The star and showrunner of this ABC sitcom talk about the upcoming season
Men in Trees is coming back to ABC with all new original episodes starting Wednesday, February 27. I was in on a conference call with the show's star Anne Heche and executive producer Jenny Bicks, and here's what both had to say about this new season.
You got back on the air so much quicker than most of them. Did you have several leftover episodes prior to the strike and now you're back on the post-strike episodes?
Jenny Bicks: What happened was we had, as you know, a bunch of episodes from last season that had not aired that started off this season for us. And so as we were producing our new episodes for this year, we still had those episodes that were airing so we actually got ahead of ourselves and were able to do 11 episodes through the course of - 11 remaining episodes that we have. Through the course of the strike we had episodes written before the strike.
So, are there any post-strike episodes or did you get your whole season done?
Jenny Bicks: We had our whole season done by the time the strike was done.
So, we're going to see now, starting with this week, we've got 11 new episodes?
Jenny Bicks: That's correct.
At this point, Marin and Jack are still away from each other? He's still gone? Is that right?
Jenny Bicks: That's correct. Yes. Where we left it - and we would not necessarily have chosen to break it at this point - but it is - was an unintentional cliff hanger that Jack is out at sea and Marin is in Elmo and Marin does not know that Jack is - has been shipwrecked.
Let me ask Anne first that it's interesting how involved people been - how upset they were actually at the points when you and Jack are separated. They seem to want you to be together all the time. Have you found that reaction yourself from people mentioning that and how do you feel about the whole story line? Were you torn apart?
Anne Heche: I have found that people are very upset when Jack and Marin aren't together, and I think that's part of the beauty of the - of the writing that people have gotten so engaged in our relationship and really fought and their hearts wanted us to be together so - I mean - that's part of what makes good drama, I guess. We really want everyone to be rooting for Jack and Marin. So everyone asks me all the time: 'Is he going to come back from sea?' 'Are you going to get together?' 'What will we see? Will we be able to see you guys on screen again?' And that's great. I don't want to really answer or not whether or not we do or don't, but I really love that everyone has fallen in love with our relationship and what happens to Jack and Marin and that they're still invested.
The last episode that you guys have in this batch that was written before the strike, was it written in such a way to service an effective season finale? Is it a cliff hanger? I don't want you to tell us where it ends, but some sort of - you know what I'm saying.
Jenny Bicks: Yes. We do actually have two endings.
Oh, really? You filmed two?
Jenny Bicks: We did film two endings. We are still deciding which ending to use actually. They're both effective. One's a little more of a cliffhanger so I think we will wait and see. We'll make a decision in the next month or so which one we go with.
Anne, what about the character of Marin spoke to you when you first read the script initially and you chose to take the part on?
Anne Heche: Oh my gosh. Well, I really loved that Jenny had created a strong, thoughtful woman who was journeying through her life on one specific path and then basically had to start all over again and had the courage to begin her life and her soul searching in a new place and have the courage to begin again with a kind of fresh understanding of, 'Hey, I thought I knew everything that - I thought I knew what I was talking about, and I don't and I have to search myself to find again who I am,' and that she was a woman who ended up finding a place and a home for herself where this little town of Elmo became kind of her chosen family and everyone who was there had kind of made a similar decision to be in a - is to stop the life that they were doing and find themselves again there and the community in the sense of community that I think Elmo is a way - Elmo is a way for us - hopefully, as people watch this show to find that there is hope for us to find a place where we belong and that our individual journeys are supported in - by others around us. And I loved that we were doing a show about community and that I was able to come in as a woman who was so open to witnessing and experiencing these people and talk about it and talk about it on a radio show and observe and talk to people about what they were going through in their lives. I just thought it was so - I just thought it was so beautiful and so refreshing.
Where did the idea of Elmo and Men in Trees come from? Just where did your creative process come from - I guess?
Jenny Bicks: Oh, well, it actually came from - this is - my story is that I'm from New York City, but I spent my summers gRouing up in a small town in Maine, and I'd always wanted to write about this kind of small community world and obviously it's just kind of the complete opposite from where I come from in terms of writing in terms of Sex and the City, and ABC had called me because they had acquired the life rights to a woman who published a magazine in Alaska called "Alaska Man Magazine," which some of you may have heard of. I doubt any of you subscribe to it.
However, it was a single - a magazine for - singles ads for men in Alaska, and they asked me if I was interested in kind of developing that idea and I put it together with this idea of the small town, and I knew I didn't want to write a matchmaker show, but what I was interested in was writing a show about a woman from New York City, like me, who is a searcher, who is looking to understand relationships and love and put her in contact with this small community of people and have her learn about herself.
Will you talk a little bit about Morgan Fairchild's coming to the show?
Jenny Bicks: Sure. I would love to. If you happened to see our very first episode back this season, Jerome, whose our resident bar fly, discussed his obsession with Morgan Fairchild, and we were lucky enough to actually have Morgan come to town. Morgan shows up to sing the "National Anthem" for Ben's hockey because she's kind of touring the country doing those kind of gigs where you sing the "National Anthem" and open nightclubs and such, and she ends up wanting to buy Marin's life rights and play her in a movie, which, by the way, is fantastic when you see Morgan and Anne on screen cause really you buy it in a very odd way, you actually buy it. And it really becomes - that episode becomes the story about what happens when you see your life through someone else's lens. You know - in the movie of your life, do you like what you see? I won't say what happens with the movie, but we had a great time working with Morgan.
Anne Heche: I just thought she was so fantastic. When we write funny things - we all get so excited when all those scripts come in. We're equally as excited about other peoples' story lines and we all just kid around. If somebody's read the scripts first, you can see them rush out of their trailer and run to other actors and go, 'Did you read it yet? Did you read it yet?' So, when we had read that Jerome was obsessed, it was just so funny and we all loved him so much and when he delivers these lines it's so hilarious and so everybody, of course, wanted Morgan to come because we all wanted his character to see Morgan Fairchild for real. And so when it actually happened that the scripts came in and Jenny said that yes, indeed, Morgan was going to play her, we were all so tickled that we would get to see this unfold in our little town and it was just - it was as great to have her arrive on the set as we had all imagined. She's just a phenomenal woman and was so gracious and jumped right into what was going on, and it's always tricky because you're playing - when we did our first day, Morgan said, "Well, I know that people have an idea about me as Morgan Fairchild and they wrote me as Morgan Fairchild, but which one of me that they think I am do they want me to appear as on screen?" Cause you never, you know, people have interpretations of us as actors and certainly of Morgan Fairchild and it was just her sense of humor about herself that's so great so as she went through all of the different incarnations that she's been described as and finally agreed to be the one that, you know, she thought most people understood her to be. It was just fantastic. I had - I had so much fun with her.
I just wanted to ask you how did you spend your down time during the writers' strike?
Anne Heche: Well, the greatest thing of the writers' strike is that I was able to start taking my son to school, which is great. We've been spending - it's been such a marvelous time. We've been going to the park and playing football and baseball and having picnics and playing the Wii and it - I mean - (Homer) said, 'Mommy, mommy, I don't want you to work for a hundred gazillion infinity days.'
Jenny Bicks: That is great, Anne. We'll be talking about that later.
Anne Heche: He's a - I said, 'Well, (Homer), mommy needs to go back to work so that we can - you know - have a roof over our heads,' which would be a nice thing to be able to live in a house, too. But we've been able to share just some really beautiful, beautiful times with (Homer) and cook some dinner and be reconnected to our friends and then James, of course, Mr. TV star turned into Mr. Movie Star and went to his first audition for a movie with Richard Linkletter and got it and has now been shipped off to London. We had a nice little break. We were both very hopeful, of course, that we were going to get to go back and do a couple more episodes. We all miss each other. It's funny. The cast really misses each other and we wanted to be able to have an opportunity to say some more of Jenny's words, but we'll look forward to that for next season and, you know, we're now just taking this time together and I think all of us - all of the actors as we were talking need time to fill ourselves up with other - with reading books and going to movies and sleighing and doing sports and like re-giving to our bodies because when you do a TV show and play the same character each week, so consistently, you know, we all want to fill up.
We're all artists so we're all trying different things. We're going to cooking classes and doing more yoga and getting ourselves into a space where we're ready to go back filled up for the next season so that we have more life experience to give to these characters and, hopefully, will be giving for the next years to come.
Jenny, you talked a little bit about what Marin will be doing over the next 11 episodes. You said she'll be finishing her book. Can you say anything about some of the other characters? What we have to look forward to from like Patrick and Annie and Sam?
Jenny Bicks: Yes. There's a lot - there's a lot going on these 11 episodes. Patrick, as you know, or don't know, but he had his wedding interrupted by - he was hit in the head and has amnesia. And so he is going to be kind of exploring who he is separate from Annie and it's basically tearing them apart, which you already know a little bit about if you've watched the episodes that were run before. So, he's really got to figure out how he really feels and what his heart really feels and it's going to take him actually on a journey. He's actually going to go to New York where he will be working for Jane for a couple of episodes and he's going to be kind of traveling the world to find himself. And whether or not he ends up back with Annie is a question mark because Annie is going to be pulled in a different direction when Ben hires a new hockey player named Ivan to come play for his team and Ivan is this kind of Croatian hottie who kind of wins Annie's heart so it really becomes about what happens. Can you ever get those feelings back again if you have that opportunity?
Cash is going to be back in town and the episode that I suspect most of you have seen these two episodes that were sent out so you know kind of what Cash's situation is that he's got a health scare that the whole town has to kind of come together to solve in a very interesting way, and he's going to really come more into focus for Marin and that's going to cause some issues with some other men in Marin's life and so Cash will certainly be around, as will Terry.
Buzz has a very big gambling problem that's going to come to the forefront and cause problems in his marriage. In fact, at a certain point, Mai is going to move in with Celia so two ladies this causes many more problems for Celia than, as you can imagine, than for Mai, and Celia is going to become closer with her supervisor, Dick, her boyfriend.
What else? Sarah and Pastor Eric. Where we left them, they were just kind of starting back up again and it's going to continue to grow as a relationship, but with all the complications you would expect when you're dating a guy that you can't sleep with until you're married. Do you marry the guy? Do you not marry the guy? How do you know you want to marry him? How do you continue to see that person as kind of your partner when you're not being intimate with them? Also, Pastor Eric is going to be singing on the show and he is a really good singer actually.
Jenny Bicks: He did his own recording and is very sexy. Pastor Eric is very sexy. So, they're going to be kind of tested by how far they can take their relationship and Ben and Theresa are going to try and have a child which is going to raise a lot of complications as well as he spends more and more time with his hockey team instead of with his wife, which is kind of his dream. And Jack, you know, if you've seen the episodes, you know Jack. Jack makes it. I personally did not write that, but ...
We'll write that.
Jenny Bicks: Yes. but certainly, there will be more complexity to Jack and Marin's relationship. I think people who have been waiting for them to reach a new level will be happy.
Men in Trees will start airing new original episodes on Wednesday, February 27 at 10 PM ET on ABC, and the show will continue its run in that time slot for the duration of the season.