For a few years in the ‘90s, Kevin Williamson seemed to be living two professional lives. On the film side of things, he was scaring a whole generation of teenagers with the Scream franchise, while within the television medium he was creating shows over which that same generation of teenagers swooned. Many might not have believed that the person who wrote the stalking of Sidney Prescott also created Glory Days and Dawson’s Creek—not until 2009 anyway when he helped shepherd The Vampire Diaries to the air, thus marrying his passion for writing dark relationship dramas with the television medium that gave him his most devoted audience.
Williamson went on from there to create the serial killer thriller The Following, which saw two male leads locked in a battle of psychological wits week after week. Now he’s created Stalker for CBS. With two decades of experience under his belt, Williamson is continuing down a dark path he knows will—and perhaps should—not be for everyone.
“First of all, it’s a cop show about a unique group of detectives who handle stalking cases. [Dylan McDermott’s character] is being planted into L.A. [and] not only is he a fish out of water within the unit, he’s a fish out of water in L.A.,” Williamson said when SSN caught up with him at the CBS Summer TCA party. “He and [Maggie Q’s character] have an instant respect for each other’s ability to do what they do, but it gets clouded by their personal opinions of each other. She has a pre-judgment about who he is, and she’s not really wrong [about him but] she’s got some baggage she’s trying to fix in her own life.
“We’ll follow the lives of these detectives on a weekly basis … It’s meant to be eerie and creepy and suspenseful like a thriller, with sort of a ‘what lurks in the dark’ quality … Everyone can be a stalker; everyone can be a victim; there are so many versions of stalking. It’s not all about a rejected lover or love obsession.”
Stalker is the first traditional crime drama Williamson has taken on, in that it’s “about investigations” and will follow the procedural format with “individual stalker of the week cases,” which may often take the majority of an episode’s story real estate. But true to his storytelling aesthetic, not all crimes will be solved, nor all stalkers caught, in one mere episode. And often, the line between innocent and guilty may get blurry, which is exactly how Williamson likes it.
“We’re going to see the anatomy of a stalker as well, see how the obsession begins and how the fixation takes root and how it embeds,” Williamson said, noting that they will even tackle false victimization. “We [typically] look at [stalking] one way, as the guy in the closet and the people staring through the door, [but] there are so many different versions of it. There are so many ways that a person is stalked. It really comes down to, you have to ask yourself, are you instilling fear in another person? Is someone changing their life because of you? Is someone driving to work a different way because they think they’re being followed? You’ve disrupted their whole life because you have a crush, because you’re obsessed, because you’re thinking about them and following them.”
“I’m hoping to raise a little bit of awareness to this crime that has sort of escalated because of social media…” -Kevin Williamson
Williamson said that he had Stalker in him since mid-way through the Scream franchise’s original run. The year was 1998, and he had just become aware of the LAPD unit that dealt with stalking cases. In fact, he himself was experiencing an “obsessive fan” situation that thankfully never turned violent. A kernel of an idea was born then, but the technology to make it truly interesting would not be in place for quite some time.
Nowadays, it has become a part of the culture to share status updates, photos, and “check ins” from wherever you are. Regular people post about themselves publically, leading complete strangers to sometimes feel like they’re part of their lives. Stalker won’t shy away from this element of the story, shining a light on both how stalkers can use it to keep tabs on their obsession, in addition to how the police now use it to set up stings.
“We’re ripping from the headlines a bit and fictionalizing. And also it’s interesting once you get in a room with a group of talented writers, they all have a stalking story—they’ve all heard of something—and it always involves Facebook or Twitter,” Williamson said. “I’m hoping to raise a little bit of awareness to this crime that has sort of escalated, because of social media, to such a degree that I think it could be a timely piece.”
Stalker premieres on CBS tonight.