If you’re looking for a new action/adventure show to invest in, how about a show that’s already been picked up for a second season before the first episode has even aired?
This is the case with the new series“Matador,” premiering Tuesday night on the El Rey Network.
The second season announcement came last week as the network presented their upcoming shows to the Television Critics Association.
Dan Dworkin, one of the Executive Producers says that this doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary for the new network. “Everyone at the network has been behind the show from day one and it was right about then that they told us exactly where our main character should be at the end at of season one. That’s been very helpful in plotting everything out.”
The main character he’s referring to is Tony “Matador” Bravo, a professional soccer player for the L.A. Riot who comes to be known as much for his antics off the field as his moves on it. But what his fans and family don't realize is that it's all a cover—in truth, he is a skilled covert operative executing missions for the CIA. But, in balancing his dueling roles, he will be forced to confront the question of his true identity… and it is this mission which may prove to be his most dangerous.
The high adrenaline series, from award-winning writer/producer Roberto Orci ("Star Trek 3", "Fringe") is the second scripted original to air on the El Rey network which was founded by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City, From Dusk Till Dawn"). Rodriguez directed the series premiere penned by showrunners, co-creators and executive producers Dworkin and Jay Beattie.
Rodriguez' unmistakable style is clearly present in this first offering of the show, setting the tone for the pace of the series, but Beattie describes every episode of the show as being unpredictable, revealing, “We’ve really worked hard to make it so that the viewer never knows where they’re going. There’s an episode in Nicaragua and there’s another episode that’s a more Hitchcock-ian style kidnapping. There are darker episodes and lighter episode, which we like as creators and we hope the viewers like it.”
Elaborating a bit more, Dworkin says, “Our idea was to throw tones together in creative ways, so we’re not straight comedy or drama or thriller, we wanted to mash all that up. We feel like we really pushed things in the pilot because we could and we wanted to set a precedent early on that you should expect anything and everything from this show. We’re going to throw a lot of curveballs at you.”
One those ‘curveballs’ in clearly involves the inclusion of Tony’s relatives in the series, says Beattie. “Unlike in other series when it’s always like the main character, the spy, seems to be an orphan, we knew that having a family presents complications for Tony. He has to find a balance and he’s torn between these three worlds he’s involved in – the CIA, the soccer world and with his family. All three of these open up plenty of opportunities for us to tell a wide range of stories.”
Dworkin and Beattie come over a decade of working in broadcast television on shows such as “Revenge,” “Criminal Minds,” and “Cold Case,” so the appeal of working outside of that often rigid system was appealing to them from the start. “When you’re working for one of the big networks, for better or worse you have several layers of infrastructure you have to go through to get something on the air and then to keep it here,” explains Beattie. “It’s not a bad thing to have people reviewing your work and offering suggestions but Dan [Dworkin] and I felt a certain level of confidence for some many years of producing that maybe we could do something without all of those layers and put the stuff on the screen that we wanted to do.”
Dworkin continues with, “So here we are ready to do our own thing and along comes this new network that says, ‘here’s the money, here’s a 13 episode commitment, make a show and we won’t interfere. Do whatever you want.’ No writer would say no to that, so we jumped at it.”
The result of this leap is “Matador,” which attracted both new and seasoned talent with newcomer Gabriel Luna in the lead role and veteran Alfred Molina as a major player in the series.
“We were really surprised to get both of these actors,” reveals Dworkin. “We wanted Alfred from the start but he’s a big star so we were a little hesitant. But then, there was really no one telling us that we couldn’t reach out to him, so we did and we’re very happy that we just went for it.”
Things were a bit different with Luna, explains Beattie. “We saw a lot of people for the role of Tony and we just knew that if didn’t find the right guy this wouldn’t work at all. He had to be all of these things - charming, funny, athletic, believable as a serious CIA agent and believable as a soccer player as well. That’s a lot to ask of someone and really very few people can be all of those things. We were banging our heads against the wall for a bit and then we found him. He came in and he was awesome.”
Dworkin went on to reveal that once they found Luna, there was a weird sort of skepticism that came into play. “It’s funny, but we were thinking, ‘wait, this guy is so good, why isn’t he a star already?’ but then you realize that you’ve gotten in on the ground floor of making him a star. He’s just been a hidden treasure until now and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that he’ll be a star very soon once people get wind of how good he is.”
While the show is set against the backdrop of soccer, the producers want viewers to know that the sport angle of the show shouldn’t be a hindrance to those who aren’t fans of the game, with Beattie pointing out that, “Soccer is more a backdrop on the show. The characters happen to be in that world. We have a couple episodes where there are practices and some where there is a game, but there’s more about Tony with his family and Tony with the CIA. If you like soccer you’re going to get some, but if you don’t it’s definitely not a hindrance to enjoying the show.”
The timing of the show, which hits the air just after the World Cup, was part planning and part happy coincidence. “We were aware of this when we first started working on the show and planning out the premiere timeframe that this could work out this way,” says Dworkin. ”but the real initiative was the fact that the awareness and the fan base of soccer is growing very rapidly. So, no, riding the way of the World Cup certainly doesn’t hurt, but it wasn’t the major reason we incorporated it into this series.”
Beattie adds that, “I do want people to know that this is not a series about a soccer team trying to win a title. It’s about this guy getting to live a dream that he thought was dead and it’s very emotional for him.”
“But, he’s living this dream at a very big cost,” emphasizes Dworkin, “and his superiors and co-workers in the CIA never let him forget it. That’s the real heart of the show and I think that people will really latch onto this character and the journey that he’s on, so why not come along for the ride?”
Committing to a series, especially in the current ever expanding landscape of television where there are now so many shows to choose from, it should be a great comfort to viewers to know that this ride won’t end abruptly after a short stint on air as so many series often do. An investment in the story of Tony “Matador” Bravo is well worth it right from the start.
"Matador" premieres Tuesday, July 15th at 9e/p on the El Rey Network.
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