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April 26, 2016

Brain Storm

From its roots in a film that broke the barriers of the brain, CBS's Limitless is breaking out on its own.

Neil Turitz
  • Michael Parmelee/CBS
  • Michael Parmelee/CBS
  • Michael Parmelee/CBS

Successfully turning a movie into a series can be tricky.

But when the star takes a hand in the adaptation and helps launch the show, it can make a real difference.

Consider CBS's Limitless — based on the 2011 film starring Bradley Cooper — which was picked up for a second season this spring, before the first had wrapped. Cooper is an executive producer and makes semi-regular appearances as Senator Edward Morra, the same role he played in the movie.

In the pilot, Cooper's character connects with the show's lead, ne'er-do-well musician Brian Finch, played by Jake McDorman. When Brian is introduced to the wonder drug NZT, which allows him to use 100 percent of his brain, he ends up solving crimes with the FBI.

It's a connection that expands on the movie's plot while also branching out into a new one that lets the show stand on its own.

"I was a big fan of the visual style and panache of the film, and that drew me to the project," explains series executive producer and showrunner Craig Sweeny. "It seemed that the best way into the series was not to retell the movie or recast Bradley's part or follow him as a senator, but rather to weave a weekly event into the DNA of the series."

McDorman, who costarred with Cooper in the Oscar-nominated 2014 film American Sniper, was championed by Cooper as soon as he saw his name on a list   of actors being considered for the role. 

"I didn't believe that to be true at all," McDorman says with a laugh. "I mean, we had a lot of fun shooting that movie and Bradley was great, but it's not like I had his number. When they told me that he pitched me for the role, I was like,'Shut up!'"

Any stress he might have felt was eased by the fact that he was not taking on Cooper's role, but a new one.

"They are very different people," he explains. "If you feel restricted to the tone and the parameters of the movie, it's just going to be a regurgitation and it won't have a life of its own. We wanted — and Bradley was an integral part of this — to have a real sense of wish fulfillment with what NZT allows you to do, so it's got to be fun."

That is evident in every episode, as the show focuses on the journey of the sweet-natured Brian. Sweeny has big plans for the character, and for Morra's as well.

"Bradley wants to continue to be involved for more seasons," Sweeny says. "We have talked about what the end game is, and it's a very long play. But I do want to tell a climactic story about Brian that's separate from Eddie, because I want to make an argument for the show's independence."

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