In New York City, the notion of selling your soul to get into a magnificent building is not an unfamiliar one. Eternity in hell for a classic six on Riverside Drive with a view of the Hudson? Deal!
But what might stretch credulity for viewers of the new ABC series "666 Park Avenue," which begins Sunday evening and features an evil building and a devilish owner, is the idea that in addition to getting an apartment for your soul, you might also get your dearest dream -- say, seeing your play produced on Broadway. It's like giving someone an apartment in the Dakota and a Lamborghini. Are the forces of evil out of touch with Manhattan real estate or what?
David Wilcox, the creator of the show, grew up in Northern Virginia, went to college in Chicago and lives in Los Angeles (Hey, we're just saying). He spoke to us from his L.A. offices about the truly rotten (and fictional) building. He also told us that while the Manhattan landmark building the Ansonia was used for the exterior shots, there was nothing scary going on there (that he was aware of).
The name of your show is the address of the building. Are we to understand that the building is the main character?
Let me clarify that: The name of the show is not the address of the building. The address of the building, which we call the Drake, is 999 Park Avenue. I don't believe anyone would live at an address called 666 Park Avenue when strange, unusual things started to happen.
I'm not into the occult. What is the significance of 666?
In the pop culture universe of network TV, it's a shorthand for the devil, silly stuff. The numbers in Greek and Hebrew writing were also used in place of letters in the time of the Bible. It was also a code name for Emperor Nero. From a nonreligious, nontheological point of view, it was a way of writing about him that was almost protest.
The Ansonia is a West Side building. Why did you set the story on the East Side?
I'm sure New Yorkers everywhere will be offended that we transplanted a West Side building to the East Side, but for us, Park Avenue is an important part of the show, it speaks to luxury, it speaks to power. We also didn't really see anything on the Upper East Side.
I know you don't want to give away too much of the plot, but can you give us an example of something rotten the building does? I remember something rotten the elevator did. (Spoiler alert: Let's just say an apartment in the Drake became available.)
I'll tell you something weird about that whole elevator business. Two or three weeks after I wrote it, there was a terrible accident at an advertising agency in Manhattan, and a woman was trapped in an elevator and it killed her. It was a very strange coincidence. I think if there is one direct expression of the building, it sort of is the elevator, but there are also doors that lead to different times and places, hallways that never end.
The idea is, we are doing psychological horror. We don't do gore. We are taking our cues from the masters of psychological horror, from Hitchcock to De Palma to Polanski. We shot the pilot in the lobby of the Ansonia. The appeal for us -- and we looked at a lot of different buildings -- what we were looking for was something very specific. In the simplest terms, it was the sort of symmetry Kubrick used in "The Shining" to really kind of unsettle the audience.
I stayed at the hotel on Mount Hood that they used for the exterior of "The Shining." Their mattresses were terrifying.
"The Shining" was a huge influence in which you can feel the presence of a building.
That basement with the dragon on the floor is pretty scary.
That basement is the basement of a church way uptown in Washington Heights. We just dressed it to be what we imagined a creepy basement to be. Dragons were traditionally used synonymously with the devil, so it was about finding something in the realm of the supernatural without being so on the nose.
Have you ever lived in a malevolent building?
When I moved to Los Angeles, I lived in an older building with lots of problems. But I'll tell you a better story. When we moved into our writers' offices -- we are in a fairly new, modern building -- a friend of mine who is a writer who has been doing a lot of work with the Los Angeles police told me there had been a murder in the garage of my building. I did a little bit of research and the poor man who was murdered was a victim of a situation not unlike the kinds of stories we are telling in the show. He was a victim of a modern-day Gavin Doran. Certain life insurance things were involved. The person who killed him certainly came out ahead.
And at the Ansonia, you're riding into all kinds of history: the first architect ended up in a mental hospital. And I heard a famous ghost story from the manager of the premises, that in fact some people have seen a couple from the 1920s on the elevator in period clothes.
Did the manager claim to have seen them?
The premiere of "666 Park Avenue" will be Sunday, Sept. 30, on ABC, at 10 p.m.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.