They co-exist among the public, but they’re not your average citizens. They work hard like everyone else, but their job isn’t what anyone would consider typical. Working in secret, they use technology for a simple yet unbelievable purpose: to make people disappear, at least in the virtual world. They’re called skip makers, and they actively erase every track of people whose digital history makes them a target of violent retribution from their scorned enemies.

That dangerous mission is carried out by Frank Briggs (Dax Richardson) in season 1 of the award-winning thriller HERRINGS, and it results in as many electronic vanishings as it does real life consequences for his clientele. While season 2 keeps its eye on the discrete and mysterious world of skip making, the series’ total storyline is powerfully upended by the unexplained disappearance of Frank himself.

Suddenly assuming Frank’s duties in HERRINGS’ second season is the supposedly corrupt private eye Vincent Ranieri (played by David Ogrodowski). Though his relationship with Frank in season 1 was hardly cordial, Vincent ends up taking over Frank’s highly concealed skip-making operation after the latter’s sudden disappearance.

L-R, from background: HERRINGS co-stars Shawn Shillingford, Samantha Simpson, and David Ogrodowski.

L-R, from background: HERRINGS co-stars Shawn Shillingford, Samantha Simpson, and David Ogrodowski.

As Vincent attempts to assist new clients who want to be wiped from cyberspace, two figures from Frank’s past continue to cause problems for him in the present: the driven yet ethically challenged newspaper reporter Darby Shaffer (played by Samantha Simpson), and Milo Gephardt (played by Dave Polgar in season 1, and Shawn Shillingford in season 2), a longtime friend of Frank who now faces a terrifying emotional crisis caused by his suspicious behavior.

By making HERRINGS, the series’ creator, Keith Chamberlain, fused his love of character-based dramas with his enthusiasm for digital storytelling. “I’ve always been a fan of those slow-burn shows that deal with characters rather than spectacle and don’t adhere to conventional storytelling,” he says. “My biggest influence is THE WIRE, but it was seeing other web series like THE PEPPER PROJECT, MONEY & VIOLENCE and UNDERGROUND KINGS that made me a believer in the web series format.”

Like THE WIRE, HERRINGS’ drama isn’t generated by life-or-death shootouts or exciting fisticuffs, but by the interpersonal conflicts and desires of people who want to serve themselves as much as they want to serve others. Their struggles are also the same problems that real people deal with every day.

“First and foremost, HERRINGS is based in reality. There’s no flashy gun battles, high speed car chases or over-the-top action; no bells and whistles. HERRINGS tackles complicated and timely issues like racial and gender discrimination, the #MeToo movement, opioid addiction, (and) the state of modern journalism in the digital era, all in a realistic and straightforward manner. The characters in HERRINGS are complex individuals who can garner your sympathy at one moment and your scorn the next, just like in real life.”

Just as HERRINGS compliments its storytelling with explorations of important issues in the news, the series’ central concept was inspired by a story that examined a very real yet highly concealed part of modern life. “About four years ago, I came across an article in Wired Magazine about a skip tracer who became a skip maker by using the internet to hide his clients’ digital footprint and thought it would make a great series,” recalls Chamberlain. “However, that’s where the similarity ends. HERRINGS is its own thing.”

Dax Richardson starred as the mysterious skip maker Frank Briggs in season 1 of HERRINGS.

Dax Richardson starred as the mysterious skip maker Frank Briggs in season 1 of HERRINGS.

In a most unique situation for a web series’ production, HERRINGS’ second season started without both its lead protagonist, and the very actor who played him, Dax Richardson. Facing the loss of the award-winning performer (Best Actor in a Drama, 2017 WWA Web Series & Short Film Competition) from his cast, Chamberlain struggled to find a way forward for the series when Richardson departed.

“Losing an actor of Dax’s caliber hurt and recasting was a consideration, albeit a very brief consideration. Regardless, the loss of Frank put me in a real bind as he was going to be more connected to characters from season 1 such as Janice (Nancy Sokerka), Neil (the seamy defense lawyer played by Gene Connelly) and Val (Darby’s rambunctious sister, played by Carrie Leigh Snodgrass),” remembers Chamberlain.

Richardson’s exit also altered Chamberlain’s plans for one of HERRINGS’ newest characters. “…The character of Ryan (Colleen Benedict) from (the first episode of season 2) was originally created to be Frank’s new romantic interest. So with Dax gone, all that went completely out the window to the point where I was wondering if I should even do a second season.”

Unbelievably, Chamberlain didn’t have to hold a casting call to find Richardson’s replacement.  “…Not too long after Dax’s departure, one of the producers from the show and I were driving to a networking party and we started talking about what to do about HERRINGS. Out of nowhere, he expressed how much he liked David Ogrodowski and suggested his character, Vince, become the lead.”

Though Chamberlain showed some resistance to making the prejudiced and morally questionable Vince the new center of HERRINGS’ second season, Chamberlain benefitted from the unexpected challenge of restructuring the show around Ogrodowski’s character. While Chamberlain praises the work of his series’ former leading man, though, he notes that neither Richardson nor HERRINGS’ fans would have enjoyed Frank’s limited character arc.

“The truth is, losing the character of Frank actually helped me creatively with season 2 as I really didn’t have as strong a handle on that character and his storyline as I did Milo and Darby,” comments Chamberlain. “That’s not a knock against Dax Richardson’s performance because the guy clearly knocked it out the park in season 1 and he got the award and nominations to prove it, but I didn’t want Frank to lose or look bad, ever, and clearly that’s only going get you so far before the audience and the actor playing him gets bored.”

Vince’s shortcomings are still evident in season 2 of HERRINGS, but Chamberlain assures viewers that they’ll ultimately discover the method – or methods – to his madness. “You’ll understand more about him (Vince) as this season progresses, but fear not, I’m not going to turn him into Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz’s aggressive cop character from the acclaimed ’90s police drama NYPD BLUE). He’s still an asshole but you’ll get a better understanding as to what makes him tick.”

HERRINGS' second season is led by David Ogrodowski, who plays the rough-edged detective turned skip maker Vincent Ranieri.

HERRINGS’ second season is led by David Ogrodowski, who plays the hardened detective-turned skip maker Vincent Ranieri.

As season 2 wraps up its six episode arc, its penultimate installment offers a deeper look at Vince’s inner workings. “I can’t give too much away but (the fifth episode of HERRINGS’ second season) will give everyone a better understanding of where Vince is coming from and it will make viewers reevaluate the Vince they met in season 1,” Chamberlain adds.

In HERRINGS, Vince’s emotional and operational approaches to his work are clearly different from those of Frank’s in the show’s first six episodes. Yet, viewers will also see the advantages of those stylistic differences during season 2. “While Vince is not as slick as Frank was/is, and he’s definitely a lot more rough around the edges, that actually might serve him better in the long run,” says Chamberlain. “Plus, Vince’s way of dealing with issues is a lot more calculating than Frank, and as you’ll discover, a lot more brutal.”

Creatively, it was also THE WIRE that provided Chamberlain with a roadmap for organizing how Vince would co-exist with HERRINGS’ other characters during its second season. “…One of the coolest aspects of that show (THE WIRE) was even though the stories were all connected, not every character interacted with each other or even needed to to push the story forward. So I took my cue from that show, and whereas Frank was intended to interact with each character, Vince is a more tangential character and he doesn’t need to be personally involved with every character to propel the overall story.”

While story changes were necessary for HERRINGS to accommodate its new lead character in season 2, Chamberlain was forced to reduce a key storyline from season 1. “…I would have to say it was Milo’s storyline that suffered the most as that character was more intertwined with Frank than Darby, and as a result about 80% of the intended story for Milo, Isabelle (Milo’s girlfriend, played by Lauren Ojeda) and (Thom) Kinkaid (a ruthless drug cop played by Jim Curtin) was jettisoned from season 2, but I was still able to move the needle on these characters with the remaining 20% and I hope to conclude their story in season 3.”

Although Chamberlain has reconnected much of HERRINGS’ season 1 characters for season 2, his plans for Frank are still up in the air. “Now in regards to the elephant in the room and Frank’s ultimate fate, I wasn’t sure what to do about it then, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still not,” he says.

L-R: HERRINGS co-stars Samantha Simpson, Kyasia M. Thomas and Nancy Sokerka.

L-R: HERRINGS co-stars Samantha Simpson, Kyasia M. Thomas and Nancy Sokerka.

In addition to Vince’s exploits, another major storyline of HERRINGS’ second season probes how digital journalism can negatively affect innocent people through inaccurate reporting. Darby’s latest story results in outcry from Philadelphia’s African-American community, and from civil rights activist Zaykiah Burch (Kyasia M. Thomas).

Meanwhile, the scandal drives a wedge between Darby and her older colleague/mentor, Janice Terruso (Sokerka). Like many of HERRINGS’ intersecting storylines, this one also dramatizes real life issues.

“… While I knew there was would be discord between Darby and Janice, I didn’t want it to be because of a man,” comments Chamberlain. “So, when the story about (actor/comedian) Aziz Ansari broke, which led to the very public dust-up between (journalists) Katie Way and Ashleigh Banfield, as well as the controversial arrest of two black men arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks, I saw an opportunity to tackle a subject that dealt how women of two different generations view, race, feminism and journalism in the modern era.”

Amid dozens of script adjustments and casting changes pre-season 2, the cast of HERRINGS easily adjusted to what would have been an overwhelmingly difficult situation for less seasoned actors. However, since cast turnover is a normal occurrence for shows like HERRINGS, and because Chamberlain’s ensemble has been well-accustomed to such turnover in the past, the show’s production never got out of sync.

“To be honest, many web series lose actors between seasons, whether it be due to marriage, employment, having children, relocating or getting out of the business altogether,” Chamberlain remarks. “My cast is pretty experienced in both stage and screen and they know this is all a part of the business. It helps that we kept in touch with other after season 1 wrapped, and everyone thinks the world of David Ogrodowski, so the transition was actually easier than I thought it would be.”

HERRINGS’ increased budget, extensive shooting schedule and expanded crew made the series’ second season look and sound even better than its first. Yet, the biggest impact of those changes was felt by the show’s cast and creator.

L-R: HERRINGS co-star David Ogrodowski, series creator Keith Chamberlain, and co-stars Samantha Simpson and Shawn Shillingford.

L-R: HERRINGS co-star David Ogrodowski, series creator Keith Chamberlain, and co-stars Samantha Simpson and Shawn Shillingford.

“Another key reason for the improved quality of the show is that both the actors and myself are a lot more comfortable in our respective roles since season 1. As much I loved making season 2, I’m more proud of what we accomplished in season 1, (and) this almost (feels) like a new show.”

As HERRINGS’ blend of intriguing characters and social commentary has led to as many awards for the show as it has audiences, Chamberlain notes how others have seen the similarities between his series and the one that proved so influential to him.

The two best compliments I’ve gotten so far about HERRINGS is that it reminded them of THE WIRE, and one of those compliments came from a community activist in Baltimore who worked on that show. If you’re a fan of that show or (of) grounded realistic thrillers, this is the show for you.”

(NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning of HERRINGS, Chamberlain says: “By the time of this (article’s) posting, the entire second season will be closed-captioned and captions for the first season will be made available (in) February 2018.”)




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