Producer: Why Flash Forward won't drive you crazy like Lost

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Marc Guggenheim, executive producer of ABC's upcoming sci-fi series Flash Forward, said that the show will tell a complete story in its first season, and that the season finale will answer the question raised in the pilot: What did you see?

"We know exactly ... what season one is, with great specificity, because at ... the outset, we had to plan the entire season," Guggenheim said in an exclusive phone interview on Friday, adding: "The first season ends with our characters' catching up to their futures. So you can't do that on the fly. I mean, I suppose you could, but I don't think it would be a very satisfying viewing experience for anybody."

Based on the novel by Canadian SF author Robert J. Sawyer, Flash Forward begins when every person on Earth blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, during which time each has a vision of his or her future six months from now. The show comes from executive producers David S. Goyer and Brannon Braga (Threshold); Guggenheim (Eli Stone) will be the show runner along with Goyer (The Dark Knight), who also directed the pilot.

"We made the commitment at the outset [to] plan out the entire first season before we start breaking episode two," Guggenheim said. "So the very first thing we did, apart from ... figuring out character backstories and [all] that—when the time came ... to actually start breaking story, it was, 'OK, how are we going to move the characters from where they are in episode one to where they are at the end of the season?'"

Flash Forward stars Joseph Fiennes as Mark Benford, John Cho as Demetri Noh, Jack Davenport as Lloyd Simcoe, Sonya Walger as Olivia Benford, Courtney B. Vance as Stan Wedeck, Brian O'Byrne as Aaron Stark, Christine Woods as Janis Hawk, Zachary Knighton as Bryce Varley and Peyton List as Nicole.

Following is an edited version of our exclusive interview with Guggenheim. Flash Forward premieres Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT and will air on Thursdays.

Tell me about the show and how it departs from the Robert Sawyer novel.

Guggenheim: What the show is about is really simple. Everyone in the world blacks out at the same time on the same day, and during their blackout they have a vision of their future for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, six months into the future. They all wake up and deal with the consequences. They deal with the consequences of the blackout. They deal with the consequences of the things that they learned during their flash-forwards.

So what the show does is it poses the question of, if you knew the future, what would you do? ... Would you try to fight it? Would you try to make it happen? Would your interpretation of the future be correct? ...

What this show does is it places every single character in the world in the position of learning their future and then trying to figure out, now that I know this information, what am I going to do next?

There are several things that are different from the book. The characters are different, the time frame is different—I think the book offers a glimpse 21 years into the future. Tell me what guided David and Brannon and you in making the changes you needed to make this viable as a TV show.

Guggenheim: Basically the book provided the concept, ... the notion of a worldwide blackout, people flash-forward into their future. ... Pretty much everything else is different. The characters are different. The circumstances are different, the nature of the stories that we're telling are different. ...

The novel is essentially a jumping-off point for us. ... I will say that in the series, what we're doing is we're taking the situations and characters set up in the pilot and running with them. ...

In the pilot, several characters in our cast really see their future, have their flash-forwards, and it's ... the mission statement of the first season of the show to go from ... the present day to six months out ... so by the end of the season we see how those futures have panned out or come to pass. And the journey that our characters take on the way to their future. ...

You have a really strong cast here, including some people that may be surprising to see in series television, such as Joseph Fiennes. How did they get involved, and what do they bring to a show like this?

Guggenheim: Well, I think first and foremost, in the entire cast, you get talent. I mean, it is a very, very deep bench talent-wise. ... It's made all the more remarkable by the fact that we have 10 series regulars, ... eight or 10, depending. ... It is remarkable that every single one of them have game. ... There's not a single weak link in the chain. ...

We have a Tony Award-winning actor, we have Joe [Fiennes], we have Courtney Vance. We have actors who have done more than television. Who have done theater, who have done film, who are not, as you said, ... people you expect to see on a TV show. That's because I think the whole viewing experience, people ... will really liken it more to a movie. ... When they see the first season, they'll liken it to a 24-hour-long movie. ...

Viewers will undoubtedly be happy to hear that you'll be answering questions in the first season, because one thing viewers have grown to hate—partly as a result of Lost—is the feeling that the writers are vamping to keep it going, with an indeterminate end in the future.

Guggenheim: Well, I am very sensitive to that, actually, as a fan and as a writer. I actually understand that feeling, and I'm very, very sensitive about it. And towards that end, I can actually tell you a couple of things to make those fans who are concerned feel better. The first is, we don't have a choice. We can't vamp. We say in the pilot that the characters are going to see ... a vision of their future [on] April 29, 2010. Which means we've got six months. There ain't no vamping to be done.

We plant a very specific flag, so even if we wanted to vamp, we no longer have the option. That's point number one. Point number two is, there are things laid into the pilot that don't pay off until the very end of the series. So David and Brannon, in writing and directing the pilot, have also planted flags right there in the pilot that ... you'll be able to look back on and go, "Oh, they really did know what they were doing." So my point always is, we are not only telling you that we have a plan, there are several reasons why you don't have to just take our word for it.