Next up from our Psych set visit, we sat down with the smart, funny think tank where each episode begins—creator and executive producer Steve Franks and executive producers Kelly Kulchak and Chris Henze.
First up, they chatted about the different dynamics of the show, and how it’s fun to mix and match the pairings. “We always wish that…we could play with the dynamics of the other characters as much as possible, [but] we get led back to the dynamics that are always really strong—Shawn and Juliet, Shawn and Gus, [and] Lassiter and Juliet,” says Franks. “I love to put Lassiter with anybody else because I love to write that character.” Kulchak adds that last year’s Hangover homage “was like a magic episode where you just got to see everybody in a twisted weird way.”
Next, we asked about sustaining the innate joy that is Psych for seven seasons. Kulchak and Henze say it’s all Franks. “Steve is the most amazingly joyful man I’ve ever met in my life. He approaches everything as if it’s going to be the best day, the best script, the best episode,” says Kulchak. “When we were shooting the pilot, he was like, ‘Oh, I’ve been breaking some episodes for the first season,’ and I’m [thinking], ‘Oh, don’t [jinx it],’ but he just is so optimistic and so amazingly fun to work with.”
Franks says Psych was designed as a reaction to what was on television at the time. “It’s like everything was just dark, and even comedians were mean-spirited and [into the] comedy of pain,” he says. “[We] struggle with that in every episode [because] I want people to be laughing as much as possible. [It’s] just important that you feel [the] positivity coming out of [what we do].” He adds that even though the characters regularly take the piss out of each other, it’s never from a dark place. “[It’s] never about ‘let’s humiliate this person’ and all of that.”
He adds that when they shot the episode last season where Shawn was undercover in a mental hospital, they had to dial back some of the scenes that he felt went too far. “I would like [Psych] to spread a little sunshine into people’s world, as silly and ridiculous as that sounds,” he says. “I write this show for me, and I would like to feel that way [when I watch].”
Kulchak says Franks’ sunny disposition is a tell when writers pitch stories to him. If he’s not animated, the pitch isn’t going well. “He’s [always] so enthusiastic. He goes through every script that a writer writes, and he does these checkbox and stops…you can just see the writers are just crazy about this guy. We all are,” she says.
Looking ahead, Franks already knows where he wants the show to end. “I do have the idea for what the last episode is, and I hope I don’t have to pull it out for a while. I know where I want to go, and we’re getting there,” he says. “I feel like we’ve actually traveled a lot of that road with Shawn’s relationship with his dad, which is…one of the two core relationships that I imagined from the pilot. Obviously, I didn’t know that the Juliet character was coming in until later, but I sort of had designs of bringing Shawn down that road and just happened to be on [the right track with] the second character.
Franks points out that he always imagined the whole of Psych as a movie. “I thought of it as 120 episodes, and each episode was one minute of a movie. So you know… at 30 episodes in, there should have been this turn of the character [with an] incident that sort of starts him on the journey of the change. I think we’re kind of right on track.”
When we met the team, they were shooting episode 100, and they were very happy with how season seven was progressing. “I think [it’s] actually significantly better than season six [and] I didn’t even knock on wood or something,” says Franks. “But what we’ve seen and what we’ve written and what we’ve put together…just feels really strong. [We] feel like we’ve figured it out. [O]ddly enough, this far into the process… we’re not bored or repeating ourselves.”
Franks admits that sometimes they get punch drunk, and have occasionally entertained the idea for reshooting one of the first or second season episodes frame by frame. “[It would be] called “Remake,” he says. “Since they reboot Spiderman every five years, why can’t we reboot our own show?”
The producers are enjoying the phenomenon of seeing the show in marathon runs via online streaming and ION syndication in the U.S. “I just know I can turn it on Saturday or Sunday and watch six episodes in a row…which is always fun,” Franks says. “And the great thing about syndication is [it lets you see the show through fresh eyes]. You’re so close to these episodes when they’re being made and you have your expectation of what your vision was for it and then [you have your doubts that it worked]. But with time and space, I can sit and watch the show [now] as a fan and go, ‘Oh, this isn’t that bad.’ So for me, it’s like I get to rediscover it on ION.”
Kulchak and Henze each have children who have discovered the show. “They will paw through my bag to get my dailies or get whatever I’ve got coming home,” says Kulchak. “And they can watch every episode [now. And since] they have met James [Roday] and Dule [Hill], they sort of feel like they’re a little bit in on the game. But watching it through their eyes is like the best gauge of what’s working and what’s not working, and it’s really fantastic.”
Henze agrees. “That’s been the greatest gift…that somehow we ended up with a show that every age likes and families can watch together. When Steve and I started this show, I had one six-week-old who’s now seven [years old], and since then I had another one, who is five,” he says. “I come downstairs at six in the morning now and they’re on the computer ’cause they know how to work it better than me, and they’re on Netflix watching old episodes because it makes them giggle and they think it’s funny. Watching that progress and [realizing that] these people [who] didn’t exist when we started this show are now enjoying this show and watching it, it’s amazing. It’s surreal, and, I think that’s sort of what I’m most proud of.”
Franks is also proud that families can watch it together. “We feel that’s really cool. We always say that it’s a family show with an asterisk,” he says. “There’ll be [adult] things that get on there every once in a while. We apologize. But it makes us giggle a lot. And hopefully it’s something you would have to explain [to your kids].”
We can’t wait to see what they do next. Psych is all new tonight at 10 pm E/9pm C on USA.
Photo credit: Heather M. (Kelly Kulchak is far left, Steve Franks is in the middle above the crowd, and Chris Henze is far right).