In 1995 an unconventional show emerged which captured the attention of viewers weary of "normal" television. Though it aired for just one season, the series became a cult favorite. "Nowhere Man" had a good run--a pilot movie and 24 episodes--but it was still short enough that many lamented its passing. Years later, it is still intriguing to reflect on the struggle to hold onto one's individualism, as seen through the eyes (and camera lens) of Thomas Veil.
Editor's Note: In 1999 a bellaonline.com editor interviewed series creator Larry Hertzog about the show. We think it's time to sweep the dust off for your reading pleasure, as a reminder of the show that has been, unfortunately, forgotten. In part we're doing this now because we just found out (I know, a bit late) that Hertzog died in 2008, and "Nowhere Man" has now become part of his legacy. The show is currently available on DVD, and it's still worth watching.
"Nowhere Man" was Tom's story, but it could have been anyone's. Tom Veil was a successful photographer with a happy marriage and a good life. He and his wife Alyson were celebrating at their favorite restaurant after a successful photo exhibit. He stepped away from the table for a moment, and when he returned, Alyson was gone. The waiter didn't recognize him, and his table was occupied by strangers. Dazed, he rushed home. He was locked out of his house and a man claiming to be Alyson's husband demanded that he leave. His predicament became all too clear - every trace of his existence had been erased in the blink of an eye. Tom was on his own, homeless, angry and confused.
Someone was trying to break him, but Tom was strong and his belief in himself kept him steady in the battles ahead. He was determined to get his life back and find out why it had been taken from him. The struggle seemed to be centered around one of Tom's photographs, titled "Hidden Agenda." Everyone was trying to get their hands on the negatives of this photo. Each episode pitted Tom against "Them" - a group of mysterious adversaries bent on acquiring those negatives using any means necessary. To Tom, these negatives became a symbol and a focal point. If he caved in and handed them over, "They" would win.
"No matter how much you take away, everyone has something that belongs to them, to them and nobody else. Everyone has something and no matter how deep you dig, you'll never get it." - Tom Veil
During the time "Nowhere Man" was airing, an online group of fans calling themselves "Nowhere Maniacs" included Larry Hertzog, the creator of the series. He amused the gang with teasers about upcoming episodes, behind the scenes news, and always displayed an amazing amount of patience with the 'Clueheads' among us. Larry told an online newsgroup in December of 1995, "One of my favorite aspects of this experience has to do with 'clue-following.' Despite the gazillion times that I've said that NwM is not a clue show, people persist in digging and digging. I love that."
Hertzog loved the online interaction. Wrapping up a chat late one evening, he said, "Knowing that you folks are out there--not just so much as fans--but as people who hear the show, get the show and enjoy the show--is of great satisfaction. It may have, in fact, ruined me for doing anything else. My participation online lets me share my thoughts with you and my feelings. It lets me hear yours."
Hertzog, who became more involved with the fans than many show creators, was no stranger to television. Larry was the executive story editor on "Hart to Hart," and wrote three of the television movies for that series. He'd been involved with "SeaQuest DSV", "Walker, Texas Ranger", "J.J. Starbuck", "Hardcastle & McCormick" and one of his favorite projects, "Stingray."
Hertzog had wanted to do a series like this for some time. His love for the British series "The Prisoner" provided the seeds for the concept. The opportunity to do "Nowhere Man" was literally handed to him one day while he was telling Mike Sullivan, the president of UPN, how much he liked "The Prisoner." It turned out that Sullivan was also a big fan, and asked Larry if he would enjoy doing something like it. Larry was thrilled, of course, and that was that.
In 1999, bellaonline.com spoke with Hertzog via his Thinkpad during a break while at a "La Femme Nikita" fan convention held in Toronto--he was the executive consultant on that series.
He said, about casting Bruce Greenwood for the role, "We read a number of actors and, I'm sure, would have found one because we'd have had to. But when Bruce came in and read, the role was his. End of story. I agree--he was perfect for Tom. And a good guy to boot. Tom Veil is the result of stirring my psyche into Bruce's being. I can't imagine him now with either ingredient removed."
The series was filmed in Portland, Oregon, which provided lots of atmosphere in the form of rain and overcast days. Even though heading further north to Vancouver is a popular choice for many series, Hertzog said, "The U.S. worked better for the 'look' we wanted. Bruce preferred shooting here as did my producer, Peter Dunne. And Canada's so, well, Canadian."
Throughout the course of the series, cigars became a symbol of "Them," the mysterious people trying to break Tom. The cigars were usually seen having holes poked in them with pencils, and it was an image that fans picked up and used. Hertzog said, "As for the pencils and the cigars: Well, originally, it was intended only for the pilot. I wanted Tom at those crossroads, at the end, paranoid and unsure about everything. So I needed a device to push him in that direction; something that might suggest to him that he ought not take the ride that was offered. So I came up with Bellamy's cigar and pencil thing--a gesture that could be repeated by the man at the crossroads who stopped to offer Tom a ride."
Hertzog continued, "And, as these things go, it took on a life of its own. Lucie Salhany, then the captain at UPN, fell in love with it and wanted it to become a more series-wide, sort of secret handshake, for 'them.' And there you go. When UPN gathered its affiliates to announce the fall season, the man who spoke first, making introductions, pulled out a cigar and pierced it with a pencil. The affiliates, who had seen the pilot, broke into spontaneous applause. So much for my intentions."
One of the reasons Hertzog was so involved with the show was that he identified with the show's protagonist in profound ways. He said, "Can you write someone--create someone--that you don't identify with? I couldn't. NwM is, in its own twisted way, quite autobiographical. It definitely presents my world view and my values as to what really matters. For me, Tom's a hero, who I'd like to think I could be, and always continue to struggle to be. He's flawed, but perhaps I can even admire some of his flaws."
Though "Nowhere Man" was influenced by shows of the era such as "The X-Files," it varied from those shows in some important ways. Some described it as an "anthology" series, because although Tom Veil was the consistent protagonist, each episode presented a different set of circumstances for him to reclaim his identity.
Hertzog said, "NwM is also hard in that it could be quite enervating and disquieting, not something everyone wants to come home and watch at the end of a hard work day. I would find it entertaining--but then again,have you ever had dinner with me? It's a show that required involvement, both emotional and mental--perhaps more work than people want to engage in when turning on the television."
In the end, the struggle proved to be too much for the series, and 25 episodes were all UPN aired. But to the end, Hertzog expressed gratitude for the time he spent on the show. "NwM was a high-water mark in my television life. I'm extremely proud of it and very happy that I got the chance to do it," he said.