Talents nurtured in Kansas City are the driving forces behind ABC’s new crime drama “The Fix,” premiering Monday night.
The show’s executive producers include Kansas City natives Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, who are Pembroke Hill School graduates — Class of ’89. The pair are veteran TV series showrunners and podcast producers.
Then they cast Alex Saxon as one of the stars on “The Fix” — without knowing he’s a native of Liberty.
“It came up on the first day of work on the pilot [episode],” said Liberty High School grad Saxon by phone from Los Angeles. “That was a fun little bond. I don’t know many people from Kansas City out here.”
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The trio made the connection as they stood outside a Malibu mansion being used as the home of the accused killer on “The Fix.”
“People from Kansas City are very into being from Kansas City,” Craft said. “As soon as we knew that, we felt very bonded to Alex.”
“The Fix,” airing at 9 p.m., begins with echoes of the infamous O.J. Simpson case. Indeed, Craft and Fain share executive producing duties with Marcia Clark, a Los Angeles prosecutor when Simpson was on trial in 1994, accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
On “The Fix,” Los Angeles district attorney Maya Travis (Robin Tunney, “The Mentalist”) fails in 2010 to secure the conviction of British-born movie star Sevvy Johnson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, “Lost”) for a double murder. Eight years later, Sevvy may have killed again.
Maya is back on the case even as Sevvy’s defenders close ranks, including Gabriel (Saxon), the 20-something son of one of the women Sevvy was accused of killing in 2010.
Sevvy helped to raise Gabriel since his mother’s death, so Gabriel goes to great lengths to defend Sevvy.
“Everybody craves some sense of security,” Saxon said of his character. “This kid didn’t have his mom anymore and had known Sevvy to be his dad [figure], somebody he trusted and he went with that.”
Saxon, who began acting at age 8 with Bell Road Barn Players, grew up in Kansas City-area community theater productions and danced at Conservatory of Dance Education in junior high and continued through high school. But he didn’t act in high school productions.
He stopped both dancing and acting when he started at William Jewell College, planning a career in medicine. But after his sophomore year, he returned to acting, performing with Coterie Theatre, Egads! Productions and others. He ultimately graduated with degrees in psychology and applied philosophy and a minor in chemistry.
A few months after graduation, Saxon moved to Los Angeles and worked in restaurants, painted houses and did other jobs for five years before landing his first series regular contract on MTV’s 2014-15 drama “Finding Carter,” which came about at the same time he had a recurring role on ABC Family’s “The Fosters.”
At one point, he was flying back and forth, sometimes weekly, between the “Finding Carter” set in Atlanta and “The Fosters” set in Los Angeles.
Originally Saxon was cast just for the “Finding Carter” pilot, then he was upped to a recurring role. Producers then broke the news that his character would be killed off by the end of the first season. They then changed their minds and Saxon became a series regular until the show was canceled after its second season.
“This town will give you whiplash,” Saxon said. “It was one of those back-and-forth experiences.”
Saxon, who tries to get back to Kansas City several times a year to see his mom, Mary Dugan, currently dates actress Hannah Marks (“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”) and will next film a role in the pilot for The CW’s “Nancy Drew” reboot.
And in case you’re wondering, the wavy-locked Saxon wasn’t cast for the part because of any resemblance to Kato Kaelin.
Kaelin, who lived with the Simpsons in a guest house, was a witness during the trial. Like Kaelin, Saxon’s character lives with Sevvy in a guest house.
When a TV critic suggested the connection during a February press conference at the Television Critics Association winter 2019 press tour, Craft, Fain and Clark said they all missed it.
“We should have put those two things together,” Craft said.
“We thought of him as this Sean Penn-type,” Fain explains, “somebody who’d grown up in Malibu.”
“He does have great hair, there’s no denying that,” Craft added. “The thing that was great about Alex is he was really up for anything in the role. He only has a few lines in the pilot and yet he plays a big character. It’s a character that emerges after the pilot and he put a lot of trust in us because he really didn’t know what he was going to be doing.”
As for Craft and Fain — friends who first co-wrote a feature on Kansas City delis for Pembroke’s student newspaper The Voice — “The Fix” marks a new collaboration configuration with Clark.
“Because we’re a team, it’s easier to go from two to three than someone who goes from one person to two,” Craft said. “We’re used to discussing all of our decisions and sometimes compromising. Adding a third person to the mix was fairly comfortable and a lot of that had to do with the fact it was Marcia.”
Craft said she was obsessed with the O.J. Simpson story in her early 20s when the trial was happening, watching it gavel-to-gavel.
Fain was less aware of the case but very aware of Clark “as this sort of lightning rod figure. I think I remember at the time being frustrated by how she was being portrayed in the media. Now, of course, knowing her, I’m enraged by it, but at the time we just weren’t as aware of how slanted things can be and how misogynistic things can be in subtle and not subtle ways.”
As much as the show’s initial plot and lead character may be inspired by Clark’s background, all involved said that’s just a jumping off point.
“In the first five — not even five — minutes, really you see an aspect of what I went through,” Clark said at the TCA press conference. “That’s an origin story, but after that, it’s all fiction.”
Although the show is about a legal case, “The Fix” is not a courtroom show. Most of the action takes place behind the scenes as investigators hunt down evidence.
Pulling back the curtain is also something Craft and Fain do on their weekly podcast, “Happier in Hollywood,” which began almost two years ago and was inspired by the “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” podcast Craft has appeared on with her sister, a self-help book author.
“Being a team, we’re so used to talking about every issue, it’s very natural,” Craft said of podcasting together. “The conversations we have on the podcast are very similar to the conversations we have with each other on our treadmills.”
The pair, who often work side-by-side while walking on treadmills at standing desks at their offices on the Disney lot in Burbank, Calif., have extended the podcast further, hosting a sold-out retreat in April for aspiring TV writers.
Craft and Fain broke into Hollywood as writers on a few forgotten series before landing on Joss Whedon’s “Angel,” then on Shawn Ryan’s “The Shield,” and later creating or running several shows of their own, including the 2007-08 ABC drama “Women’s Murder Club.” They have an overall deal with ABC Studios that expires in June.
“We’re waiting for ‘The Fix’ to premiere and hoping we’ll very quickly be working on season two,” Craft said, noting that between the two of them, they are noodling around with ideas for future series in case “The Fix” doesn’t fly.
“Our future is unknown, whether we’ll be at ABC Studios or somewhere else,” Craft said. “This is the life of a [TV] writer.”
9 p.m. March 18, ABC.
Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as @RobOwenTV.