From the Set: PSYCH’s Executive Producers talk getting to 100 Episodes (Part 2)
In the middle of 2012, a group of us descended on the Vancouver set of PSYCH to watch them film their 100th episode (which airs Wednesday night at 10/9c on USA), and to talk to the cast and creative team about what’s coming up in Season 7. We sat down with the Executive Producer/Creator Steve Franks, and his co-EPs Chris Henze and Kelly Kulchak (easily the nicest people in the business among a group of some of the nicest people in the business). Here is Part 2 of our Chat!
Can you take us through [assembling the cast]?
Steve: Yeah. I mean we started with James, and it started with, you know there’s this weird casting thing where people get so big that they become what they call “offer only”. So you never hear them read it. So it’s like, “Oh, I know that person. Oh, they won’t read it.” So you have to guess that they would be great in saying the words. And I think collectively we said we don’t want to do that. We want … we need to see it. We need to see it happen. And so you know anybody who was Matthew Perry or was someone who was coming out having a show, uh, not that Matthew Perry would come knocking on the door, that we would have said, “Get lost, Matthew Perry.” We wanted to go in the pool and we found James. James had … he grows this crazy off-season beard every year that we now are comfortable with. But he comes in with this mountain man beard, and his hair is like this, and it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, a homeless person came in.”
Chris: It’s funny. For a homeless person, he’s funny.
Steve: And he reads it. And I’m, and I’m like okay, whatever, you know, and I’m just like expecting what I’m expecting from him. But in there you see the eyes and the sort of the devilish charm that he has, and it’s like, Oh, my God; then when we brought him back the second time, it was like, “Okay, I like, I like the homeless guy, and I like this guy,” and then it was in the second one when he came back.
Kelly: And he shaved.
Steve: James has shaved a little bit. He hasn’t shaved a lot. And we asked …
Kelly: Yeah, but he was told to shave, yeah.
Chris: And we asked him to come back and shave.
Kelly: Could you shave.
Chris: Yeah, we asked him if he would shave you know for the callback, which he did.
Steve: Yeah, and Shawn Spencer was under that beard. It was funny beause we had talked about it before. For me, it’s like I’d come from movies, and every year I would write a half-hour or multi-camera thing, which … and you know wouldn’t get on the air or wouldn’t you know and had a pilot made one time. And I didn’t know anything about one hours and how they worked. And James and I talked like on the eve of his addition. And he’s like, “Listen, man, this is going to be my last run at making a pilot.” And I go, “Well, listen, man, I don’t think anything about making a pilot, so I’m not going to make it like those other people do.” And I said, “I think what I have to offer is I don’t know the process. I don’t know … I’m not going to try to do it like those people because I don’t know how to do it like those people. I only know how I want to approach it.” And I said, “This is … I want to approach this show like it’s a little movie every week, and it’ll be self-contained, but in the course of 120 episodes it’ll get to the same distance that a movie would.” And I think because of sort of the reverent approach that we took to it, we were both free. I was free of any expectations and he was free of his past. And so together we were able to just sort of to go crazy. And to the credit of our, of our network, they saw it because they were looking for a show that should go with MONK. And they thought, “Oh, hey, quirky detective,” and, “Go, make this.” And we delivered something that was nothing like MONK. You know it’s a quirky detective, and then it was our show. So they said, “Hey, but there’s something here,” and it’s different, and they liked it and they put us on the air.
Kelly: But we had Shawn first and then Chris recommended Dulé, had brought his name up, and then we put the two guys in a room together, and they were fantastic.
Steve: Oddly enough, Dulé Hill was “offer only.”
Kelly: Yeah. That’s true.
Steve: And here’s the great thing. Dulé showed up, and we just said, “Well, let’s just have a meeting,” because I liked Dulé, but I didn’t watch THE WEST WING. Don’t tell Dulé. B I did see HOLES, so I wrote a dinosaur episode that I put a whole episode, where he’s trying to remember the guy who was in HOLES.
Kelly: Right, right, right, right.
Steve: So then the person he was trying to remember was himself, which I thought was really clever, and it’s sort of clever, I guess. But Dulé was offer only. He came in, and we just said, “Well, let’s just talk with him.” And we talk with him, and Dulé like was there eight minutes. He goes, “You want to run this?” And I’m like, “Oh, my God. So let’s do this.” And it was great. And they had they had the instant chemistry, and we knew we had our right guy.
Kelly: And Corbin was great. He came in, and he actually ad-libbed at the end. They did the scene where they’re at the restaurant, and he’s
Steve: The how many hats scene …
Kelly: The how many hats scene in the restaurant. The second one, when they’re grown up.
Steve: Oh, yeah.
Kelly: When he’s grown up. And at the end of it, he said … he made him pay the check, and that was his ad lib at the end, and it was just this moment that I was … I just said … it was like get that hair on the back of your neck, and you’re like, “Oh, he’s the guy.”
Talk about C. Thomas Howell …
Steve: C. Thomas Howell was one of the other people reading.
Chris: We saw, yeah, yeah, yeah. Tim was the first Lassiter to come in, if I remember correctly, or one of the first, certainly on the first day. Um, and we all went, well, that … he’s really funny. That works, that’s great. Okay, well, you know let’s … you know, we’ll see how it goes or whatever. And then we had I don’t know how many more sections of Lassiters.
Kelly: Oh, yeah.
Chris: And we kept going, “Well, it wasn’t as good as that first guy that we saw.”
Chris: You know, it’s like, um …
Kelly: And he came in … oh …
Chris: And then we brought him back. He was just…
Kelly: He was huge. Just came in and just chewed the scenery and pulled the chair out and sat on it backwards, you know, gum in his mouth.
Chris: Yeah, he just embodied this guy.
Kelly: So great.
Chris: And played him so well, and you know you loved him, you hated him, you wanted to laugh at him, it was just great. So Tim sort of … Tim was kind of the easiest one, I think.
Steve: He was the easiest … Tim was …
Kelly: Yeah, he was great. Tim and Kirsten were both … I thought Kirsten was really amazing.
Steve: Yeah, Kirsten was really …
Kelly: ‘Cause she was pregnant for real, which was …
Steve: Yeah, and it was so …
Kelly: So awesome.
Steve: And the amazing thing about Kirsten is if you close your eyes, I … the first year, I … she sounds exactly like Ellen DeGeneres.
Kelly: Yeah, she does.
Steve: She’s sort of gone off on our voice. I think they played sisters on the …
Kelly: Oh, did they really?
Steve: On the, one of the Ellen shows.
Kelly: I didn’t know that.
Steve: Or more than one. So I always thought of her as the “sounds like Ellen DeGeneres woman” who was pregnant. And Tim Omundson … this is a little bit of trivia. Tim Omundson was the only person hired in the room. They did the auditions. We walked back and we said, “We want Tim,” and they go, “Agreed.” And that was it. Everybody else had to talk and …
Kelly: That was the other thing that you don’t think about because there’s so much … in fact, we had another pilot at NBC that we were casting at the same time, and the difference between the two networks, you know it was just they had so much trust at USA for us. They had so much like, “Do you believe in this guy? Is he BFC,” which is boyfriend cute. That’s all they really care about and they brought him. And they were like, “Who do you want? Who do you believe in?” And they fought for us every step of the way. It was, it was really amazing to feel that kind of empowerment, I guess, and just belief in support, and you know that’s a huge process because you can fall in love with someone at the network who’s like, “We don’t get it,” and it hurts to have those people that you just love and are just so excited about.
Chris: Well, there were like executives that had come from a place of like you know trusting people that had vision, not that that was necessarily us, but certainly the person who creates the show, and that’s what they knew. And they had a handful of shows on their network. Not a lot, and so they were not jaded by the process of we do this all day and we test you know every … every other month we have tests, and we sit in here, and we decide who we want on our, on our network, and da, da, da, da, da, and different producers, and they can all kiss our ass. You know, it’s like sometimes you get that attitude from the people that churn out pilot after pilot after pilot, and they just get sort of into a regular motion of we’ll tell you who we like, we know what we do at our network. And this was a network that really was like, well, we know how to do it with the people that we do it with, and we really defer to this person and that person, but man, whoever, because they know what they’re doing, and we support them. And they really had that kind of attitude, and frankly, they still do in many ways, and now they have, I don’t know how many shows, a lot on the air.
Chris: We were beneficiaries of those philosophies.
Kelly: [LAUGH] They’re a great network, for real.
Steve: And we’re not just saying that because some of them here.
Kelly: We’re not just saying that, no. Great partners.
Well, you guys are aware how special this is?
Steve: We say, I say it every day, and I said, “We can’t take for granted the situation we have,” and James and I especially when we talk about stuff, because I don’t know if I’ll ever have a show that’s this much fun. I don’t know if you’ll ever be allowed to do what we’re allowed to do. I had a board in my office of you know I want to do a job episode. I want to dinosaurs. I want to do this. I want to kung fu. I want to do that. I’ve checked off almost all of those. So you know and in that situation to create a show that gets on the air, that stays on the air, all of those elements.
Kelly: It develops this fan base, which is crazy.
Steve: Yeah. I mean I say it’s … I think I go beyond that. I say every time an episode comes together and it’s watchable, it’s a miracle, you know. And if it’s good, it’s like it’s gravy you know because you have the best intentions, and you know have something that’s on the page that’s brilliant, and it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be the best thing we’ve ever done, and then you get there and it’s raining, and it doesn’t … you know we have … because of the rain or because one thing, the set thing doesn’t work or everything can fall apart at any moment, so when it works you’re so grateful for it. And you know we just try to have the most fun we can while we’re doing it, and we appreciate it every single day.
Kelly: Chris and I have great perspective because we’ve produced other shows while we’ve been doing this show, and it always hasn’t been smooth sailing, and you always look back at this and think they wrote a script, they loved it, picked it up, went to series, loved every … you know it just … that just doesn’t happen. And it’s so hard to get a show on there.
Chris: And even though you know we’ve developed a lot of other stuff, we have a lot of other stuff in contingent development as a company and we have other stuff together that we have sold, and we have … some of us have other businesses and things like that. It’s the children that I always come back to because once every couple of months, one of my kids will say to me in some random moment when we’re in the car, “Hey dad, what are you gonna do when PSYCH’s over, like for a job?” And I go, “Um, there’s gonna be other stuff for me to do, don’t you worry.” And then I go … and I work about 70 hours that week freaking out and appreciating every moment of this show.
Steve: Hold on, she was going … you were going to say something about 12 minutes ago, and then … so if you, if you forgot it that’s fine ’cause she’s totally ready.
How is it to introduce or create a character, a newer character that has a role in it?
Steve: It’s incredibly tricky because I always say, as a viewer myself, that when you bring someone new into the ensemble, people are going, “Whoa, whoa, who is this person who’s coming into our space,” you know, and I think Gus has suffered enough through six years in season seven. He deserves to have a girlfriend, and we have a really great one of love interest that comes in. But it’s also, it’s always about, all right, let’s make sure this person comes in, that we like them, that we embrace this person. You know, if Gus came in and had an awful girlfriend who just was horrible all the time, it’s like why are they doing this? Some people say, “No, it’s really funny, and then Shawn hates her and then they’re fighting,” and I go, “No, that’s not joyous.” You know, so it has to be someone who fits in with our world who adds something new to our world. That’s always the most important thing. And something that makes our character happy and makes our character more complete.
Kelly: And it could be an accident, too.
Steve: But you know they’re good for nothing.
Talk about Parminder Nagra.
Steve: What we loved about Parminder is she came down to our offices and we met her, and we knew that she’s so together and so beautiful and English and proper and all that stuff. So the first thing I tried to do is I just tried to get her to talk salty, and then immediately she was. It was loose and free. And it was like, “All right, this is cool. She’ll totally fit in.” Not that we … not that it was going to be raunchy or anything, but it’s like …
Chris: To [loosen her] … well, it goes back to what you were saying. What’s interesting about this is that we think we have pretty good taste collectively and individually about things. And I think it’s part of what makes this show special is that all of us collectively and individually spend a lot of time on the details and a lot of time on casting and a lot of time on colors and locations and things like that that I think make a difference in a good show or a lazy show. And in particular with casting, we had a lot of arguments not so much internally but I think with there’s a lot of people involved. There’s people that write the episodes and the writing staff, there’s executives, there’s the cast who you know …
Kelly: Has relationships.
Chris: Dulé and James are producers, but they’ve created these characters you know as much as Steve and everybody else, and if not more in some cases. And so everybody has an opinion, you know. And when we get to a situation like Parminder where we struggle to find the person that we felt was going to be not only right for Gus, but right for Dulé to work with and have chemistry with, and Dulé has his own opinion about what that is because he knows better than we do, and we have to consider that. But then we have to look at it from an audience perspective, and then the network is like, “Well, we just used so-and-so on one of our shows, and they’re great,” and so sometimes their focus and their knowledge of who’s out there is a little bit more influenced by sort of what they know or what they’ve done, the experiences they’ve had. So you kind of go back and forth, and you’re, “Am I going to put up this fight or I’m not going to put up this fight,” and I think we usually end up putting up the fight when it’s important you know and picking your battles, and this was one of those where Parminder wasn’t our idea. But I think James come up with her name really kind of out of the blue really trying to think of someone who had a softness about them, a likeability about them but was different because Gus has had so many like you know girlfriends of the moment or of the episode that she couldn’t just be hot, and she couldn’t just be funny. We’ve done all that. She had to be a slightly different. And I think just you know giving her a back story and the fact that she’s British and the fact that she’s different than the girls that he sees, I don’t think he’s ever you know had an Indian girlfriend before. And it was just everything about her was a little bit different, and she’s a really good actress, and she’s funny, but she’s kind of known for her drama, and she was a little bit of a name. And then the funny thing is, to come back full circle to what we were saying a little while ago, she was “offer only.” [LAUGH] So we were never really gonna get to see whether or not she could have that lightness and that banter and that fun that she really hasn’t done a lot of but we thought it would be cool if she did, because any good actress, like it’s interesting to show those other sides of them that nobody’s seen before. So she agreed at our request to come down and just hang out and sit and talk, and I think sometimes it’s taking those extra steps that makes a difference because she could have come down and been a completely different person than we had hoped and then we would have been back to the drawing board.
Chris: But I think you’ll find that she is all those things. She is really fun and a great sort of match for Gus.
Kelly: And with Kristy [Swanson], we kind of stumbled on her in that relationship. It wasn’t meant to go any further than that. But there was such chemistry that you know we just kept bringing her back and …
Chris: Yeah, I mean she was there because of the vampire episode.
Chris: You know it was like a kitschy, great, fun name to bring in.
Kelly: Call back to, Buffy, of course.
Chris: And then she and Tim had so much fun together, and I think it showed, that we were like, “Oh, my God, like how perfect is this for Lassiter? She’s going to go to prison, and he can’t stay away from her.” You know, that, and that just sort of wrote itself or found itself, I guess.
Is she going to be back?
Steve: Oh, we’ll see her.
Kelly: How could you not?
Are you going to do the Monk set crossover? There’s been whisperings about it the past couple of years.
Steve: I think that’s probably up to Shalhoub. We have talked about having Jason from MONK on.
Chris: Jason Gray.
Steve: Yeah, Jason Gray-Stanford, yeah. And Ted as well.
Chris: We’ve offered Ted Levine a couple of parts.
Steve: We offered Ted Levine Yang, right?
Chris: Yeah. And he …
Steve: Oh, Yen, Yen.
Chris: Yen, and yeah, he just doesn’t ever want to play a serial killer.
Steve: Yeah, I think he, I think he’s done that.
Chris: He’s done that well. So yeah, but we’ve toted the idea. But the MONK, I don’t know.
Steve: I talked to Andy Breckman last week, and, he was great. And in the first week of the show, Andy Breckman called the office. I’m like, “Oh, my God, why is he calling me?” And he was like, “Hey, you know what? Congratulations. Just have fun with this.” And like there’s 12 things he said in that phone call that are like my mantras to this day. And it’s so nice of him to call. And the most important thing he said to me, he goes, “All right, when those ratings come out, who the fuck cares?” And I go, “What?” And he goes, “Listen, snow storm in Indiana, a basketball game goes 12 minutes over.” All of these things ruin ratings. They don’t mean anything. It’s like you can love over it night to night; they don’t mean anything, but you look over it in the long haul, and if you’re constantly nose-diving then it’s time to get concerned. And says but don’t wake up and race to the ratings, and to me, my least favorite parts of the year are Thursday morning when the ratings come out, ’cause I don’t want to know. I like making the show in a vacuum. Until we’re not airing and we’re just making them for ourselves and we’re fiddling with the cuts and doing the mixes which are the best because you know you’re seeing the show on a big screen you know on a real Hollywood lot and you’re tweaking with all the sound, and it’s just so much fun. You’ve seen all this work come together. But it’s like when you have to sort of like, “Okay, here’s the raw data and an 18 to 22, tune now the 18 to 24 did this,” and you know for me it’s like I just want to know that we’re good enough to stay on the air, and-and I’m really so appreciative to Andy Breckman. So if he ever wants to put together anything, I will, I will not only walk, I will run to that situation. And I also will watch anything else that he makes, because I have such respect for him.