Cyphers is a refreshing, high-tech twist on the ensemble criminal ...

By Leo Butler,2014-12-03 15:23
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Cyphers is a refreshing, high-tech twist on the ensemble criminal ...

    W. Goldman

    Rev 1.6


    CBS/Paramount Television

    in association with

    Temple Hill Entertainment


    America’s finest?


    This idea is based on the real-world team of computer hackers pressed into service by the United States government to combat cyber-terrorism and other computer-based crimes. With its DNA rooted in such properties as Die Hard 4,

    Enemy of the State, Numbers, Hackers, Sneakers, Ocean‟s 11 and Catch Me if

    You Can, Cyphers is a refreshing, high-tech twist on the ensemble criminal procedural drama.

Playing on the theme it takes a criminal to catch a criminal, Cyphers takes a Dirty

    Dozen approach as it follows the investigative efforts of a team of young, brilliant computer hackers who have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Now under conditional discharge to the US government, they have been recruited as members of the “Cyber Corps,” a newly formed team loaned out to various agencies such as the NSA, CIA, DIA, FBI, etc. when their own computer experts aren’t up to the task. In a time when the rules - and the crimes themselves - are changing by the nanosecond, our team of conscripts find themselves utilizing their razor sharp skill set as they fight a continually evolving borderless war on the cyber frontier.


-Kyle Thereaux (early-twenties). HANDLE: Morpheus

    “You‟re telling me he got his name from „The Matrix‟ character?”

    “Not at all. I‟m telling you The Matrix character got his name from him.”

    “Are you kidding? How old was this kid when that movie came out?”


Every story needs a character to introduce us into their world - for us, it’s Morpheus.

    Morpheus is an excellent "general purpose" hacker who specializes in extremely effective and sought-after code writing. Revered in the online/hacker community because, as the legend goes, be it Russian, Chinese, American, corporate or private, there is no system he has not been able to hack into. Adding to his myth is the fact he’s a complete ghost. Every major government in the world has used their best

    computer experts to track him down; none have succeeded.

    Morpheus’ codes are the thing of legend: some of the most potent ever written, with the power to bring entire country's systems offline. Russia used one of Morpheus’ programs to wage the very first “Cyber War” with Estonia, resulting in a shut down of nearly every computer in the country, and losses into the billions of dollars. It’s rumored China is studying the Russian attack to wage one of their own.

    When the United States finds itself under several high profile cyber attacks, and several fingers point to Morpheus, the Cyber Corps team is tasked with tracking him down in the real world. After a series of false leads and elaborate misdirects, Morpheus is finally caught, and given the same choice all the other team members have been given: either join Cyber Corps, or spend the rest of his life in federal prison.

    Working on his own in the course of our pilot, Morpheus has discovered a bigger threat to the U.S. that scares even him - and knows he’s probably the only one who

    can help. When he’s finally “caught” Morpheus surprisingly doesn’t even blink, in fact, it even appears like he’s excited by the opportunity to work with “the most powerful government with the most powerful computers on Earth.” While the

    Cyber Corps team leader Jacob, and the other “adults” that populate this world seem to buy into it, the three other team members suspect he’s up to something big.

    As the series unfolds, Morpheus will engage in a continual cat-and-mouse game with Jacob - especially as he “unionizes” the team and negotiates better working conditions, privileges, etc. In time, both Morpheus and Jacob develop a growing suspicion for one another. Truth be told, nothing about Morpheus is what it seems - ostensibly, he appears to be like Christian Slater’s “Hard Harry” character from Pump Up The Volume: bold and brazen in the sea of anonymity… but he’s a little more shy and socially awkward in real life. He has a slightly twisted/tortured “Batman-like” soul, perhaps due to lengthy periods of social isolation, but is re-

    vitalized by becoming a part of a team that prompts him to take steps to come out of his shell.

    We’ll also notice the faint spark of chemistry between him and Gaia, which isn’t at all lost on Abdi, already irked by the reverence the others have for Morpheus and his legendary skill set.

    Very little is known about Morpheus’ family life, all attempts to unearth even the most minute detail about “Kyle Devereaux’s” background have come up blank.

-Abdi Moosa (23). HANDLE: Vegas

    One of the three already established members of the team. Vegas takes every basement dwelling, pizza eating, Mountain Dew swilling, action-figure collecting cliché about hackers, and flips them inside out. Think Han Solo. He’s called

    Vegas as that’s the exact reason he's a member of Cyber Corps - among his myriad


    hacks into online gaming, he discovered an algorithm in an online poker website that allowed him to accurately predict the outcome of every seventh hand.

    While Vegas’ expert hacks in online gaming made him incredibly wealthy, his efforts didn't go unnoticed. Turned out the poker site was owned by members of a New York based Russian organized crime ring, and he earned himself a nice little bounty on his head for his efforts. Needless to say, Vegas didn’t put up a lot of resistance when he was “recruited” into the Corps, as he needed the government’s protection to save his own ass…

    …But there’s a deeper layer here: Vegas is also Muslim. And while he won’t outwardly admit it, he’s driven by a desire to shatter stereotypes. He’s keenly aware that fighting terrorism (electronic or otherwise) helps break some pre-conceived notions about what is in the heart of people who look like him. He comes from a middle-class family in suburban Washington D.C., and is the youngest of five siblings. He feels respect and loyalty are earned, not given, as evidenced in his attitude when Morpheus is recruited to join the team.

    Also, think of him as hip and cool with a bombastic charm the ladies seem to love.*

-Jocasta “Cass” DiLaurentis (22). HANDLE: Gaia

*except this lady:

    Neck-snappingly beautiful. You know how some girls could stop traffic? Gaia could stop time. Think a young Angelina Jolie in Hackers. Gaia’s been found

    guilty of not just one, but a laundry list of hacks - all centered around her tree-hugging, environmentalist ideology. Her computer crimes have led to the overall increase in gas prices, she has re-routed oil tankers all around the world, broken into an untold number of bank computers to "rob from the rich and give to the poor." Gaia was conscripted into the Cyber Corps when she was caught stealing 3 billion from Citibank to purchase the single largest privately held portion of the rain forest.

    Ironically, her most infamous hack had nothing to do with her granola ideals: she shut down all of NYC for three days when she discovered her boyfriend cheating on her in the city, causing the most famous blackout in history.

    Unflappable in the face of even the most daunting challenge, Gaia prides herself on always being in control of her environment - even when she isn’t.

-David “D.J.” Wendel (18). HANDLE: Apocalypse or “Apoc”

Despite his awkward disposition and lanky frame, he’s the youngest, and most

    dangerous member of our team. Given the company he’s in, calling him “The Brain” says a hell of a lot. Think DJ Qualls in The Core, Anthony Anderson in


Transformers or Kevin Smith in Live Free or Die Hard. Apocalypse’s hack is so

    severe/dangerous, we're only given hints at its nature throughout the pilot, and it remains a constant source of mystery to the other members of the team.

    An animated fan boy with a propensity to retreat into fantasy, he likes to think of the Cyber Corps as a quasi group of superheroes for a new millennium. His love of comic book culture inspired him to nickname the team “The Suicide Squad” after the DC comic book series of the same name.

    D.J. sees a solution to everything, no matter how unconventional or outside the box it may be. While his social awkwardness is a continual source of comedy, it can also create many untold problems - all leading him to challenge himself, mature and come into his own. While other males find their flirtations with Gaia rebuked, DJ shares a special bond with her.

     -Jacob Helitzer (40’s). HANDLE: Jacob*

*Jacob’s a little behind the times on this whole “online” thing.

    For a variety of reasons we’ll discover as the show progresses, Jacob’s been appointed by the White House and Department of Defense to head up the newly formed Cyber Corps program. In addition to fielding all the assignments coming in from the various government agencies, Jacob serves as the father figure / shepherd / parole officer to the team. He supervises everything from where they live, what they eat, where they go, etc. Jacob finds his authority challenged following Morpheus’ arrival, as the young hacker helps the team realize their mutually beneficial relationship with the government, as well as the high-level of importance they carry as a national asset.

    He insists on professionalism and high standards at all times and rarely gets it. Major stress factors come from his role as the bureaucratic middleman; he’s continually pushed and pulled in several directions. He’s the liaison between the

    kids and the government who represents the very “establishment” they formally fought so hard against. Ya’ gotta’ feel for him. He’s an in-over-his-head dinosaur

    among the edgiest, smartest kids in the world.

    Jacob was chosen directly by the Secretary of Defense not because he has a particularly high aptitude for computers, but he previously shepherded a team of conscripts in the past on a top-secret assignment. While that team’s previous

    mission was considered a success, unfortunately it resulted in the deaths of three of the four members. Jacob keeps this information secret from his new team, while continuing to battle the ghosts of the incident and placing secret blame on himself.

    Because of the incident with another team in his past, Jacob is a rigorous proponent of the physical training he puts our guys through. While they don’t know his motivations for being such a hard-ass about all the physical conditioning, weapons


training, self-defense classes and more - they’ll come to realize he’s right in

    preparing them for any situation they find themselves in. He needs them to be as skilled on the trigger as they are on the keyboard.

    With his limited expertise in the cyber frontier, Jacob secretly finds himself in awe of the skill set he’s in charge of. Despite the fact he may not have the same technical expertise as our kids, he certainly has the maturity and ability to navigate the "adult world" of responsibility and government bureaucracy.

Playing up our covert world and “layers of the onion” theme, we’ll hint at the

    possibility that Jacob may have his own furtive agenda (i.e. Alias, or the Tom

    Hanks’ FBI agent role in Catch Me if You Can) - and may, or may not, be acting on

    his own. Jacob is definitely tethered to our mythology cyber-plot/mega-crime story arc. While we won’t learn exactly *all* the details of the “big mystery”/mythology in the pilot, we will drop clues that hint at Jacob being a lot more then a government issued babysitter:

    A major part of the mythology/back story of our show involves a major cyber-terrorist event around the year 2000. What we won’t outright reveal in the pilot is this: while the story sold to the American public, and the world at large was that there was no real threat from the Y2K bug, it turns out nothing could have beeen further from the truth. Caught completely off guard with their lack of technical knowledge, the President was forced to make an unprecedented deal with a mysterious black-hat hacker who was able to somehow prevent Y2K from pretty much bringing about the end of the world. Since it’s imperative no one can ever find out the U.S. was held hostage and caved to criminal demands, part of the deal was that the hacker must NEVER reveal he was paid off.

    In the time following the incident, the Secretary of Defense and President came to realize the computer divisions of the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. were too mired down in their own bureaucracy like all the other government agencies. That the only to really catch and prevent future attacks was to form a covert squad that could operate outside the system - a sort of “spec-ops” team for computer warfare. And

    the best possible people for the job were hackers themselves.

Jacob’s been tasked with a secret mission as well: FIND those responsible for the

    Y2K attack, and keep the details to himself at all costs. The United States cannot risk is ever getting out that they did negotiate with terrorists. Further still, he, and only he, knows that because of their criminal history, our conscripts have been chosen because they’re expendable (especially to his larger, secret mission) - but in

    time our team will prove to be the very opposite.

    Jacob also possesses knowledge that Morpheus is also connected to the attack, and may even know who the cyber terrorist is.

Jonathan Anderson (fifties)


    The Secretary of Defense who works directly with the President at the White House. He has an office there as well as the Pentagon where he and Jacob take meetings. He’s personally responsible for the formation of the Cyber Corps after the still

    secret Y2K attack. Politically aware and well read, he’s very matter of fact, strict, professional. Guarded, and reveals very little about himself to the others.

Unknown. HANDLE: Thaddeus

Very little is know about Thaddeus - including if that’s even his real handle, or just

    a name the government gave him during during the Y2K attack. His age, race, sex, etc. are a constant mystery, as are any previous hacks he may have been involved in. Is rumored to have written a legendary doomsday code called “Jabberwocky.”

To the world at large, he’s much more of a myth than reality.

Recurring Cast

    …Will include Cyber Corps support staff, Abdi’s family as they’re local to Washington D.C., FBI “strike team” members who assist our guys in the field,

    Senior Brass at the Pentagon, etc.

     Story Engine:

Following the establishment of our world in the series pilot, Cyphers will segue into

    a week-to-week pattern with three main goals:


    Discover. Identify. Track. Chase. Capture.

The teaser of each episode will be the discovery of the crime, and begin with the

    real world affects of this week’s incident: i.e., a corporate CEO discovers his company’s accounts are being held for ransom; a girl on a internet date escapes

    death from a cyber serial killer; an entire city is held hostage as the power grid is shut down; a high-tech version of the Welles original War of the Worlds broadcast

    plays out on TV; a billion dollar communications satellite is hijacked and sent crashing into the ocean. Through a unique process shot, we show how all these crimes are born: they all tie into an electronic based computer crime.

    When we return from the teaser, we’ll establish which government agency the crime is assigned to, and how they call in/recruit our team to investigate. After possible raids, establishment of a crime scene, etc., Cyber Corps members are brought in to do forensics on all the computers, a la CSI.

Act I will traditionally deal with the investigation and identifying the nature of the


crime, Act II will handle the tracking of the hacker(s) responsible, usually with a

    mid-point twist/misdirect, Act III will take on the physical chase of the suspect

    with a combination of team “working together” out-in-the-field/behind-the-

    keyboard action, while Act IV finishes with the capture and perhaps escape of the


    It's imperative that we see the real world consequences of these computer crimes. In and of themselves, computers aren’t sexy. While yes, these people use computers as components OF their work, Cyphers isn’t a show about people

    click-clacking behind a keyboard for 44 minutes. It's especially important that we find a way to make the show as kinetic as possible. In the same way CSI made crime scenes and the science interesting visually, we need to SEE the damage cyber-terror can inflict (i.e. astronauts running out of air on the space station). This will help bring more eye candy to the screen, and of course make the show more dynamic.


    Our season long story arc, and how it ties into the show’s themes.

    Starting with the pilot, we’ll continue to build on the several themes listed below as we tie them into a season long investigation of possible information leaks, double agents, espionage and more. Given everyone’s morally ambiguous

    histories, part of the fun will be in trying to decipher just who’s side anyone is really on. The pilot will also establish part of our season mythology that Jacob, the Secretary of Defense, and even the President all share a secret they have to protect at all costs.


    Layers of the onion - In keeping with the anonymous, rabbit hole nature of the internet itself, Cyphers will offer a myriad twists and turns, new discoveries, and shifting allegiances that lead to ever deepening mysteries. No one can ever be 100 % sure who’s side anyone is on, and in fact some characters may not even be who they say they are, with the added possibility for double agents, counter-cyber-espionage, and the like.

    Disposable heroes - While Jacob may secretly exhibit a little respect for the team, it’s quite clear that he, and others in the government, view them as disposable heroes. They’re on the team because they “chose” that option over jail. Many afford them little respect as they see them as nothing more than “thieves with

    laptops.” There are no fancy cars, flash clothes, or six-figure salaries. The only

    “perk” our guys have is that they’re not behind bars. As the series unfolds, they’ll continue to earn more freedoms, prove themselves as an asset by saving lives and solving crimes, and hopefully gain respect from those who didn’t afford it to them before.


The more we rely on technology, the more we become enslaved to it - Cyphers

    will highlight the dangers of just how reliant we are on modern technology, and what would happen if the world really were to ever go offline. In the soul deadening digital age of the internet, iPhones, iPods, “Crackberries,” email, Wi-Fi,

    IM, HD - combined with media saturation and terrorism angst pushing us further into social isolation - are we forgetting what it means to be human?

    Coming of age - Many situations will force our anti-establishment kids to become responsible adults, or at the very least plant the seeds for the next step in their emotional evolution. We’ll examine the line between rebellious youth and responsible adults; the differences between taking the “right” course of action vs. the fun, selfish and possibly “sexier” course of action.

    Unlike soldiers who already possess the physical components of their jobs when they’re recruited into special teams such as the SEALs, our group is chosen not just for their computer expertise first, but also for their potential to be trained as true field agents. Based on his past experience, Jacob knows there WILL be real physical dangers for them, so he sees that they begin training how to handle themselves immediately. Our guys begrudgingly refer to it as “gym class.”

It takes a criminal to catch a criminal - In the same way The Dirty Dozen featured

    a group of criminals forced to become soldiers, Cyphers aims to do the same with

    a group of conscripts pressed into government service. The investigators on CSI and similar shows are all, by in large, responsible adults - our show takes a look at what happens when they’re not. What happens when the “team of investigators” common on other procedurals are younger, reckless, and beholden to their own subversive code? The members of Cyber Corps will continually skirt the edge of criminal behavior in the name of the greater good. We’ll also explore the conflict

    between morals and skill; that those with the best morals aren't necessarily the best hackers, and vice versa.

    Office politics - The power plays between the CIA, NSA, FBI, and every other organization that is connected to Cyber-Corp’s “Red-phone” become the political

    intrigue that is reported on the front page of The NY Times. Jacob’s job is in part

    marshalling the behind-closed-doors machinations occurring at the highest levels of the US government. For example, the FBI could hate something the Corps has accomplished for the CIA, and that becomes Jacob’s cross to bear as he drinks his coffee during the morning newscast.

    We’ll also take a look at what happens when a group of people used to working independently are forced into a structured environment. Yes, they’re smart, and of course they’re competitive, but the fact they all have a history of operating outside the law adds a new twist on inter-office dynamics.


Government bureaucracy - The younger members of the team know they’re

    Kryptonite to red tape, as their very their lives are defined by their ability to circumvent barriers. By virtue of their top-secret nature, they’re able to go where

    no other organization dares. So, just how beholden to normal government rules and regulations are they? Does the team’s need for secrecy give them cart-

    blanche to operate outside the boundaries of traditional government restrictions? Can they kill? And what happens when authority figures try and slap on the restraints and they find their hands all of a sudden tied? Through the kids, we’ll expose some of the more insipid government inane rules and regulations, while also poking fun at the notion of “Your government in action.”

    The fact our team is used to operating without barriers will be a significant factor in getting them out from behind their laptops and into the field. I.E., they have to physically jack into a closed circuit crime scene, or only they can work undercover in certain situations, as they’re the only ones with the knowledge to

    believably sell themselves to the bad guys.

Old vs. New - While Jacob has SOME experience with computers, he

    begrudgingly finds himself having to rely more and more on the kids to educate him. He wrestles with his own lack of knowledge in this high-tech universe growing at an exponential rate. Beyond that, there’s going to be times when even our team finds themselves out of their depth, and THEY have to turn to those even younger then themselves for insight.

    Quid-pro-quo - When we first meet our team of Cyphers, they’re treated like the conscripts they are, with little more freedom than if they were in jail. When Morpheus is recruited, he helps them realize their value, and we’ll begin to see a “Yin & Yang” with Jacob and the others in charge: better working conditions, a decent place to live now that there’s four of them, a little more freedom, etc. They will also begin to negotiate to slowly expunge their record, a sort of “light at the end of the tunnel” so they’re not enslaved to Uncle Sam forever. Also, how

    much criminal activity is the government willing to forgive for service to your country?

The hacker ethic - “1. The belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive

    good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing open-source code and facilitating access to information and to computing resources wherever possible, and 2. The belief that system-cracking for fun and exploration is ethically OK as long as the cracker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.”

    The Principals of the Hacker Ethic (by journalist Steven Levy)

    -Access to computers - and anything that might teach you something about the way the world works - should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-on Imperative. -All information should be free.

    -Mistrust authority - promote decentralization.


    -Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.

    -You can create art and beauty on a computer.

    -Computers can change your life for the better.”

    Cyberspace is everywhere - Cyphers will highlight the difficulty of catching those who commit crimes online, and fighting a global war on a new frontier with no physical borders - and is growing exponentially.


    Our dysfunctional family

    The final goal of the story engine is to illustrate the depth of our characters through their personal lives and interactions with one another. We’ll shatter pre-conceived

    notions of who they are and what led each of them to partake in “criminal activity.” Of course there’s much more to Gaia then being a tree-hugging pretty face, more to

    Abdi then being Muslim, more to Morpheus then being a mysterious introvert. As we peel away those layers from week to week, we’ll learn more about who these

    people are, what really drives them to do what they do, and hopefully trace their development from immature computer criminals and into a team of modern day cyber-James Bonds.

    Pilot Episode:


    -From a podium, Jacob addresses an unseen group in a nondescript lecture hall. He discusses the increased threat from cyber-terrorism, the real world consequences, and the types of people, “hackers” who commit such crimes. His speech overlaps an OCEAN‟S 11-style MONTAGE that takes us to --

    1) Outside LAS VEGAS, a group of scary looking mobsters about to bust into a condo find their plans thwarted by FBI agents and vehicles storming the scene. The agents burst through the door and take down ABDI, aka “Vegas,” frantically

    trying to scuttle his computer --

    2) NEW YORK CITY looms outside the window of an apartment high above Manhattan. The glow of several large plasma monitors casts an otherworldly glow on the gorgeous face studying them -- meet JOCASTA, aka “Gaia” as she

    lights a candle, then vengefully taps a few keys… and the entire city behind her suddenly goes dark! TIME CUT to an FBI strike team kicking in her door and moving in for the bust --

    3) The tranquil peace of a middle-class home in SUBURBIA, USA is shattered by assault helicopters and a gunship thundering in as an armada of government agents, vehicles, and weaponry converge in on the house. Awaiting their arrival


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