Xander Berkeley as The Man
“I knew people who loved the show were going to love it a lot,” Christopher Kubasik says of his five-episode web series The Booth At the End, “and the people who hated it, would really hate it. I am surprised at the huge middle ground who say, ‘I don’t think I get it. I don’t think I like it. But I can’t stop watching it.'”
For the uninitiated, The Booth At the End is a show with a deceptively simple premise: How far would you go to get what you want?
The story revolves around a character known only as The Man (Xander Berkeley, 24, Nikita), who sits in the rear booth of a diner, day and night, while people come to him with something they want or need: a young girl wants to be prettier, an elderly woman wants her critically ill husband cured, a scruffy, overweight man desires the attentions of a supermodel; the list goes on.
The Man listens, asks questions, jots notes in his ever-present leather-bound book, then assigns each person a task. The tasks range from good deeds to the horrifically unthinkable. If the person is in agreement and completes their task, they get what they want. Simple? Not really. Many underlying mysteries come into play. Who is The Man? Where did he come from? How is he able to make good on his deals?
Much is left unsaid, but this quiet show with its sinister, mystical overtones doesn’t need exposition to get the desperation and need of its characters across. Brevity is one of the show’s greatest strengths.
Then there is The Book, which is a major part of the story and a powerful, mystical piece of the puzzle. Is it a bible of some sort? Kubasik explains, “I’m not religious by nature. I am religious in my curiosity. What I am is curious about people and religion’s a big part of human life. So by definition, I care very much about faith and religion, holy text, and things like that. There is something religious about [The Book], something spiritual about it, something mystical about it. The reason I’m hesitating is that bible is very specific to specific faiths and I’m not nailing down the show to one of those faiths. I can’t say too much because in the second season, which is already written, mysteries about the book become clearer.”
Recently, The Booth At the End was named People Magazine’s TV Pick of the Week. The thing is, Booth is not on TV, it’s on Hulu, an online site that streams network shows and now original programming.
“I really refined The Booth and pitched that around town for about a year before Michael Eisner’s company [Tornante] bought it,” Kubasik explains. “I wanted to make something so cool for the Internet that people would have to show up and take notice.
“A lot of Internet stuff was not good when I was working figuring out The Booth at the End. It had a kind of quality of ‘slumming’. What I mean is it takes tropes or genre conventions or cliches and makes them smaller and less interesting. So I said, I got a couple of rules. One was no slumming. One was how do I make the coolest thing for the Internet? One was when everybody’s making movies about giant robots, go make a movie about a mouse, and then you’ll stand out. And in a world where everyone in town was telling me that comedy is the only thing that’s made for the Internet, I said, ahhh, but if I make a drama and it’s good, people will notice.
“I was pretty logical about the design. I see myself less than a writer at times than a designer who has to write to develop the design. And the design for me was I’m going to make something that’s going to stand out and be unique. I would say that the no slumming was the big battle cry. I wanted something that would have to be noticed and be different and set apart.”
Kubasik name-checks filmmakers and TV producers David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Shawn Ryan, Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, Ronald D. Moore, Denis Leary, and Peter Tolan, as his inspirations for Booth. He also credits Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” as other key inspirations for the project. Then there is Rod Serling.
“Serling’s name has come up to me many times in the last four weeks as people see the show. I have to say it’s moved me more than I thought it would have. I was thinking about this the other day. Serling’s work, there was The Twilight Zone, of course. But he was doing work with Playhouse 90 and other dramas before The Twilight Zone, and the fact [is], he helped make what TV is.
“When I pitched The Booth to Tornante, which was the original production company that Michael Eisner has money in (he also has money in Vuguru, which is the new company in charge of Booth), I had to meet with him because I went through several hoops just trying to push the show into getting bought. Michael Eisner wanted to meet with me personally because he was afraid, having read the first sixty pages as a sample, that it was going to be this nihilistic, amoral, immoral jerking around of the audience, which especially in the first pages you could think, “Okay, so we’re just going to have jerks do nasty things with no purpose.”
"What I said was ‘no’. I said this was a very moral show, drawing out of the supernatural. New England’s tradition, going back to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I consider Stephen King the contemporary era of that, where you put immoral things in the spotlight to highlight morality and the choices and complexities. I think Serling very much works in that tradition, as well. I would offer that specifically as two key inspirations.”
Prior to his success with Booth, Kubasik made a living writing books for licensed properties such as Star Wars, where he created the history of Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back. He also was the Head Writer for an Internet series much different from Booth entitled Stranger Adventures.
“I got a call. Somebody had recommended me as a possible writer for a new project called Stranger Adventures, which was a very smart project. It was a mix of storytelling and a game for the Internet. [They said] “I don’t know if you’d be interested in this. It’s for the Internet.” I always say yes, walking through the door. Let’s see what happens. So I went in for the interview. They pitched me what their show was. I said, “Okay, that’s great but here’s how you’re going to make it better.” Then I pitched their show back at them and they said, “That sounds great.” I went away and a couple of days later I got a call saying, “We need a head writer to run the whole show. Would you be interested in that job?” And I said yes.
"So I became the head writer on that assignment. We were a scrappy start up. We never got enough money to, I think, get where we wanted to go with it. I cut some trailers that I submitted to the Emmys the first year they were giving out Emmys for broadband content. In different categories I submitted us for consideration and we ended up getting three Emmy nominations for broadband content. We were up against Yahoo and Time Warner and AOL. And the fact that we weren’t one of the big corporations but managed to get those Emmy nominations, I’m still very proud of.”
Kubasik was thrilled to have Xander Berkeley cast as The Man in Booth. “He feels like this is the role he’s been waiting his whole life to play. He loves this part,” Kubasik says. “The first call I ever got from him, he had talked to Jessica, our director, several times then he wanted to talk to me personally. So we talked and it was great hearing him because I’ve been a fan of his for years and I love actors.”
The two constants on the show are The Man and the waitress Doris, who was created after the original concept of the show had been set down. “Our development executive was Josh Rimes at Tornante. Josh has been on the project from the beginning and he’s the one who sort of...I often think he put the brakes on me and would tell me, no, no, no, hold off on that a little bit. He’s the one who really made the mystery last longer and I will always be grateful to him for that. One of the things he said to me at one point was we need somebody to push against The Man. Then I went off and figured out my version of what pushing against would be, which would be a gorgeous blonde.
“Doris (played by Jenni Blong) has one of the hardest jobs in that show because basically her little scenes are these little quick quirky blackout sessions with almost no substance of clarity about what’s going on underneath. Everything is implied and everything that’s implied is only suggestion. It’s that vague. And she rocked the house every time and I will be grateful forever for her.”
The first season of Booth ended on a suitably chilling note, leaving viewers wondering what the second season will bring. Kubasik turned in the script for season two four months ago. When it will begin production is anybody’s guess.
So where does the story go from here? Kubasik would say only this: “It doesn’t end with The Man. It ends for each character. The Man is the character who keeps moving forward and there’s a story I want to tell over multiple seasons about The Man.”
The first season of The Booth At the End can be viewed at Hulu.