked with the executive producers from the 1987 series with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, including creator Ron Koslow, who were brought in to executive-produce this new reboot as well.

For Levin, what they ended up with is something quite special. "At its heart it's an epic romance. That is really the fun of it, figuring out how to keep them apart, how to bring them together. I mean, he's in his own world, she's in her own world. It's the push and pull between them," she said.

"The first season will be Catherine and Vincent figuring out what it means to be in this predicament, to have this secret. They're going to figure out what they mean to each other, and we're going to see them explore what that relationship is. Certainly they don't know that they're destined to be with each other in the beginning, and so I think they're going to figure out who they are to each other and what that means. Vincent in particular is going to have a reawakening of hope. When we meet him, he's sort of sitting there in his warehouse hopeless, and I think meeting Catherine has given him a new hope, and what does that look like, what does that mean, and what does he have to do in order to be more human, as we talk about in the pilot? Just peeling back the layers of what happened to Catherine's mom, why she is the way she is. Like all of us young adults, figuring out what's real and what's not," said Levin.

"We really see the show as having three different parts. We have the relationship between Catherine and Vincent. Then we have the procedural elements, which are her job. And then we have this mythology. And I think weaving that all together and figuring out where we want to put most of the weight in a given episode, in a series of episodes, that's been the biggest challenge," she said.

Here's a look at the series with Kreuk and Ryan:

Are you ready for another Beauty and the Beast reboot?