J.T. Neumeyer knows how to get answers. The sought-after physics professor solves puzzles with his 10-year-old daughter for fun. Figuring out things takes hardly any effort, and tackling a problem is of little consequence to him -- until now.
In Sci Fi's "Five Days to Midnight," Neumeyer must use his problem-solving expertise to prevent his own violent death.
"It's a murder mystery with the body walking around investigating its pending murder," said executive producer David Kirschner.
The two-hour premiere airs on Monday at 9 p.m. The three remaining one-hour episodes air Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Thursday at 10 p.m.
Academy Award-winner Timothy Hutton stars as Neumeyer, a widowed, single father who hopes to change his tragic destiny after finding a briefcase from the future that contains a police report indicating he will die in just five days.
"The fun of the piece is that you have to solve your murder before it happens,"said scriptwriter Anthony Peckham. "Once you believe that what the file contains is real and going to happen, you've got a finite amount of time to stop it."
Neumeyer at first dismisses the file as a prank, but soon the pieces start falling into place: The blue jacket he's wearing in the crime-scene photos is given to him as a gift. The green jeep found at the scene of the crime is delivered to him by a rental company.
He returns to the mysterious police report for clues, examining the photos from the crime scene more closely and finding the name of the investigating officer, played by Academy Award-nominee Randy Quaid.
The briefcase also holds a list of suspects that includes Claudia (Kari Matchett), Neumeyer's love interest who has been keeping her real identity a secret; Brad (David McIlwraith), his brother-in-law who is determined to maintain a lavish lifestyle; Carl (Hamish Linklater), a physics-obsessed student who believes in destiny; and Roy (Angus MacFadyen), a Chicago crime boss Neumeyer has never met.
Assisting Neumeyer in his quest is his daughter, Jesse (Gage Golightly), who takes it upon herself to help save her father.
The show's plot makes several twists and turns -- almost as many as it took to transform its original two-hour format into a five-hour miniseries. That expansion was quite a challenge for the show's writers, including Peckham.
"We had to really fill out and change a lot of elements of the script," said Peckham, who worked with three other writers in lengthening the story. The basic premise was preserved, but many aspects of the original (written by Robert Zappia) changed before the final version emerged.
"The reason the script didn't work as a feature was that it didn't give enough time to using the evidence and going through the stages of denial, acceptance and anger," he said.
Kirschner said the extra screen time allowed Neumeyer to evolve from being a rather passive man into someone who can take control of a situation.
"We changed who the guy was," Peckham agreed. "We invented a lot of new characters or retooled characters that were already in the script."
Although the murder investigation is the movie's focus, Kirschner said the relationship between Neumeyer and his daughter provides a catalyst for the movie and introduces an angle that was not in the original feature.
"He still has to get her to school and still try to feed her," Peckham said. "He's a single parent. You still gotta do the laundry. It's not James Bond time."
Though airing on the Sci Fi channel, Kirschner said the production team did not want to make the story lean too far toward the sci-fi genre.
"I love science fiction, but my favorite science fiction is when it's based in the here and now," he said.
For Quaid, the miniseries is more of a classic thriller.
"You got an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, but it has a science-fiction twist. It adds to the mystery that is already there," he said.