The creator and star of the USA Network series talk about the new season
Characters are certainly welcome at the USA Network and in 2006 they introduced us to two very unique characters in Shawn and Gus with the hit series Psych, which is in the midst of its fourth successful season on USA with new episodes airing on Friday nights at 10 PM ET. Two of the big reasons for the show's success are the involvement of creator and executive producer Steve Franks and star Dule Hill, who stars as Gus on the series. Franks and Hill recently held a conference call discussing this new season, and here's what they had to say.
Steve, what advice would you give to aspiring writers in the business?
Steve Franks: I can't believe I got the first question with Dule Hill on the line. Don't you guys know that there is a television star on this line? I'm very excited. Thank you very much for that. For me, my advice is to write and to keep writing if you want to be a writer because if you want to be an actor writing doesn't really help you that much. For me, I was working at Disneyland and working in college and I wrote five scripts before I ever went out with one because the first three were terrible and then the fourth one was less terrible. The fifth one I thought was pretty good. The fifth one I set up and sold. For me, I didn't know anybody in the business. I didn't have any relatives in the business. I just knew I always wanted to do it. I knew from the time I was in fifth grade. I was writing scripts in fifth grade, so I just knew that I was going to be in it for the long haul and I had to just keep working at it. For me it was trial and error, trial and error, and trial and error. The interesting thing about being a writer is so many of my friends were like, "Yes, I want to write. That's cool." I always encourage them to keep writing and you find out who really wants to be a writer by who's still around two years later.
Steve, let me ask you, what can you tell us about the fall finale and where we're going when the show comes back?
Steve Franks: The fall finale is really, really fun and really intense. The idea came about after we had the Mr. Yang episode that ended last year. We thought how fun was it to really have a fun, suspenseful, intense episode. Bonnie Hammer, the head of pretty much half of the world and our NBC/USA world really loved that episode and wanted to see us do something like that, so we decided, "You know what? Let's do something great and exciting." We actually shot this episode third and when we got it back we were like, "Wow! This is really intense and is really big and really has this unbelievable finale. It has so many things. This is clearly not the light season kickoff. It's like this is a season finale," so we actually shot this episode months and months ago and we realized we've already done our season finale, so we went on to the lighter, funnier, goofier stuff that you've been seeing in the last few weeks. It's really exciting and we like to do one or two of these every half season where we do something that's a little more intense and more exciting. In the spring we're doing another one or in the winter. I guess it would be officially called the winter. I call it the spring even though we don't have a date yet for next year, but for us it's always about building off of the core and what we can get away with in Psych. Since we were able to get away with something more intense with ... we sort of pushed it a little bit more in this episode with all of the signature fun comedy that we also get throughout this episode. Expect this to be probably our most intense episode, a lot of fun, a slam-bang finale and we'll follow that up in the spring with something equally as crazy.
Can you give us any kind of hints as to what we'll see in the second half of the season?
Steve Franks: Oh, my gosh. Of course I can. We're actually shooting it right now. I finally realize my dream to do a Jaws episode, so we're doing an episode with a shark attack. We're doing an Outbreak episode. We've always wanted to do something fun with that. Of course, what's more fun than a deadly virus on the loose? What are we doing? In the spring, I call it, the winter, we're starting off doing a military episode and we've landed our dream guest star. That's John Cena from the World Wrestling. We've been trying to do that since season one. We actually had a wrestling idea. We're really excited. For me it's always been each episode is a little movie, a little summer movie and we're continuing that. Each episode probably couldn't be more different than the last one and that's the way we like it until we run out of worlds.
I am absolutely addicted to the theme song. I know your band, The Friendly Indians, recorded it. It's literally stuck in my head every Saturday morning. Now, why is it not available on iTunes, but other Friendly Indians tracks are? Is it like a copyright thing or what?
Steve Franks: No. What happened is we played around. The Friendly Indians have been around for ten years. By the way, The Friendly Indians are back and rehearsing and we're going to do some shows in the off season, but it was one of those things where we went in to record the theme song before and we got this great studio where Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder had recorded. We had great producers. It was really super professional and cool. We only had enough studio time to record the one-minute version of the song, so we were like, "Okay. We'll come back and record the full-length version," and there just has not been any time to go back and do it. Now that we have this really great version of the one-minute song we can't sort of half-way do it. We have to go lock into a studio and get all of those elements back together. The reason it's not available is there is no full-length version of it. We fully intend, every off season, to do that, but as I mentioned earlier, at the end of every season I usually curl up into a ball and sleep for the two months we have off until we start writing again. So, I hear you. I'm going to pull the guys together now that we're back rehearsing. I think it's inevitable that we'll actually do a great recording of it and get it on iTunes. Actually, we're hoping we're going to have enough material to go in and record a third album.
Steve Franks: Well, I think we can both probably comment on that. For me, I guess it's the sincerest form of flattery, you know. There's not really anything you can do about it, but we like to take every opportunity we can to sort of play with it and have fun with it. There will be a Mentalist reference in this Friday's episode and probably a lot more in the winter season. Dule?
Dule Hill: I would agree with Steve. I mean it's not like that show is taking away from our audience or we've taken away from their audience. There's room for both of us on the air. I think it's great there are actors out there who have work to do. There is more television that's being made that's not a late night talk show. I think it's a great thing. I mean on our show we like to have a lot of fun anyway, so as long as they can take us ribbing them every once in a while I think it's all good.
From the beginning idea of Psych how has it changed to what we, as the viewers, see? Were there a lot of things that you had to change round character wise or anything or is it pretty similar to the main idea?
Steve Franks: For me, because I came from features, you write a 110-page script and in that story the characters sort of go along their arc, as they say. They go through their journey and make the changes as the situations sort of change them. In a TV show I sort of think of it as it's maybe a 110-episode arc, so you take each episode is another minute of the movie. The characters start in a certain place and then you expand upon that world. We started our guys exactly where we wanted them to. Gus had a life and Shawn had drifted a little bit out of his world. Shawn had is life. They were sort of both looking for something. Gus' world was too structured, his full-time job. Shawn's life had no structure whatsoever and this opportunity came about for these two guys to sort of rekindle their childhood and have this great sort of fun adventure together. They've been affecting each other every week and making each other more complete and enriching their lives and developing and growing up. Now it's been four years that they've been doing it and they've undergone these great changes. Important for us is we've expanded. Every week we drive our network crazy because we never want to repeat what we've done. We want to just expand and go a little bit further, a little bit further so when we do a very intense episode, like the one that comes Friday, we also want to do a crazy episode a little bit crazier, just like the Spanish Telenovela episode and the Hollywood episode. I'm very happy with where we started. It's fun for us; Dule, I'm sure, will talk much more eloquently about this; to just keep expanding upon what we've done and building on what we've done and stretching the rules just a little bit more. Our goal is that people on Friday go, "Holy crap. Did you see what they did on Psych Friday and they got away with it?" That's our goal. Dule?
Dule Hill: I think you sell yourself short, Steve. I think you've explained it very well. I mean it's a journey. As I said, I'm only going to be repeating what Steve said. I think he nailed it. I mean, as the show goes on you're kind of slowly, but surely, going over this arc hopefully by the end of the series the characters would have still maintained some of the elements of who they were from the beginning, but they still have grown. They're not the exact same person because nobody stays the same. Actually, that's what keeps audiences interested. As I said, Steve, you nailed it anyway.
Steve and Dule, how has both the series and the character of Gus unexpectedly changed since the series began?
Steve Franks: Dule, before we start I can tell you that one of the great things about Dule, as we talked about the Gus/girlfriend thing earlier, is every once in a while Dule is really great about calling up in the best way and saying, "All right, Steve Franks, what are you doing? Don't you think that Gus's character should...?" It's always in a very collaborative way and in such a way that I'm like, "You know what? You're right. We haven't explored that part of Gus. We haven't done that. Gus has done this a little too much." At the beginning of the season Dule called and said, "Hey, when is Gus going to get a girlfriend coming in?" So we sort of use that as a springboard to a really fun episode that happens in the winter. I think for me it's like I have the entire world to think about and it's always good for me to check in with Dule or James or Maggie to sort of see what are you looking for. They've been such a great collaborator in terms of how we can push the character in a little further direction. Okay, Dule. Take it.
Dule Hill: I mean there haven't been too many things that have been unexpected necessarily. It's weird when you use the word unexpected because you're in the character so long that it's always a collaborative effort when you're trying to figure out what new places to go. I guess for myself the one thing would be having a girlfriend coming on this year. It wasn't necessarily unexpected because we spoke to Steve about it earlier in the season. Also, the fact that Gus and Shawn can sing so well and sing so much, I think that would be something from the get-go of the show I never saw happening on the show so much. I don't really know. It's a hard question to answer so say what is unexpected with the character. It's been a great journey. I've enjoyed each episode and seeing where the character goes next in the different things that come up. That's it.
Steve Franks: There's also something fun. We have this great built-in device that Gus has these unbelievably odd interests that somehow dovetail into the cases, so he has expertise in areas that are always really fun, so Dule is always surprised to find out that he happens to be an expert in a certain area. I remember the first season when we did the Comic-Con episode and Dule was like, "Gus is a comic book geek?" I'm like, "Absolutely he is." He's like, "Okay. I didn't see that coming."
Dule Hill: ... we're four years in and being that Gus does have these random interests, things don't really surprise me. They're not really as unexpected anymore, because Gus can be interested in anything. He can be a connoisseur of anything. It doesn't surprise me anymore. I mean, it can be anything random, the fact that he may know some random thing that Gus may know, something about space or something about - in the last episode that aired he's a member of the largest on-line community to abolish the practice of - what was that thing, Steve, taxidermy?
Steve Franks: Yes.
Dule Hill: I mean it doesn't really surprise me anymore, but to me it's what keeps the show funny. It's what keeps the character interesting and lets it be an enjoyable thing to do.
Steve Franks: We always think of Gus as a student of the world. He wants to learn. He wants to learn and understand everything.
Dule Hill: He's actually a very corny renaissance man.
Steve Franks: Exactly.
Dule Hill: A cornball renaissance man.
You guys have talked a lot about Dule's character having a girlfriend this season. This last episode featured Larisa Oleynik, who was my first TV crush. I just wondered if there's any chance that she's going to come back in any capacity.
Steve Franks: That's a good idea. Definitely not in the winter, because we've actually written all of the episodes as of yesterday, but there's always a possibility. In fact, one of the big things going forward to season five, we already have ideas. We've got nine ideas for season five. We're really interested in bringing some characters back. We've got a whole slew of them that we're working on bringing back. We'll definitely add her to the list. I have a board in the office. It always hovers around 50 ideas, but it's sort of 50 worlds and usually they're one-word descriptions, but many of them would relate to characters we've already seen in the past and loved, and a lot of them from this season.
Dule Hill: Larisa was great on the show. She came up and she had a good time and we enjoyed having her. Who knows? Maybe we'll get a chance to see her back some time soon.
Abigail hasn't really been present very much as Shawn's girlfriend. Does this represent Shawn's lack of interest and ultimate attraction to Juliet or is it something else?
Steve Franks: Yes. Actually, we sort of had the idea that she's been there, but we have her for only a certain number of episodes and we wanted to keep her for a certain amount of time, so we sort of spread it out over the season. It's one of those things also, when you're on a cable budget, your guest star budget is only so large, so we can only see her so many times. It's one of the challenges we have making our show on the sort of price range we do for all of the sort of big ideas that we try to get. For us, our idea was that Shawn is very invested in Abigail and he's trying to take this big leap to sort of do a relationship, but production wise we had to figure out a way to sort of keep her alive by talking about her or seeing her and I think Shawn is doing his best to make things work for he and Abigail. We will see her again.
Speaking about relationships, might we see anything for Lassiter in the future?
Steve Franks: We have not done anything in the winter, but it's at the very top or very near the top of my list for season five, should the season five happen, just assuming that season five happens, because you never know in this business. But yes, I think Lassiter with a girlfriend has endless possibilities.
What were you doing or what inspired you when you came up with the premise of Psych?
Steve Franks: At the very core of it I just found TV depressing, especially the procedural. I grew up with what they called the light hours, the shows that were fun: Magnum PI. When I was really little it was Rockford Files and Moonlighting and all of those shows that were just fun to watch. I found myself looking at TV and it was always about murder and dismemberment and looking under a microscope at bones and flesh wounds. For me, and I think this is also to go back to the very first question, the best advice I could give is I wrote the show for me. I wrote a show that I wanted to see. I'd never done a one-hour show. I'd had a few half-hour, multi-camera live pilots, but I'd never even attempted to write the hour-long drama or cop show. My dad was a cop, so I'm like, "Maybe now is the time to do a cop show." I wanted to do something that was fun and funny and revolved around characters that also can take you into a little mystery each week, but that you really got yourself wrapped up and loved the characters and to create a really fun world each week that does something that you don't see on other shows. I'm locked in that nobody else is doing a murdered sea lion episode and nobody else is doing an acapella group gets involved in a drug sting. I feel really good about what we've accomplished, but I basically wrote the show that I've always wanted to see or that I missed from my childhood.
Dule, I guess my question is a little bit related. What did you bring into the character of Gus as opposed to what was playing when you first heard about him?
Dule Hill: It's always hard for me to go through and talk about, I guess, the thought process of a character, the process of creating a character, but I can make my best attempt. I think the main thing that I brought to the character was the idea that he wasn't just a nerd. I thought that when I first came Gus was the reluctant sidekick. I think the main thing I brought was the idea that he actually had a very rational thought process for why he did certain things. Everything he did he did under the belief that made it very cool and made him very slick. When you really look at him and look at his actions, he's not cool at all and he's not slick. I mean the thing I always ... the character that he's a cool nerd. That's the thing. He's a nerd who thinks he's cool or he's someone who thinks he's cool and he's a nerd. That's the main thing. He's a conflict of both; of him trying to be cool, but really being a nerd instead of him just ... the fact that he's a nerd. If you ask Gus if he's a nerd he's going to tell you no. He's going to say, "Women love what I do." He's going to say, "It's a proven fact." Even in the acapella episode is it a sign ... signing the name on the back of a card, but that's a very corny thing to do. Do you know what I mean? I would say that would be the main thing that I brought to the character, but as I said, I'm realizing as I get older the more and more I do interviews on ... process I don't really enjoy talking about the process of the character because it's more of an organic thing. It just happens through the actions. It happens as you're living the character out. As you go along through the seasons you just create it. You don't really necessarily put it into words or put specific pinpoints into; at least I don't anyway; the development of the character. That would be my answer. Overall. I mean the show is a hit show anyway. I know when me and Steve first met, when we first sat down that was the only thing I could really remember is I didn't want to be playing a straight nerd for five years or six years on television.
Steve Franks: Dule says the word nerd or geek or whatever. We don't ever think of that as a bad term. We sort of think of this as a more fully realized human being, as a person who understands it and wants to understand the world. What Dule says is the most true is everything that Gus does is so much thought out that it's too thought out. He analyzes everything in his life to the point of his own demise. I think it's a fun, fun character to write. We've been so lucky this year to really be able to write for all of the characters on the show. It's not just we have to figure out another Shawn episode. I'm doing an episode in the spring called "A Very Juliet" episode and it was just so great to spend an entire episode just thinking about Maggie's character and bringing a really, really fun case right into the middle of the episode.
In casting Psych what was the one thing that James and Dule did that made you realize they were your Shawn and Gus?
Steve Franks: We looked at so many people for Shawn. We cast Shawn first. James came in and it was funny when James came in. James is really funny because he grows a beard in the off season. He's really shy and really quiet. This guy came in all really super quiet with this kind of thickish beard. We're like, "Who is this guy?" Then he starts talking and it was like, "Oh, my gosh. That might be him." Then James came in a second time. We had a certain number of people we called back and James came in the second time and it was like, "Oh, my God. That is him." James is such a good guy that he came in when we were bringing in all of the Guses. I don't know a ton about this business because, like I said, this is the first TV show I've done, but I don't think that the lead of a show ever does that. He was there for casting for all of the Guses and would read with every single person who came in to read for the part. Dule came in for a meeting and it was like, "Wow. This is kind of exactly what we were looking for." They had like an instant chemistry. They were kind of friends right from the start. The only thing I knew going into the show is that you hear horror stories about actors who are difficult and stay in their trailer all day or won't come out until the other actor comes out. The only thing I knew coming in was I wanted everybody on our set to be there, to really want to be there and to be cool. We have a no a-hole policy on our show. James and Dule were really good people right from the start. I liked them and I said, "You know what? I can spend five to eight years hanging out with these guys." So the chemistry was first and foremost before those guys ever read a word together; in fact, the first time Dule came in it was just for a meeting at the end of the day. We ended up just running the scenes right then and it was great. There is a whole casting process where you have to bring the people into the network to read; well, we sort of tipped the scales a little bit. We had Dule and James read together at Dule's house. James drove to Dule's house and they sort of were more practiced than the others. It was just great from the start. Those guys were friends from the start. It was just really lucky. I can't stress enough how much of a miracle it is that a TV show ever gets made, ever becomes good, ever stays good and ever stays fresh. All of those things happening and for us to be coming here to the end of our fourth season, we've been incredibly lucky and we've had so much fun along the way. The fact that we went to Comic-Con this year and we filled a room with 4,200 seats and the fans were insanely great and for us to have that kind of following this far in it's been magical and great. We just feel so fortunate and lucky to be part of it.
Dule Hill: It was interesting because when I first read with James, being that I came from West Wing, which was a very strict ... show in terms of staying to what's on the script and what's written, when I first read with James he's a great actor and his impropositions are unbelievable, so when we first started reading together he was all over the place. My first impression was it was a shock to my system at first, but from the get-go I thought that he was an amazing actor. I thought he was brilliant. I thought that we kind of tapped into something special. There was some kind of back and forth that was going on that I thought people would enjoy to see. Even for myself it was a blast to do, as much as I loved doing my last show and I loved working that way, this was something fresh and new for me. I thought it could be great. I thought we could have a really good time. Also, when James came to the house and we got a chance just to talk for a while, I respected him as an individual. I started to realize that he was someone who wasn't too caught up in all of the trappings of Hollywood. He was really just about doing the work, having a good time and having a blast. I could relate to that. I think that is what helped us form a chemistry right there from the beginning. I hope that I added a little something to what was said.
You can watch Dule Hill on Steve Franks' series Psych, which will air its fall finale on Friday, October 16 at 10 PM ET on USA and will return with the second half of the season in the spring.