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Like any freshman series, getting to a second season is the primary goal and no series is working harder to get to its sophomore season than the constantly thrilling CW series "Nikita." To up the ante in the series, Creator/Executive Producer Craig Silverstein told our Jim Halterman that tonight's episode, "Covenants," brings "a major shift in the Nikita/Michael arc of the first season."
While fans of Maggie Q's Nikita and Shane West's Michael (aka 'Mikita') are surely hoping that that shift is a positive one in their simmering relationship, Silverstein was predictably mum about which way things would go. Nevertheless, the creator was very forthcoming about the challenges in keeping the show on track creatively and avoiding the online chatter, how the cinematic look of the show is achieved week after week and what the upcoming season-ending cliffhanger will (or won't) entail.
Jim Halterman: Going back to where the show began, how has the journey been creatively this first season? Did you steer the course any differently once you started seeing the ratings and getting reviews?
Craig Silverstein: No, not really. There was some talk about midway through about how we were adjusting the show to make it sexier and make it more CW and I think it's fine for them to frame it that way but we were always on track. I always knew Alex (played by Lindsay Fonseca) was getting out of Division halfway through the season and move out and get her own apartment and repeat some of the same mistakes that Nikita did. When [Alex] got a boyfriend, they thought 'Oh, they're doing the CW thing' but that's what happens in the concept of 'Nikita.' For me, it's been on track and we're able to keep the track that we planned from the top all the way up to the finish.
JH: Talk to me first about flashbacks, which are important to the heavy backstory of the characters on 'Nikita.' When do you decide to use them and when does exposition work just as well?
CS: We know we have these timelines for these backstories so it's a question about carving them up and deciding where in the season they land. Sometimes it's about repeating certain images so they stick in your head and we can recap them and complete them. You see the person, you see the person, you see the person and then it's not the person you thought, you know? There's no hard cast rule of how many flashbacks per show.
JH: The narrative of the show is very concerned with the past for good reason but as the show moves forward, do you eventually leave the past behind?
CS: In the first season, the past is what bubbles up to the surface. It's what informs so many of our characters; they're driven by their past. That's what launches the motivations of revenge or redemption and so they are tied to the past. In the second season, hopefully, they do move forward although there won't be so many reveals about the past. Most of the past stuff like flashbacks will be pretty much revealed except for some key Nikita flashbacks that I'd like to get into in the second season.
JH: I would guess what the fans say on Facebook, Twitter or the message boards might be helpful but they can also be like little whispers in your ear that could get in the way. How do you handle that?
CS: I've seen other showrunners experience that but I made a choice with this show for this season not to read that stuff. I don't go through the boards [and] I don't read all the Twitter stuff. I kind of let it filter back. Some of the other people on staff read it and they might read some of it back to me like 'a lot of people thought this.' I think it's because I had such a plan and I really wanted to stick to this plan and hoped people liked it.
JH: What's the secret to making all your episodes look so consistently cinematic on a TV show budget?
CS: It's about doing what you can to make it look good. A lot of it is sort of steering production design and lighting. Simple things like that that actually gives more of a sense of scale than is actually there. And then in terms of just fight action, it's being very selective and it's building a lot of tension to the fights. The actual fight themselves while elaborate are not as elaborate as other sequences. You'll notice we don't do car chases. We couldn't do it and make it look as good so we just try to manage our resources wisely and everyone works incredibly hard up there and is committed to keeping up the look.
JH: In staying on course with your plans, what has surprised you with the first season? What weren't you expecting to occur?
CS: I'm pleased that the Michael/Nikita relationship was embraced and it was something I was concerned about because I knew from the USA Network series that the Michael/Nikita relationship was very different. In that show, that relationship was the core - the Buffy/Angel, if you will, of that show - and I was really hoping and I was worried that we were going to try something different and I'm glad that our version works, too. I'm also surprised about the level of production that we've been able to keep up. It's certainly the best looking show I've been associated with.
JH: Obviously, you're doing something right with Nikita and Michael because I've seen a lot of fans on Twitter desperate to know where 'Mikita' is going. What can you tell me?
CS: The first episode back is a major shift in the Nikita/Michael arc of the first season and we also get to see some flashbacks with them. This one is on their first mission out together where it's just them alone with nobody else around. It's the time when they first hooked up. The whole episode is about their relationship.
JH: When is Amanda going to start physically kicking some ass? We know Melinda Clarke has it in her!
CS: How about this? Amanda will kick some butt but it will not be out, it will be in. She'll be in. That will happen.
JH: 'Not be out, it will be in.' Interesting. Now, we've gotten a lot of Alex flashbacks but why hasn't there been as much about Nikita's backstory?
CS: The reason for that - and this is actually something that surprised me a bit - the reason for that is I kind of designed this show with the assumption that people know the basic Nikita story just based on the movies and series that came before and Alex was a character who you didn't know. It afforded me the chance to create a different backstory for this character that would turn into and pay dividends to character and plot later on. I didn't want to do that with the Nikita character and say that she's not a junkie from the streets but she's a martian. [Laughs.] I wanted to keep it true but within that there are new things to learn about Nikita. I feel like that is another of the surprises I have that some people know about Nikita but other people don't. So, we are going to dive back into some of her pre-Division days.
JH: In talking about the Nikita and Alex relationship, if I were a betting man I would venture to guess that they could become more rivals than teammates before the season is through. Could you talk about where their relationship is going?
CS: I would say their relationship is headed in that direction. It's headed in that direction because Alex is a willful girl. One thing that happens on the show is that cycles repeat. Division trained Nikita and then she broke free from them. Here she is being a mini-Division to Alex and training her up which she thinks is for all the right reasons. But it's not just those characters but there are several other characters where that cycle repeats. People give birth to something and then it kind of grows up and bites you! [Laughs.]
JH: So in terms of the upcoming first season finale, can we expect a cliffhanger or are things wrapped up?
CS: It's not a people-are-in-peril cliffhanger but things are wrapped up but everything changes so certain things are resolved and certain new problems crop up.
"Nikita" returns with new episodes tonight at 9:00/8:00c on The CW right after "The Vampire Diaries."