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NBC's 'La Brea' started with one huge idea: What if a sinkhole opened up in the middle of Los Angeles?

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Sep 13, 2021, 10:05 PM EDT

When NBC’s new genre series La Brea premieres on Sept. 28, expect to witness a fictional version of the city of Los Angeles having a very bad day. The contemporary drama posits what would happen if a massive sinkhole were to just open up in the middle of the Wilshire District, and swallow the La Brea Tar Pits — and anyone near it — into a primeval world.

Creator David Appelbaum is the brain behind that nightmare scenario, and he's teasing what happens next for the people who end up in the hole, and to their families and friends left behind. At today’s NBC virtual summer Television Critics Association panel for La Brea, the showrunner and his cast currently shooting in Melbourne, Australia took a break to tease what’s to come in the high-concept sci-fi series.  

Appelbaum told reporters that the entire series is based on an image of a huge sinkhole and him imagining what would happen if it was in the middle of Los Angeles. “I’ve never seen a show open that way with something so dramatic,” he said of the opening five minutes they shot for the series. That ended up being the start of the series, but Appelbaum admits he didn’t know where the sinkhole goes or who fell into it.

But the idea was so strong, Appelbaum said, that La Brea has been actively in development for two years now. He said initially the main selling point of the series was the disaster spectacle set in Los Angeles, which parallels what’s happening to the people who survive the fall into a primeval world.

“But it’s really about a family,” Appelbaum said of the fractured Harris clan at the center of the chaos: mother Claire (Natalie Zea), kids Izzy (Zyra Gorecki) and Josh (Jack Martin), and estranged father, Gavin (Eoin Macken). “There are lots of ideas that are big and noisy, but without deep emotional connection, people won’t respond. And so the emotional story is about all of the survivors.”

In the pilot, Claire and Josh are sucked into the hole, and what they find in the middle of the Earth, and when exactly they are in time is all part of the show’s ongoing mystery. Appelbaum said the exact time is a surprise, but audiences will discover that answer in early episodes. “But the answers will bring up more questions. And an exciting reveal will lead the audience to want to know more about this place and how it came to be.”

And in case you think the answer goes back to author Jules Verne and his science fiction classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Appelbaum says: think again. “I enjoy Verne, but he’s not a part of it. A lot of [La Brea] is actually inspired by other action adventure movies, including Spielberg’s movies.”

As to the depth and breadth of the La Brea story, Appelbaum said he and his writers have absolutely planned hopefully ahead for multiple seasons of storytelling, should they get the opportunity. “One of the real benefits of this series was that it had a long gestation. I pitched it over two years ago, we shot the pilot and set up a writer’s room, so we had a lot of time to think about where we’re going and having a string sense of where we’re taking it.”

La Brea premieres on Tues., Sept. 28 on NBC. You can watch the first five minutes of the pilot episode now.

(NBC & SYFY WIRE are both owned by NBCUniversal)