The Red Line is a new drama premiering on CBS and CBS All Access that follows the lives of three disparate families in Chicago whose lives are disrupted by a tragedy in their communities and to make sure every last tear is jerked out of your eye-holes are composers Sherri Chung and Blake Neely.
The “L” system is Chicago’s mass-transit system that, in any other organism might be considered a major artery. The Red Line’s derives its name from this system and instantly establishes an essential theme of this show — heart. It’s a show where the different points and counter-points of our society intersect, and it pulls no punches. In other words, bring the tissues.
PopAxiom talked with Sherri Chung and Blake Neely about prolific producer Greg Berlanti, music fatigue, and making The Red Line.
Berlanti And Friends
The Red Line tackles some of the most hot-button issues of the day, a bold move by CBS. Neely says “Greg Berlanti is the bravest producers I know and with Ava DuVernay, [they] put together this tough material and said ‘we have to make this.’”
Blake adds “From the first minute it grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for eight episodes.”
Sherri first worked with Blake on Supergirl and later the pair worked on Riverdale and Blindspot. About The Red Line, Sherri says “It’s such great writing and such an important story.”
What was it like watching scenes “dry” “Watching it without the music was heartbreaking … it was riveting.”
However, music pays the bills for Sherri and Blake, so their job was to take riveting to a new level “[Producer] Caitlin … said to us ‘You guys are just mean.’” Blake explains “We’re taking a scene that’s already heartbreaking and just a little bit of the right music makes it so painful to watch.”
You did your job, right? Sherri joyfully replies “Exactly!”
Hopping On The Red Line
Sherri and Blake’s relationship got them aboard The Red Line “We came into this a little bit late, and they had already filmed episode one and two.”
Sherri adds “Both of us were jumping with ideas.”
Blake explains the outside-the-box challenge that the duo presented themselves “But the first thing we said is to try to do the show without standard instrumentation. No strings.”
Sherri backs that up “No strings.”
Sherri and Blake loved the idea of “no strings,” but the next challenge was “… how do we represent these three voices from Chicago? And so we experimented by using voices in place of what strings would normally do.”
Sherri continues our tour through their process “The producers wanted a sound that matched Chicago. But how do you make something sound like Chicago? And how do you mesh these sounds together so that each sounds like they’re from their place in Chicago.”
The creators of The Red Line Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss are from Chicago, and Blake explains “… they started giving us adjectives about Chicago … tribal, dark, cold, diverse.”
In the end, with voices in place of strings and much more, Sherri tells us about the show with zero spoilers “The three storylines converge, and we wanted the instrumentation to do the same.”
How does a composer explain music without having made any for a show? Blake stares a story about that “I was in a meeting in a writers’ room once and they asked ‘What’s the music going to sound like?’ And I said ‘You want me to sing it for you?’”
Sherri and Blake shift from project to project and genre to genre with ease and so, what’s it like going from fictional cities to real ones? “This is a show that’s not hyper-reality. We don’t have to make it feel like the superhero is flying. It’s present day, and in a way more subtle, There was an effort to not overwrite things.”
Blake agrees “It’s so different from what we do on the hyper-reality shows.”
Quantity AND Quality
Another notable difference about The Red Line is that it’s a short-run series with only eight episodes. Because of the compact season as compared to a typical network run of 22-episode Sherri says “Every episode packs a wallop.”
The Red Line will be on CBS every Sunday and CBS All Access from then until the end of time, presumably. In this golden age of content creation, is there a loss in quality. Blake doesn’t think so “You’re going to watch Avengers on the same platform as The Red Line as this other show and this other movie and so the quality of things has to be just as good.”
Blake talks a little more about the industry then versus now “Gone are the days of writing for television versus video games versus movies.”
The shift in the amount of content and the speed at which it comes out lead to “Music fatigue,” according to Blake.
Another reason quality is dramatically better today? “Back in the day you had a week between episodes and so reusing music was a little more common. Today, people are watching every episode back to back.��
Content Is King
Is there too much work? Well, yes, but that’s not a bad thing. Blake says “Personally, I have too much work. I aligned myself with Greg 17 years ago, and he became the most prolific TV producers in history. He keeps making shows, and I keep saying I’ll join. And now Sherri’s swallowed that pill and has too much work.”
Sherri shares her thoughts on the copious amounts of content today “It’s kind of the beauty of the industry. There’s so much content being made, and so once you get a good track record there’s a lot of work to be done, and people want you.”
Not only is there more work, but Sherri says “I also think because there’s so much content that everyone’s trying things that are new and different and so they want something new and different in the sonic approach.”
Blake affirms “It’s such a rich landscape of content right now.”
Outside Of Music
What moves the composers outside of music?
Blake answers “I’m inspired by what connects us as human beings. It’s so deep and complex. So when I’m writing for myself, it’s got some sort of human story to it. But I’m inspired by artwork … or a really cool LEGO build.”
Sherri’s response “I’m inspired by new stories but also not being in front of a piano or a computer. And it’s not to say that music isn’t being created but just being away from that.”
Thanks to Sherri, Blake, and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.