Somehow it seems only fitting that a comedic series like USA's "Psych" would have its mid-season premiere land on February 29th or, as it's commonly known, "Leap Day." With its sharp use of pop culture references, quick banter between fake psychic Shawn (James Roday) and his lifelong pal Gus (Dule Hill) and a slew of guest stars that effortlessly folds into the world that Executive Producer Steve Franks and his writers have created, the series shows no signs of losing creative steam or its devoted audience.
While the second half of season six begins to air tonight, the writers' room for USA's longest running series on the air is already hard at work on season seven. Thankfully, our Jim Halterman was able to coax Franks to the phone for a few minutes to not only talk about how the writers break the often intricate episodes but also whether the long-talked-about music episode is going to finally happen and the impressive dedication in making sure the opening titles are always fresh.
Jim Halterman: You wrote and directed tonight's episode, "Indiana Shawn And The Temple Of The Kinda Crappy, Rusty Old Dagger" so I have to ask how do you and the writers go about breaking your episodes? Do you start with the film or TV show you want to reference or does the case come first?
Steve Franks: Sometimes it goes backwards and [in season 7] we're doing a 'Clue'-inspired episode. James [Roday] is a huge fan of 'Clue' and then we said, 'How fun to do three different endings and let people vote on the endings?' In that case, we worked backwards. The same thing when we wanted to do a 'Twins Peaks' episode so we worked backwards from that. This one, it didn't start as an 'Indiana Jones' episode but I had this whole idea about this boat chase that I really wanted to do and I also worked backwards from the funeral. I thought 'Oh, this would be so fun for Shawn to confront death for the first time.' Then as it became more and more adventurous I realized 'This is like 'Indiana Jones'' and at that point is where I get really excited when you have a template to lay it on.
This one came through the back door but... there are three ways to start - you either start with a concept, you start with the reference but the worst way is the way I always end up doing it when I'll say 'What if Shawn and Gus go to a funeral for a sea lion and Shawn looks down and says 'The sea lion was murdered' and work backwards from that moment? That's always the terrible way to break stories because it's so hard but I end up doing it time and time again... I shudder to think what we would do if we ever tried to do a straight mystery case.
JH: You did the 'Twin Peaks' episode last year and I know M�dchen Amick wasn't in that episode but you finally got her for 'Indiana Shawn.'
SF: She was the one that we couldn't get! Something happened with some scheduling thing. We thought we had her initially but then we couldn't get her so this was such a coup for me. She came to play! Normally it takes people a day before they catch up to what's going on but, oh my God, she came to play right from the start. And all the sexual heat that goes on between she and James was all her! I never called cut because I wanted to see what happened. She was great.
JH: Talk to me about this corral of characters that you can bring back when you feel like it. I'm guessing you don't always go into a guest spot thinking that but when you see how someone works on the show, you can bring them back. Is that how it works?
SF: We have this terrible thing that we do. Every time we have someone on who comes and is truly fantastic we put them in jail or we kill them in the end. Again, I love writing the Despereaux character (played by Cary Elwes, who is back in the 'Indiana Shawn' episode) and I say if I could just do Despereaux episodes I would do that. They're so fun but this is what we've been building to do with that character because we didn't really get to see him in action in the first one. They were always catching him after the fact. The second one they teamed up a bit but this time we were able to pull the guys in with a world-class thief who always has the right exit plan. It was so fun and such a great dynamic.
JH: And you have The Miz from the WWE in the "Shawn And The Real Girl" dating show episode.
SF: That was really fun. We shot 'Indiana Shawn' and 'Shawn and the Real Girl' back to back and those were hugely complicated shoots... it was insane because I'm sitting down at lunch and at a table there's Cary Elwes, The Miz and Wayne Brady. It was such a great mixture of people.
JH: Has there been anyone that is on your wish list for guest stars?
SF: Most of the people on our wish list are rock stars. If we had David Bowie and Sting on the show, we'd be happy. We almost got close to getting Paul Reubens on the show last year and we're all huge, huge Paul Reubens fans so there's that. Then there's the almost-impossible-to-get like Michael Keaton. That would be a dream come true for me.
JH: I have to ask about Shawn and Juliet (Maggie Lawson). What's your plan for them? Now that they're together, it made me wonder how far we'll get into the relationship. A part of me really wants to see Shawn relate to his own son and daughter. Is that in your head at all?
SF: For me, it's like, I love how this relationship is developing. It's not Sam and Diane. We don't want to make it the focus of the show. It's one of the great elements that works together but, if anything, this show is the romance between two best friends so that as an obstacle and a thing that helps Shawn develop as a human being is always good. The thing that we've found is they're a really good couple so they're sort of fun to watch... it's one of those things that we're moving it along slowly. We have some good stuff that's happening with that in season seven but up to this point we've been really enjoying moving that relationship creeping forward and let Shawn try to guess what is expected of him as a boyfriend.
JH: Is there a musical episode coming?
SF: We were going to do it last year and then I had to push it to this year. I'm writing it and keeping it going... I'm writing it and hoping it happens in season seven.
JH: One of my personal pet peeves is when a show doesn't change its opening titles. The 'Psych' song may be the same but you guys always change the visuals, which I love. I mean, I was watching season six of "Dexter" and it's the exact same opening. I'm like, 'Come on!'
SF: Absolutely! And you watch these shots of these people and they're nine years younger. By the way, it's one of my favorite things to do when we get to do the new titles. I drive them insane in post! I say 'No, no, let's try this clip!' We try fifty different versions of it and they're very patient with me and this year, especially, because we were originally going to air in June and then they moved us to October, we had almost all of our episodes done before we aired anything so I kept making them hold off because I'd say "Wait! We have more footage for episode nine!' This year, we ended up having a lot of things to draw from.
JH: I commend you for that.
SF: I'm glad someone's paying attention! We're always sad, though, whenever we try to find something for Tim Omundson (who plays Detective Lassiter). We had that slow motion shot of him cocking back the gun and the shell flying up into his hand and him catching it back in season three. We always say, 'We just have to put that back in. There's nothing better than that.'
JH: When the show first came on the air, social media was not what it is today and you guys use it so well with live tweeting, chats and contests. How much do you think that impacts the success of the show.
SF: I think it's been instrumental. The first season they promoted the daylights out of us, the second season it was a lot less and then by the third season it's like 'You're on your own.' We just want people to know that we're back and on USA every show they put on is a hit so the social media part of it came to us through a lot of great guidance... they came up with this great plan and for a guy like me who doesn't have a Twitter or Facebook account, I love it! I love new things and I love interesting ways to go about it. For me, it's great because we feel like fans have an ownership in our show, too. The fact that they can have access to the writers and the writers' room and our process... we love making little videos for the episodes... I insist every year instead of doing audio commentaries for one episode, we do eight. We're always willing to let people in on our process because that's what we would love about shows that we love and it's great. We have some crazy, dedicated fans and I don't think that came by accident so we engage them because we love them and it does seem to make people happy... we'll do everything we can to get the word out and carry the banner because we love what we do and we think it's important that there's at least one ridiculous crazy show on the air and we're going to stick around as long as they'll let us.
Psych airs Wednesdays at 10:00/9:00c on USA.