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It's a good sign for any television series when a new season kicks off and winds up the second most popular scripted drama in basic cable prime time for the week. That's what happened earlier this week when the fourth season of USA's hit series "In Plain Sight" began airing new episodes with Mary McCormack starring as a Deputy U.S. Marshal who helps people in harm's way go into witness protection. (For the record, the #1 honors went to the final season premiere of USA crime drama "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which airs just before "In Plain Sight.")
During its time off the air, though, there were shake-ups behind the scenes of "In Plain Sight" and new showrunners Ed Decter and John Strauss (best known for writing "There's Something About Mary") were brought on to guide season four, which now unexpectedly includes the real-life pregnancy of McCormack. Decter and Strauss talked with our Jim Halterman recently about whether hiding Mary's baby bump was an option, what else they have fine tuned since taking over and whether they lose much sleep over the time slot for the hit cable show.
Jim Halterman: So Bradley Whitford is in an episode (airing this week) and Josh Malina is playing Brandi's fiancé and then, of course, there's Mary. Should we be expecting to see more 'West Wing' cast members turn up soon?
Ed Decter: [Laughs.] Richard Schiff has already been on but we haven't yet contacted Martin Sheen yet.
John Strauss: We did mention the Charlie Sheen episode coming up. It's a Charlie Sheen arc. [Laughs.]
JH: The obvious first real question is about coming in and taking over the show. What was the process for doing that? Did it entail watching the previous three seasons before anything else?
ED: When our agents spoke to us about it that's the first thing we did. We watched all 30-plus episodes and got really familiar with it. What excited was most about the show was the cast. The cast is fantastic. Strength everywhere!
JS: Also, we loved the chemistry between Fred [Weller] and Mary. They have such a natural, fantastic chemistry together so we vowed to each other to continue that as much as possible.
JH: With your comedy backgrounds, is it safe to assume that we'll see more humor in the new season? Mary's family alone is a great source for comedy including Lesley Ann Warren as her mother, Jinx.
ED: You'll see that Lesley has got a lot of really fun stuff to do this year and one particular episode where she's helping with the wedding planning. I don't want to tip what happens but Lesley does a fantastic job of being a Mom. The whole arc this year is that everyone in Mary's life is getting healthier in a certain way and moving on and so Mary is forced to deal with all her baggage and we like that idea as the arc for the season.
JH: How will you be working in Mary McCormack's real-life pregnancy?
JS: There is a father and we will not reveal who that is [today] and there's a lot of season and series changing events that happen where Mary now has this giant issue to deal with and how she chooses to deal with it and continue her job. That will really propel us into next season, as well.
JH: When will the pregnancy storyline start unfolding in the series?
ED: In the sixth episode.
JS: Right in the middle.
JH: Were there discussions about maybe hiding the baby and not incorporating that into the show?
ED: The issue of hiding it was never discussed because Mary is pretty far along.
JS: At first, when you get that kind of news, our first reaction was that we were so thrilled for Mary, the actress. Then, once you look at what you have to do in the season, initially it's daunting but then very quickly we thought 'Wow, this is an incredible opportunity and gift that's been given to us to really give a whole other depth to her character and to the stories and expand the show into a completely unexpected direction.' We all embraced it including the studio and the network. We're actually very excited about it.
ED: And what we love about it from the character point of view, Mary Shannon has never gotten babies, doesn't understand them, doesn't understand people who have them and doesn't particularly love kids. We thought, wow, what a challenge for the character to have to deal with having a child of her own.
JH: Backing up a little bit, you said you went back and watched the past episodes so did you see things that you knew you wanted to fine tune?
ED: Sure, one of the things we said to ourselves was Paul Ben-Victor, who plays the boss, is terrific and he wasn't used as much as maybe we would have liked to see him so this year we've given his character a lot more to do and we'll continue to be doing that.
JS: Another thing we felt was that we wanted to add more life to the office and there are a couple of new characters. One, in the office, and one outside of the office. We wanted a consistency to that, to the family of the office and the workplace. So we've added a wonderful character who works with them and then we also added the character who Marshall becomes involved with.
ED: Delia Parmalee (played by Tangie Ambrose) is her name. And then you have the introduction of Rachel Boston playing Abigail Chaffe.
JH: I could tell right away that they're both going to rub Mary the wrong way, which, of course, we'll love to watch!
JS: That is exactly right. They were designed for that purpose.
ED: The great thing about the series is that the things that irritate Mary Shannon are what make the show go.
JH: I really liked the connection between Abigail and Marshall but can you tease where that's going to go?
ED: The one thing is that we don't spend as much time on Marshall Marshall's personal life as we should and this whole arc with the character of Abigail is to have this whole arc to have Marshall fall in love and have a real relationship and how does Mary deal with that. There's this underlying tension that Mary and Marshall always have together and how does Mary deal with the fact that Marshall has someone absolutely real and present in his life.
JS: We love that tension between the two of them and despite his involvement with the character of Abigail and despite Mary's pregnancy you'll still see some underlying spark and tension between the two of them. The other thing is that we read a lot of the fan blogs and really got in touch with what people responded to and weren't responding to. It's always interesting to do that and the show has a very devoted fan base.
JH: With the broadcast networks, time slots are so important but in cable do you feel less pressure about that when the episodes tend to air multiple times?
ED: We really feel like the Sunday 10 o'clock time slot is the perfect time slot for the show so we got very lucky.
JS: The answer is yes. There really is less pressure especially coming into a show. This show is going to be starting its fourth season and the network is really behind it so it's a little different coming in at this later date knowing that they're behind it. It's nice to be able to know you can count on 13 and really working on the arc of an entire season and not living and dying on every airing.
"In Plain Sight" airs Sundays at 10:00/9:00c on USA.