A top Washington D.C. surgeon is about to perform a routine operation on the President when her family is taken hostage. The doctor is told she must kill the President or her loved ones will be murdered.
This is the knife-edge premise which launches Hostages, the latest “war on terror” thriller which promises to steal Homeland’s thunder and provoke a Saturday night battle between the BBC and Channel 4.
Like Homeland, which concluded its third series in December amid signs of viewer fatigue, Hostages is an Israeli thriller format, which has been adapted by a US studio and set against a heightened national security backdrop.
Produced by high-octane action specialist Jerry Bruckheimer, and bought by Channel 4 as a Saturday night highlight this month, Hostages stars Toni Collette as Dr Ellen Sanders, a surgeon whose family is taken captive by a rogue FBI agent, Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott).
Carlisle then orders Ellen to make her most famous patient die on the operating table. “Don't think of it as killing the president,” Carlisle says. “Think of it as saving your family.”
Carlisle’s motive for killing the President and Sanders’ discovery of secrets within her own outwardly idyllic family, drives the plot over 15 episodes which feature all the political intrigue, personal betrayals and shocking reveals which viewers had come to expect from Homeland.
Whilst Channel 4 has bought Hostages, which premiered on CBS in September with 7.4 million viewers, BBC4 has stepped in to snap up the Israeli version of the kidnap series, produced by Chaim Sharir for Israel’s Channel 10.
BBC4 will also screen Hostages (the Israeli version retains the same title), on Saturday nights, in the slot which it has made the home of hit foreign language imports such as The Killing and Borgen.
The rival broadcasters are expected to negotiate a Hostages deal so the versions don’t clash directly.
While Homeland will continue for a fourth series, viewing figures slumped as the plotlines became more implausible and the relationship between Damian Lewis’s terror suspect Marine Nicholas Brody and CIA agent Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, exhausted all possibilities.
Critics called the US Hostages “suspenseful and artfully layered” but the New York Times questioned whether, like Homeland, it would struggle to sustain the drama over multiple series.
“The lead characters in Hostages are enemies with a special connection, but the premise that pits them against each other is almost impossible to prolong. The president has to live or die, and Ellen has to triumph or fail,” the paper said.
Such was the interest surrounding Hostages as a concept, Bruckheimer, the Pirates Of The Caribbean producer, snapped up the format and got his series to air a month before the Israeli version premiered.
Bruckheimer said: “Hostages is a character drama about a family that’s taken hostage and they have to lead their daily lives while they’re being hostages. The mother of the family, a doctor, is asked by the hostage takers to kill the President as she operates on him.
“It’s a very tense situation that plays out during the series. It’s very clever, there are a lot of twists and turns, and some shockers, and that’s what an audience loves. It’s what I love. And the characters really pull the viewers along with them.”
Collette said: “When I first read the script, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a real page-turner that’s subtle and smart. The character of Ellen I found interesting in that through her experience of this hostage situation, she actually grows and finds her strength.”
“All of the characters are so complex and three dimensional and relatable and real. Nothing is just black and white and as an actor that’s what you want.”
Executive producer Jeffrey Nachmanoff said each episode would provide “another turn of the screw” without draining the tension from the initial “will she, won’t she” premise.
Nachmanoff said: “Without giving away too much, the second episode picks up very much with the story how Ellen didn't do what was asked of her. She chose Option C. She didn’t kill the President, and nor did she directly defy him. What is the fallout from that? What happens as a result of that, and what are the consequences?”