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New Austin-filmed show goes back to high school circa 2000

Dale Roe
Actors and actresses protest during a taping for pilot of 'Generation Y' at the Capitol. The scene re-creates the 2000 election.

You might have heard that Season 5 of "Friday Night Lights," which films in and around Austin this summer, might be the show's last. There's been no official word from NBC, but it seems as if the fictional denizens of Dillon, Texas, might soon be saying their final farewells.

It's bad enough that Zach Gilford and Minka Kelly are long gone, but how much fun will it be to walk down to Jo's Hot Coffee on South Congress Avenue if there's not at least a remote chance of running into Kyle Chandler? OK, it'll still be fun, but you get my point.

Fear not, celebrity stalkers, if Noah Hawley gets his way, you'll have a new cast of characters to hound for autographs and pose with for impromptu cell phone photos. Hawley, the former "Bones" staff writer and creator of the New York cop drama "The Unusuals," which ran on ABC for 10 episodes in 2009, is in Austin shooting a new pilot for that network. And if it gets picked up, it'll film here, too.

Hawley's hour-long drama, "Generation Y," sports a large ensemble cast and has plenty of flashbacks, but the premise couldn't be farther from that other time-tripping ABC property, "Lost." And the show's not much like "Friday Night Lights," either, despite a recent casting call for football players, cheerleaders and marching band members. Here's the premise: A documentary crew follows members of an Austin high school's senior class in the year 2000. Ten years later, that crew returns to see what became of those students.

"It's kind of a character mystery," Hawley explains. "We meet a kid who's an overachiever in high school, and then when you see him at 28 he's dropped out and he's a beach bum. We use the documentary format to figure out what happened, you know?"

If it seems odd that there's already a great deal of nostalgia for the '90s, Hawley explained why it shouldn't. "Here it was, the year 2000. You had a huge budget surplus, you had relative world peace and your biggest political crisis was an extramarital affair in the White House," he said. "So here we are 10 years later and it's just a sea change. The last 10 years have been pretty monumental."

Hawley has assembled an able cast, including Daniella Alonso ("One Tree Hill," "Friday Night Lights"); Keir O'Donnell (the odd brother from "Wedding Crashers"); and Austin's own Mehcad Brooks (late of "True Blood" and blissfully free from canceled "The Deep End," Brooks is the son of American-Statesman editorial writer Alberta Phillips) to play the same characters in both time periods.

"I thought about casting two actors for each role, but then I just thought, you know, it's really difficult when you have nine characters and you're trying to introduce them to people and every time you switch time periods it's a different actor," Hawley said, referring to the potential series as a real actors' showcase. "I think it's too confusing."

Listening to Hawley extol the virtues of Austin, it seems as if the setting might be "Generation Y's" de facto 10th lead character. Even location scouting during the great Austin blizzard of 2010 in February and filming during SXSW didn't dampen the New York native's praise for our city. Hawley's wife is from the area, so he's spent plenty of non-snowy, non-SXSW time here. And he said that although filming in Austin was a bit more expensive than some of his other options, it wasn't hard to persuade the bean counters to shoot here.

"I wanted to choose a place that was not L.A. or New York, that felt like it had a real cultural life to it," Hawley said, explaining why he set the pilot here. "It needed to be someplace ... that you're going to want to come back to after college. And someplace where if you have smart, creative, ambitious people and they want to make their mark on the world, you know, you have to believe that it's a place that they would go, and Austin certainly feels like that place to me."

The company has filmed at locations all over town, including the Driskill Hotel and a limestone quarry in North Austin that stood in for a military site that served as the backdrop for what Hawley called "Mehcad's big day." On Monday, the cast and crew were shooting on the Capitol grounds — a flashback protest scene taking place during the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Hawley and company will insert these scenes, "Forrest Gump"-style, into actual news footage from the time period.

"I did my last show in New York, and I think that any time you can get out of Hollywood to make this stuff you just find so much more authenticity," Hawley said. "There are great locations and people in Austin and great depth of talent in the film community in general. This is my opportunity to showcase the city."

Show cast

  • Anne Son as Caroline Chung
  • Julian Morris as Anders Holt
  • Kelli Garner as Dawn Barbuso
  • Jaime King as Jacqueline Fox
  • Sebastian Sozzi as The Falcon
  • Daniella Alonso as Brenda Serrano
  • Keir O'Donnell as Kenneth Finley
  • Michael Stahl-David as Steven Foster
  • Mehcad Brooks as Rolly Marks

Tweets from filming ‘Generation Y'

Noah Hawley is a successful screenwriter and novelist, but his latest literary venue is Twitter (@noahhawley). Here are selected tweets the ‘Generation Y' creator has posted during the pilot-making process:

  • 2:22 p.m. Jan. 20: Just got the call ABC is picking up my pilot Generation Y. We're back, baby.
  • 9:27 p.m. Jan. 28: Confirmed today that we'll be shooting the pilot in Austin in March. So glad we actually get to shoot the show where it's set.
  • 11:30 p.m. Feb. 2: I can now announce that Craig Gillespie, director of the fabulous Lars and the Real Girl, has signed on to direct the Generation Y pilot.
  • 7:05 p.m. Feb. 22: Getting ready for tomorrow's freak snowstorm in Texas. Should make the location scout interesting.
  • 5:03 p.m. March 2: I can also now officially announce that Mehcad Brooks has joined the cast of Generation Y. Go us.
  • 10:27 a.m. March 3: The Generation Y cast arrives in Austin today. 10 days and counting to start of production.
  • 11:59 a.m. March 10: Big tech scout today. We hit all our locations and talk about our technical needs. Fifteen people in a van. What's not to love?
  • 5:28 p.m. March 19: Explosion going live in 5. I'll let u know how it goes.
  • 5:50 p.m. March 19: Explosion = awesome.

Remember the year 2000?

The writers of ‘Generation Y' have a pretty good grasp of what happened 10 years ago. Do you? See if you can answer the following five questions about year 2000 events:

1. The year 2000 was the first century leap-year since:

  • a.) 1600
  • b.) 1700
  • c.) 1800
  • d.) 1900

2. Who won Super Bowl XXXIV?

  • a.) Tennessee Titans
  • b.) St. Louis Rams
  • c.) Minnesota Vikings
  • d.) Dallas Cowboys

3. The last original strip of which comic was published?

  • a.) Bloom County
  • b.) Peanuts
  • c.) Hagar the Horrible
  • d.) Hagar the Mildly Unlikeable

4. The 2000 Summer Olympics are held in:

  • a.) Sydney
  • b.) Atlanta
  • c.) Barcelona
  • d.) Athens

5. Which of the following did not take place in the year 2000?

  • a.) The first resident crew enters the International Space Station
  • b.) The Texas 7 escape from their prison unit in Kenedy and start a crime spree
  • c.) U.S. retail giant Montgomery Ward announces it is going out of business after 128 years
  • d.) Dale Earnhardt wins the Daytona 500 on his 20th attempt

Answers: 1-A; 2-B; 3-B; 4-A; 5-D