Interview: 'Frequency' Showrunner Jeremy Carver On The Rules Of Time Travel And Expanding On The Movie

At Comic-Con, we spoke with Jeremy Carver, the creator of The CW's Frequency TV series, about gender-swapping the 2000 movie to make the show a father/daughter story. When Carver attended a Television Critics Association party over the summer, we got to go further into the nuts and bolts of the series with him.

The pilot establishes a similar story to the movie. 2016 cop Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) speaks with her father Frank (Riley Smith), who died in 1996, over a ham radio. She prevents his death but that leads to other unintended consequences. We spoke with Carver about how Frequency moves forward week to week. 

Is the idea that the ham radio connection happened because of some sort of weather phenomenon?

Not quite as clear cut as that. There's a suggestion of that but that might not ultimately be the answer.

Is part of the mythology of the show that you're going to explore why this happened too?

Maybe not at first but yes, we do explore. We do ask those questions.

Have you developed a mythology for Frequency beyond what was explicit in the movie?

Yes. I don't mean to be coy. I don't want to overload people with rules of the universe, too many rules at the beginning. I think the pilot works very nicely on an emotional level that you go for the ride and you sort of instinctively understand what's happening in terms of the different time periods and the rules. That's the same sort of momentum we're trying to carry in the series. The rules are there but they're not really meant to be seen if that makes sense. We want people concentrating on the drama of everything and entrusting that the rules are there and everything has a purpose and a reason.

That's the danger of having too detailed a mythology, that the show becomes about that. It sounds like you're being careful not to make the show about that.

That's exactly right. Again, I'm happy and I think the pilot succeeded on that level. I think it's very important that people come for the characters, come for the mystery, and trust that the rules are in place. As a rule is encountered or discovered by our main characters, so will it be by our audience.

When the time comes to reveal the cause, do you look at actual science like Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking, or make something up?

There are elements of both but we absolutely are leaning into science. I don't know about proven science but discussed science.

As much as time travel has never been proven.

Right.

Is Raimy's fiancé out of the picture for now?

Making him part of the picture is very much in her mind moving forward. The losing of the fiancé is another loss suffered by her that she's determined to right in the coming episodes.

Is Raimy talking to her younger self dangerous?

Who knows what, when, is one of the major things that our two characters confront head on right in the opening episodes. Who can know about this? Who can we really talk to? How far can we really go with other people who aren't us to avoid just what you're suggesting, a danger of something bigger happening beyond their control?

Frequency TV Series Trailer

Is there any 1996 stock tip she can give her friend, like in the movie it was Yahoo?

We definitely play with those things coming up in the series. It would be a shame for her not to do something like that. You run the risk of going over the top. Since this is a series, not a movie, there's a certain element of, I'll call it social responsibility at play here, that they have to keep in mind. We certainly have fun with some of the differences between '96 and 2016.

That's a good point. In the movie it was a joke. In the series you have to deal with it next week.

Exactly, right.

Is 1996 a period piece?

We're very much part of '96. '96 does not take a backseat to 2016 in terms of screen time so we're very much living in the world of '96 and 2016.

Do you have to keep two sets of sets and locations available for '96 and the present?

It's safe to say production design is a highly stressed department at this point.

Once you've done the pilot, does it relax a little that you have some standing locations and sets?

Yes and no because the series takes very much place in 2016 and '96 and frankly other time periods as well. We're telling a family drama here so it's not just '96, it's not just 2016. It's 1994 before Frank left and became undercover. The years in between with Frank and without, we explore a lot of chapters in this family's history, not just the two periods that we've spotlighted in the pilot.

Do you spend significant time in other periods like flashbacks?

More like flashbacks, memories, that type of thing.

But whole scenes?

Yeah, whole scenes. We have whole episodes devoted to [them]. There's a lot of little suggestions in the pilot. One of them being that Raimy has a memory of life before when her father died and when he didn't. That is actually quite a burden. We go into that quite in detail in one of our early episodes of what it's like to have two memories of a singular incident and how that affects her.

What is it like for Raimy to meet her father for the first time as an adult via this radio?

Obviously that's one of I think the most special things about the pilot and on of the great themes of the show, this idea of second chances. This opportunity, this rather out-of-nowhere opportunity to reconnect with someone, not just that you wish you could say "I love you" to one more time, but you could ask why they were the way they are. You could ask all those unanswered questions. Now being together, they have a second chance to reconnect but now there's so much pressure that they're under now that they have to almost rediscover what it is to be father and daughter under the pressure of trying to right this horrendous wrong they've done.

What do the next few episodes look like?

So the next few episodes are very much on the one hand, I say second chances in that these two have a chance to reconnect, but it's not all butterflies and moonbeams. There's a lot of tension between these two and a lot of unsettled history between them. So the dynamic between them is, I'll say, loving but fraught because they still don't know each other very well. That's one of the fun things about the show for us is that we've got a father and daughter who ultimately barely know one another. He's got to get to know his daughter as an adult woman.

The show is very much them hitting the ground running, trying to right this wrong that happened in the pilot and coming right up against, frankly, some of the rules of this world that it's not going to be so easy. There are actually consequences across the board, not just with Raimy's mom but in the cases they pursue, in the suspects they pursue. They might hit the ground running but they very much have to take pause at a certain point and try to come to grips with exactly this new world they're living in. That causes them to recalibrate emotionally how they feel about each other and also how they attack this case.

Are the other cases they run into also murders, or all different sorts of cases?

Mostly, we are living in a world that we've established which is essentially a hunt for a serial killer. So we're not shying away from a world of murders and these types of crime. So the majority of these cases are murder related.

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Frequency airs Wednesdays at 9PM on The CW.