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Q&A Interview with Hart Hanson, Executive Producer of BONES

Mike Vicic - April 20, 2011


TV Tango recently participated in a conference call with Hart Hanson, executive producer of BONES. Hart dished on the BONES spin-off, how Emily's pregnancy will affect the series, and Angela's baby.



Question: What can you tell us about the spin-off, which is based on this Thursday's episode "Finder"?

Hart Hanson: Spin-off has always been a troublesome term to me.  It's more like we did a crossover with a series that doesn't exist yet -- and that we hope it does come to exist. I have an overall deal at 20th.  I either write or work on a pilot each year; it's part of my deal.  This year I was kind of laying low in a way and then Lisa Katz at 20th gave me The Locator novel called "The Knowland Retribution" by Richard Greener, and it is such a good idea -- a simple, clear good idea for a network series.  A guy who can find anything -- find people or things.  There's a line that I put in the "Finder" crossover/pilot episode where Walter says to Brennan, "It's amazing how many times people ask me to find something and the real treasure is something else altogether."

Good stories are generated by people after a tangible thing or outcome, and then if what they really want -- or their desires are at odds with that -- then you get a good story.  It seemed to me that doing a series based on a guy who could find things, both tangible and intangible, for people would be a really good idea for a series.  It just generates so many stories.

Then the idea that being a crossover really appealed to me because last year when I went to do a pilot, I was away from BONES for weeks and weeks and this being a BONES episode meant I didn't have to leave home.  That I could keep an eye on getting through the end of the season on BONES while doing this spin-off at the same time, so it just all came together.  It's a really good financial model for the studio and the network.  It just seemed like a good thing to try.  It turned out quite well and I have great hopes for it.

Question: How did you cast the actors for "Finder"?

Hart Hanson: Well, casting "Finder" was hilarious.  I mean the part played by Michael Clarke Duncan was originally written for an old, skinny white man, and instead we got Michael Clarke Duncan who is none of those things. And Geoff -- the role of Walter Sherman was a bit darker.  He had some brain damage in Iraq and had a darker side, and then this man came in -- Geoff Stults came in to talk to us and read the part and he was just really funny.  He feels to me like if we don't make him a star on "Finder," somebody else is going to grab this guy and make him a star.

I feel like it was akin to how they must have felt when they saw Tom Selleck walk in the first time.  A big handsome guy who's very funny and doesn't seem to be at all vain about his looks and it really turned out.  Then the three of them -- -Saffron Burrows is in it as well -- have a great chemistry.  It feels like a show to me but we did make some shifts as we casted, which you always have to do, but it was a delightful shift, this one, not ones that curtailed the project.

Question: If FINDER does get picked up as a series, what additional characters or cast members do you anticipate adding?

Hart Hanson: Aside from the three central, the other main character will be Isabelle who is attached probably to the Miami FBI.  It could be Miami field office of the FBI or the Miami-Dade Police Force.  She is Walter's main squeeze on-and-off.  I'd like to really avoid doing another "will they or won't they" series.  It's more emotional than romantic.  This is his law enforcement connection with whom he sometimes has an on-again / off-again affair.  Those would be the four main recurring characters right off the bat.  It's also possible that we need someone else in the Ends of the Earth Bar where Ike runs the bar to help her there, although that would be down the line.

Question: How much of the episode do you see as a FINDER episode and how much of it is a BONES episode?

Hart Hanson: Well, my worry is that the BONES' fans will feel away from their BONES' people more than they would be comfortable unless these guys charm them instantly, which I hope happens.  The only character from BONES who doesn't appear in it to work with Walter and Ike and Leo is Sweets.  Everyone else is in it and interacts with him.  So I hope we're not away too much, but at the same time we had to make an episode that showed what these other characters can do and show them together enough that we would see what a series with them would look like.  So it's quite an experiment.  It's a really good question.  I guess we'll know Friday morning how the BONES' fans took to Walter, Ike and Leo.

Question: Besides FINDER and FAMILY GUY, with what series would you most like to do another crossover?

Hart Hanson: Oh, I think it would go really well with TREME, don't you?  (Silence) Okay, not really. I guess I would like to do a crossover with my pal David Shore's show HOUSE because it's already on the right network, although we're different studios.  I think there are a number of shows that would be really fun to do crossovers with, but I always thought a FRINGE/BONES crossover could be a lot of fun too.  I don't know how we'd do it.  I think what we'd probably do is start with a crime or a theme of some sort and then go off in two directions, but I've always liked that idea.

Question: What can you say about the title of the season finale, "The Change in the Game"?

Hart Hanson: Wait until you see the way we do it. The last two episodes of this season I think are going to run the whole gamut of tone that BONES does -- from, I'm going to say A to Zed, but I better say A to Z.  A lot happens in those last two episodes, and I think the title of the season finale, "The Change in the Game," is about as much as I want to say about it in any kind of detail.  I just think it's going to be one of those shows that the BONES audience will talk about and enjoy hugely.  If anyone feels there's an anticlimax to it, then I totally failed in my job.

Question: Is there going to be a point before the end of the season where Booth looks at himself and sees what he might have done wrong in those past relationships?

Hart Hanson: If that moment happens to him, then it happens in a flash of light.  How's that?  That's about all I'm willing to say about it. I'll tell you this -- we've been building all year to something.  I would hate to say what it was, but we've been building all year and I'd hate to cheat the audience in any way out of the experience that we've worked really hard to get them to.  That is in there.

Question: How are you going to incorporate Emily's pregnancy into the series? Will she be covering up a bump or will this be the game changing thing at the end of the season?

Hart Hanson: Well, those are big Season Seven questions, and I don't want to obfuscate too much, but we have a lot of decisions to make as we move forward into Season Seven.  Season Seven would probably be a curtailed season in some respects.  We don't know how much yet.  We have a lot of things to figure out about how to deal with Emily's pregnancy, never mind anything we decide to do with Brennan. And there are an infinite number of ways we could deal with the pregnancy.  We can hide it.  We can not hide it.

We have a plan right now.  I'm going to be stubborn about saying what our plan is going into Season Seven.  We're shooting the final episode of Season Six right now, and we've had no cause to show or hide much of Emily.  She's not showing all that much yet.  That will happen soon, but if I told you how we were going to proceed into Season Seven, it would give you too much information on how we intend to get out of Season Six.

Question: You mentioned how Emily's pregnancy might result in a "curtailed" Season Seven.  Do you mean it might start later?  There might be fewer episodes? Emily might be in fewer episodes?

Hart Hanson: All of the above.  We're still contending with the effects of Emily's pregnancy on the show.  For example, one possibility would have been for us, if we had enough scripts in the pipeline, to keep going through this summer instead of taking a hiatus and then take the hiatus when Emily was unable to work and have her baby.  We don't have any scripts in the pipeline because we haven't been picked up for Season Seven, but there's any number of range of possibilities as to what we would do.  Do we do shows without Emily?  Do we simply shutdown when Emily's not available and thus do 16 or 18 episodes or do we do a few episodes without her?  These are all choices that we have to make.

I'm ready to pitch a bunch of alternatives to the network but of course, we haven't had those conversations yet.  We've had creative conversations on how to get out of Season Six but we haven't had any creative conversations or production conversations with the network about how to get in to Season Seven.  We of course have had multiple production conversations with the studio but in the end, the network will weigh in heavily on—for example, were we to do four episodes without Emily, is the network interested in that for BONES or does their testing show that that would hurt the show?  Those are all conversations we haven't had yet that I just have to be ready for any one of those contingencies, what the BONES show will look like in Season Seven.

Question: Speaking of Season Seven, what's the latest news on the renewal?

Hart Hanson: It's just business stuff.  It's just a license fee negotiation.  They are talking like crazy over there. I know in 2009, it wasn't settled until the weekend before Upfronts, so I imagine anywhere between now and May 15th we'll come to a deal.  I'm very confident that we will, in fact, come to a deal, but there's all sorts of hoops and hurdles to jump through and over.

A truncated season is part of the negotiations as everyone tries to figure out what exactly it will look like.  Are we going to make 16?  Are we going to make 18?  Are we going to make 22?  I guess those are all the models they're going through, although far be it for me to say how that affects the license fee negotiations.  We're kind of used to that over here right now because HOUSE is in the same -- well, not quite the same place but in a very similar place to us.

Question: How will having a baby affect the working schedule of Angela and Hodgins or will the baby just become a member of the lab too?

Hart Hanson: Well, the person question that's most concerned about this is Michaela saying, "Does this mean I'm staying home or anything," and it's like as far as that baby goes it becomes -- he or she because I don't want to give away to much -- folds into the family.  I think the Jeffersonian probably has top notch daycare and it will become another source of stories, but I don't expect it to diminish Michaela's/Angela's participation in the show one jot, although we would like to show that it's not nothing to have a baby in your life.  It changes your life to have a baby; anyone who's had a baby knows, and so we will make that part of the story telling, but we don't want to in any way diminish one of our most important character's role in the show.

Question: Did you always plan to have baby Hodgela have something wrong with it medically?

Hart Hanson: I always think of Angela and Hodgins as just the greatest couple in the world.  They don't have very many internal problems so they have to go through obstacles that come at them from the outside and watch them deal with it.  As things stand now in our BONES show, the baby has a 75% chance of being born fine -- with the sight absolutely fine -- and a 25% chance of being born blind.  We just want to see how that looks to Hodgins and Angela, and I think it's alright to say that the season ender has a lot to do with the birth of Angela and Hodgins' baby.  We'll find out then how they are going to proceed in their lives as a family.

Question: How do you approach each season of BONES?

Hart Hanson: The first thing we do is sketch out where our main characters are going, what their arc is for the season and sort of lay those out.  Then, we start coming up with arenas … have a very good story room.  Carla Kettner runs the story room upstairs directly over my head -- I can hear them pounding their feet every once and awhile.

What they do is they come up with arenas, areas.  One of the good examples in the last year was the JERSEY SHORE episode, which I have turned down every single time it's come up.  I've always said, "Look if you can come up with a story that makes sense of it I'll accept it," but mostly I say yes or no to arenas.  Then they come back with a story that fits into the arena—like who the victim is, who the murder was, and who the suspects are and what the stakes are in that world.

Then, we go back and forth and back and forth and I say yes or no to various things.  It culminates in a writer who eventually gets that story—because at the beginning it's everybody—will pitch the six act structure, and then we torture them more and then we go to outline and then everyone tortures us once there's an outline.  There's studio and network chip in on it and generally we— I mean I'm working on double golden rods right now on the season finale.  We just keep changing things and trying to improve them before we're finished shooting it.

Question: What do you find is the most gratifying working on BONES each season?

Hart Hanson: Oh, there's a lot of things.  The BONES' cast and crew are like a theater company.  We really enjoy each other.  It was really fun to have some outsiders come on to BONES for Finder and react to our cast and crew.  It was very gratifying to see people from the outside recognize what it's like to work on BONES.  These are great people.  I think as long as people keep murdering people we'll have stories, and the chemistry between all the actors on BONES allows us to go in many, many directions..

BONES is fun to work on.  It's a fun -- I keep saying the word fun but it is.  Of all the shows I've ever worked on BONES is gratifying and fun to work on, and it gives us a wide variety, wide range of tones that we can do.  We can make you cry.  We can be odd.  We can make you laugh and maybe throw up a little bit and that's a lot of fun to work on for all of us.

Question: Will the cast be going to Comic-Con?

Hart Hanson: I think so.  I have not heard details.  Kim might be able to tell you more.  To be honest around here we look like the walking dead getting through our 23rd episode including the spin-off.  There will be a presence I'm sure at Comic-Con.  I just don't know what it will look like yet.  I don't know where—traditionally David and Emily go.  I don't know if Emily will go this year or not.  She understands how important Comic-Con is but I can't speak for her.  We have not had a lot of conversations about it.