There are now so many television shows on so many platforms and channels that you almost need a time machine to keep up with them all.

Small wonder, then, that there are several time travel-themed TV shows this season. One is “Timeless,” which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC and Global.

The Vancouver-based sci-fi drama stars Abigail Spencer (“Rectify”), Matt Lanter (“90210”) and Malcolm Barrett (“The Hurt Locker”) as a history professor, a soldier and a scientist recruited to jump back and forth through different eras in pursuit of a time machine bandit.

They’re after Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic from “ER”), a criminal mastermind bent on changing the course of American history. It’s “Quantum Leap” with a healthy dose of the Canadian series “Continuum” thrown in. Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) is among the executive producers.

On the day of this set visit, for episode 5, they chase Flynn back to June 20, 1972 — a couple of days after the infamous burglary at the Watergate Hotel. The writer of the episode, Kent Rotherham, studied “All the President’s Men” and dug into history books to bone up on the subject.

Vancouver doubles for Washington as posters of Nixon from his ’72 re-election campaign are slapped on the walls of a dilapidated suburban hotel/bowling alley designated as a “fleabag” in the script. A local reporter described the place as a biker motel she’d always been too scared to enter.

Outside in the parking lot, a dozen classic cars were parked, all sporting cardboard Washington licence plates. There’s a ’65 Mustang parked next to a VW Bug facing a late ’60s Ford Fairlane Ranchero.

The cast was decked out in early ’70s duds. Spencer looked right at home in her long, tailored, orange suede top coat.

“I’m a total fashion history geek,” she says. “I love vintage clothing.” Working on “Mad Men” helped her acquire a taste for the fashions of the ’60s, but she’s very into the ’40s look too.

Barrett was a little less comfortable in his tight bell-bottom jeans.

“I’m dressed just like my dad did back then,” he says.

Also squeezed into a pair of bell bottoms is Chad Rook, who plays Flynn’s ruthless accomplice, Karl.

“Those are tight, I tell ya,” says Rook. He’s a little put off by some of the other fashion faux pas of the ’70s. “You immediately feel less cool strangling someone when your hair is feathered.”

The Lethbridge, Alta., native joins the series in episode 2. “I’m the guy who does all the killing and the shooting and the travelling with (Flynn),” says Rook. “I always wanted to do a period piece and now I get to do every period piece there is.”

Other episodes have seen local landmarks such as the Richmond Centre turned into a section of the Las Vegas strip during the ’50s. “It was really a surreal thing to see,” says Rook, describing how giant signs promoting Sammy Davis Jr. were erected for the shoot.

Early episodes take viewers back to the explosion of the German passenger airship The Hindenburg in 1937, the assassination of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln in 1865 as well as a critical battle during the Second World War.

“We’re not allowed to break certain rules — at least for now,” says Visnjic, a self-avowed sci-fi fan. “For example, you’re not allowed to go to the time you already existed.”

Flynn, viewers will learn, has a strong personal motivation for going back in time. All the main characters, in fact, carry secrets.

“We go on these weekly adventures,” says Lanter, “but stories will change and shape, and we’ll see who the enemy is at the end of the day.”

All of the characters face the same time travel conundrums that have beset characters on “Time Tunnel,” “Star Trek” and “Back to the Future.”

“You’re sitting there in the Ford’s Theatre next to Abraham Lincoln and you can tell him to duck,” says Visnjic, but what are the consequences? “It can wreak complete havoc even if it looks like a brilliant idea in the moment. You’re going to be asking yourself, almost every episode, ‘What would I do?'”

The cast was asked many times what era they’d jump back to if they had the chance.

Spencer says the ’40s. “I love the look.”

Lanter says he’d be a fly on the wall at the Last Supper. “Can you imagine?”

Barrett was not going there. “Going back in time,” he says, “is not so good for African-Americans.”


While in Vancouver Bill Brioux was a guest of Global Television. He is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

Bill Brioux, The Canadian Press

Filed under: Abigail Spencer, Chad Rook, Fall TV, Global, Goran Visnjic, Malcolm Barrett, Matt Lanter, nbc, Timeless, trailer, TV