Procedural dramas may be a staple of our television landscape where the most interesting, bizarre and compelling cases drive most series' episodes but Christopher Murphey, creator of ABC's "Body of Proof," believes that one reason the Dana Delany-starrer has connected with audiences is due to the show's focus on character. For Murphey and his staff of writers (many of whom have procedural series on their resumes), being able to write for characters is a luxury that "Body Of Proof" embraces every week instead of leaving it for those 'very special episodes.'
To talk about the sophomore season of the series, our Jim Halterman rang up Murphey yesterday to talk about making sure both case and character get serviced in every episode, how Delany's Medical Examiner Megan Hunt will continue to clash with her superior Kate (Jeri Ryan) over things other than Kate dating Megan's ex-husband and the new love interests on the horizon for Megan and other characters.
Jim Halterman: From season one to the current season, Megan is no longer as prickly as she was and has softened up a lot. What prompted that change in these new episodes?
Christopher Murphey: That was partly creative input from our network. Also, partly, one of the things that we set out to do was to open up the show into the personal stories of not just Megan but the other characters and I think overall there was a certain lightening of those stories. And this is all prelude to say that we are tracking in the opposite direction next season, in the expectation - and I cross my fingers when I say this - that we get a next season. We like that edginess and we're bringing it back.
JH: Is this is also where Dana Delany would like to see things go?
CM: I think that's fair to say, yeah. We've always loved the idea of this character, who is slightly unfiltered in what she says and I think the idea of having water cooler moments the next day like 'Wow, can you believe she said that?' is something we want to get back to and Dana certainly supports that idea as well. I think it's been quite an interesting journey going from the first season to second season and all the things that we had continued to learn from and that's one of them - we want to give Megan her edge back.
JH: How much of a challenge is it for you and the writers to juggle the personal and the workplace?
CM: We try very hard to make that work. I guess I should say that I really had no basis for comparison since I have not worked in television before this show. I've set up pilots, obviously, and I've had a pilot produced many moons ago but this was new for me to work with a writing staff and get in there and break stories every day as opposed to the members of our staff. We have veteran writers who come primarily from procedural backgrounds. We have four writers with a 'CSI' background, another one from 'House' and one from 'Numb3rs.' When we were putting our staff together first season one thing we saw was how eager these strict procedural writers were to write on a show where they finally got to write for characters. The character emphasis on our show has been there from the beginning and is part of its DNA and we think as much about character arcs and character dynamics as we do the case. Every time we're breaking an episode we think first who our victim is and who are suspects are and then how our characters are going to be affected and what is our emotional story going on in Megan's life or whomever that is going to, in some way, be connected to whatever discovery comes from the A story. That is the heart of our show and we hope it's working.
JH: One of the things I've noticed on the show is that she and Kate (Jeri Ryan) seem to be getting along better which means we're seeing less of that adversarial element. Can you talk about that change?
CM: We started out the season with a novel situation where there were four episodes from last season that did not air during our first season. Those episodes included episodes 12 and 13, which had the Cliff Curtis character (Special Agent Derek Ames). The one that just ran where Lacey (Mary Mouser) finds Derek and Megan on the couch together, that had been intended to be our season finale and then because that episode as well as three others were pushed into this season when we started breaking stories the network requested that we have new episodes to start the second season. We had to kind of maintain that tension between Megan and Kate into the second season even though we felt like we definitely wanted to maintain a sense of feistiness in their relationship and Megan will continue to be the rogue who doesn't play by the rules and gets under Kate's skin. I think what we wanted to do was move away from the 'Kate's dating my ex-husband' as the sole source of conflict between them so we're moving past. The episode that airs [this week] is actually our episode #204 and it's the first episode in which we find out what's going to happen between Kate and Todd (Jeffrey Nordling) and moving forward from that there will be other sources of conflict between Megan and Kate to get into but they won't be about Todd.
JH: 'Body Of Proof' and 'Castle' both are shows that seem to be grounded in the same kind of reality. Has there been any talk about a crossover episode?
CM: It's funny, it has, but I think there's a practical impediment to making that happen in that both the leads of 'Castle' (Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic)...it's kind of the same problem with Dana... in our pilot episode, Dana was in practically every scene and moving into breaking episodes for the regular season we knew we had to give her some time off and, like it is with the two leads of 'Castle,' they work a lot on that show so to figure out a crossover episode we just haven't been able to make it happen given scheduling issues. But it's certainly been talked about and who knows.
JH: It also dawned on me that Dana Delany and Nathan Fillion played a married couple on 'Desperate Housewives' so that might break that fourth wall a bit too much.
CM: Yeah, exactly. It's definitely been floated and if we can make it work we definitely will explore it.
JH: What can you tease about this week's episode? I saw something in the previews about a bloodless corpse and vampires, which sounds fun.
CM: The medical mystery of this case is that this woman has practically no blood in her entire system so the question is what happened to her? It's a fun episode. The girl is part of the world we call 'The Pharm Girls,' girls who work in the pharmaceutical business and selling and representing drug manufacturers. It's a hip world full of very young, ambitious, cutthroat women and our victim is of this world and that's part of the mystery that our team pursues over the course of the episode.
JH: The Nathalie Kelley character, Dani Alvarez, comes in this next episode, too. How is she going to fit into the show?
CM: She'll be along for most of this season. The idea was to bring in this sort of young, hot, presence in the M.E. office, which is something Kate takes note of and we're playing around with. She's going to be the love interest for one of our cast members and help us flesh out his character some more. She's lovely and we've had a lot of fun and, again, the idea is to bring in some new blood into the ME's office and someone who our other characters can have conflict over.
JH: I know Jamie Bamber from 'Battlestar Galactica' is coming to the show for a few episodes. When does he start to appear?
CM: We're shooting episode #211 as we speak and he's shooting 211, 212 and 213. He is Megan Hunt's love interest. We'll see those episodes in January.
JH: In your opinion, why do you think procedural dramas are so popular? Just when we think we have more than enough, 'Body Of Proof' comes along and people tune in! Why can't viewers get enough?
CM: I think there's a built-in satisfaction in a mystery well told that resolves at the end of the day. In particular, the story sort of shepherded by a cast of characters that you connect with and grow to enjoy. When we were pitching this show, what we always said about it was that yes, it's a close-ended procedural show but in reality it's an opportunity to open up a window on Megan Hunt's life for an hour each week. I think it's delivering on both promises of compelling characters and a satisfying story. What we think sets our show somewhat apart from the real heavy procedurals is that we really do have a character orientation on a procedural show. I think the case provides a lot for shows like 'CSI' and 'NCIS' and, of course, there are character moments but I don't know that they service character the way that we do and that's what I think has connected with our audience.
"Body of Proof" airs Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00c on ABC.