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‘Tell Me a Story’ puts classic tales in modern settings

Danielle Campbell as Little Red Riding Hood in the CBS All Access series “Tell Me a Story” premiering Wednesday. (James Dimmock/CBS / CBS)
Danielle Campbell as Little Red Riding Hood in the CBS All Access series “Tell Me a Story” premiering Wednesday. (James Dimmock/CBS / CBS)
By Luaine Lee Tribune News Service

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – What if a young brother and sister found themselves abandoned alone in New York City? How would they cope with the forbidding unknown of the merciless metropolis?

If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. It’s basically the tale of “Hansel and Gretel,” adrift in the “woods” of New York City. And writer Kevin Williamson – best known for five “Scream” incarnations, “Dawson’s Creek,” “The Vampire Diaries” and “Stalker” – has conjured up a whole new version of the Grimm brothers’ tale.

Actually Williamson is combining three famous fairy tales – “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and “Little Red Riding Hood” into a parable about modern-day anger and angst in “Tell Me a Story,” premiering on CBS All Access on Halloween.

Known for his masterfully macabre storytelling, Williamson says he first got the idea years ago. “When I was just starting out and I was in New York City and I was waiting tables next to the Martin Beck Theatre, which is now the Hirschfeld or something, ‘Into the Woods’ was premiering,” he recalls.

“And (its creator) Stephen Sondheim would come in, and he would let all of the waiters get the house seats to see ‘Into the Woods’ when it was in tryouts. And I remember watching that. I must have seen it 87 times. And it was the original cast. It was before it had opened even, and I saw it through its whole run.

“And that’s what gave me the idea to write ‘Scream,’ because I saw him sort of deconstruct the fairy tale and subvert the fairy tale in such a beautiful way. I thought, ‘What if you do that to a horror movie?’ And that’s what inspired ‘Scream.’ ”

Williamson never veered far from that revelation. “My brain also, it’s a really bad neighborhood,” he grins.

“You don’t want to travel in my head. It’s so weird that … the scary stuff is what I’m sort of known for because, when I’m sitting down and writing, I’m always writing for the tears. I’m always writing TO the tears. I’m always writing the emotional part. I like emotional storytelling, and so I’m always writing for the moment before the scary beat or the moment after it . I don’t know why.”

This 10-part drama is based on an Argentinean series, says Williamson.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken the notion of some of these classic fairy tales in all of their darkness, and we have the concept being: What would you do if you had to write them today? What would they look like? What form would they take? What would be the cautionary tale of it? What would be the morals? What would be the themes? What would be the stories?” he says.

Writing for a streaming network, with fewer restrictions, was liberating, says Williamson. “And it’s not so much about, for me, pushing the envelope. It’s about being able to dive into a character and just show the messiness of life. Sometimes in network television, you have to have that beginning, middle, and end with the character’s drive, where it goes wrong, what they learn, and wrap it up by the end of the hour. And with this type of storytelling, I’ve been able to sort of get a little messier in exploring a lot of the characters and their relationships.”

There are no supernatural influences in “Tell Me a Story,” he says. All the characters are true-to-life individuals with all their poxes and passions. “It’s very real. It’s very grounded. It’s a character piece,” he says.

Davi Santos, who plays Gabe in the show, agrees. “It’s most exciting to see the story rooted in the real life that we have going on,“ he says. ”’The Three Little Pigs’ is bouncing off of this police brutality protest – but going terribly wrong. And so being part of something that isn’t evergreen and isn’t trying to just play to a story that ‘Oh, it will ALWAYS apply’ and, of course, mythologically, it may. But the critical issues are reflected in the stories.”

Danielle Campbell portrays Little Red Riding Hood with a moral twist. “I think what I’ve really enjoyed about this adaptation of it is Little Red Riding Hood in the original was this very sweet girl. And I think our adaptation – which is making it really fun for me to play at least – she’s troubled. She’s going through loss. And she’s just trying to distract herself and party and drink and go out. And she’s kind of this really troubled kid. And you get to really watch that. That’s been a lot of fun.”

Among actors like James Wolk, Paul Wesley, Campbell and Santos, Kim Cattrell (”Sex and the City“) will be appearing on the series. ”She’s Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, who is not quite the grandmother that you are used to reading about when you read ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’“ says Williamson.

“Honestly, it’s about Danielle’s character … (who) comes to New York City to live with her grandmother. And it’s that relationship that bonds between them. It’s a story of family and how this young girl has strayed from the path. And it’s about how she rights herself when the most dangerous person comes into her life and how that grandmother interacts between them. It’s a story about two broken people who find each other and fix each other.”

ACTRESS MOVES FROM VICTORIA TO VICTIM

Just when we got used to Jenna Coleman as the elegant and passionate ”Victoria,“ she moves to modern times and contemporary tragedies with ”The Cry,“ which begins streaming on Sundance Now on Nov. 8. ”The Cry“ is the story of a young couple who trek to Australia to deal with unfinished business only to have their new-born son disappear. The four-part drama is based on Helen FitzGerald’s best selling novel and was a hit when it aired in England. Coleman says she loves the challenge of playing difficult characters.

”It’s about looking at people, their psychology and trying to understand someone else’s world and someone else’s life to the extent that you can play it, and you can say the words, and you can make people believe it’s true. I think it’s kind of magic really.“

MCGINLEY CONFRONTS ‘EVIL’ ONCE AGAIN

The comic horror series ”Stan Against Evil“ returns to IFC for its third season on Wednesday with two back-to-back episodes. John C. McGinley plays a retired sheriff who’s trying to rid his small town of all its evil doings, amid a group of impossible citizens including his own daughter. McGinley (who was so funny as the acerbic doctor in ”Scrubs“) is equally adept here. He tells me that when he confided to his parents that he wanted to be an actor their response was unique. ”I’ll never forget it. My dad said the most empowering thing I’ve ever heard. He said, ‘If you’re going to do this, be great at it.’ It gives me chills just saying it.“

SATURDAYS RESERVED FOR MUSIC FANS

Music lovers are going to revel in the programming AXS TV has lined up for November. Every Saturday the network will feature concerts, interviews, tributes and bios starting with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and a film of their live performance in Barcelona on Nov. 3. Nov. 10 the network will feature country crooners including Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Tim McGraw and a host of others. Nov. 17 covers the talents of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and so on. Each ”Saturday Stack“ promises to celebrate every variety of popular music by the craftsmen who made it so.

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