Dennis Heaton Talks Motive Season 4

[Warning: General spoilers for season 4, for our U.S. friends.]

Motive returns to CTV this Tuesday night for its final seven episodes with “The Dead Hand” and guest stars Christina Cox and Orphan Black‘s Dylan Bruce, while U.S. fans begin season 4 tonight on USA with “The Vanishing Policeman” and Jon Heder and Rookie Blue‘s Priscilla Faia. I jumped on the phone with showrunner Dennis Heaton this week to talk about the show, and what to expect as they wrap up.

Heaton says they knew ahead of this season’s production that they would conclude with four. “CTV was kind enough to tell us right at the outset that they wanted it to be the last. It’s always bittersweet to find out you’re going to be unemployed in ten months,” he says.

“[Shopping it elsewhere] was discussed…but one of the things about that is that shows that migrate almost always have to change something for that migration to happen, and I was more concerned about making season 4 as much fun and exciting as possible. If CTV wanted it to be the ending, I wanted to honor that run and end the series.”

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t do [a fifth season]. I’d love to do it. In terms of the USA deal, that came after the CTV decision had been made…and I’m not really privy to the conversations they had about the possibility of a fifth season. I have seen a couple of things online with people wondering if USA would do season five [which is nice].”

The idea for the series came from Daniel Cerone (The Blacklist). “[Motive] was a pilot script he’d written a number of years ago, and I think it was set in Memphis and then LA. Daniel had worked with Rob LaBelle on a project so they had a relationship,” says Heaton.

“Rob optioned the pilot script from Daniel, but he was too busy on other stuff to develop, so they brought on James Thorpe, who took that premise, which in a mystery is 90% of the ending. To cleave that much of the conclusion off at the end and put it at the front was one of the issues during development [as they worked out], ‘How do we make these stories exciting?’ I was one the first hires after the show got greenlit.”

The first season was more procedural in nature while the second and third seasons had a throughline case that carried through all of the episodes. This season, Heaton says they’ve come full circle to how they began. “Season 1 had very much the procedural [focus] and cases of the week. With any show as it evolves, you start to spend more time with the characters. One of the beauties of social media, you get a sense of who they react to, and it gives us a better opportunity for adjustment more than ever before,” he explains.

“In season 2, we wanted to focus on Angie’s past, and in season 3 to focus on Angie and Vega’s present relationship through the lens of a case they weren’t seeing eye to eye on. With season 4, after doing two seasons where a case was the overarching drive for our characters, what I really wanted to do was just focus on the relationships. In a way, season 4 goes back to season 1 in that the episodes are focused on the procedural of that episode, and the season arc is all just interpersonal stuff.”

Heaton says the decision to devote part of season 4 to the mystery of Vega’s illness arose from a desire to serve both the character and Louis Ferreira. “The illness came out of wanting to give Louis an opportunity to drill into Vega, who is a very still waters run deep guy,” he recalls. “It started with,”What can we do for that character?’ All of the things that come off of that…the friction with Angie, the [relationship] with Betty, the march out of being a detective, evolved out of that initial desire to let that character look in the mirror for a while.”

We love all the guest stars on Motive, and Heaton says it’s a joy for him and his team, too. “One of the most fun parts of doing a TV season is that first week in the writer’s room where it’s just me and my staff of writers and we’ve got the season ahead of us, and we can spitball all the crazy ideas that come out there,” he shares. “Part of that conversation always ends up being, ‘Who would we love to see on the show this year?’ We just start listing people. From that list it evolves into [considering actors for different types of roles than they might be expected to play].”

“From there, we do a weekly meeting with our casting directors. They’re getting outlines and they’re spitballing people to us. It’s a fusion of people’s opinions and knowledge bases that brings that together. It’s always fun getting in the guest stars because they bring a different sensibility to each episode, in the same way that we let each episode be almost a mini-movie and a different kind of investigation.”

Tuesday’s episode on CTV is a little bit different for the show, focusing on the closed case of a murdered high school investigative journalist, which is reopened when a woman storms the station strapped to a bomb. “That idea came out of…my producer saying it would be really good if we could do an episode that was set a little more on our sets…as much of a bottle show as we could do. Unless the murder takes place in the police station, it’s almost impossible to do a bottle show in the truest sense of the term,” he points out.

“And I have always had a love of teen detective stories. Cold cases are always interesting in terms of, ‘How do you investigate one mystery that’s actually at the core of a second mystery?’ A lot of things just gelled into that story. I had worked with Christina Cox on Blood Ties.”

While it might seem, given the climate in the world right now, that a suicide bomb tangent might get some pushback, Heaton says that wasn’t the case. “The network got really behind it. My big concern was how were people going to feel about a woman strapping a bomb to herself,” he says. “[In the writers room], we go through a lot of statistics on murder and crime. One of the things we take a little more liberty with is the number of women who murder, which I’m all for. everybody gets a turn.”

Next up, Heaton is starting work on a couple of projects. “I’m developing a new one-hour series which I’m hoping to be pitching in the next month or so,” he says. “And I’ve also started on a feature film script that I’ve wanted to write for the last five years. It’s a script that I’ve always wanted to write, and hopefully direct as well.”

Motive season 4 resumes on CTV at 10/9c Tuesdays, and begins tonight at 10/9c on USA in the U.S. Here’s a sneak peek of “The Dead Hand.”


Photos and Video Courtesy of CTV; Dennis Heaton image courtesy of Jeff Weddell.

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