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DF Interview: Steve Franks prepares for the spring debut of ‘Psych: The Movie 2: Lassie Come Home’ on Peacock
By Byron Brewer
Psych is headed to the coming Peacock streaming service, and it's bringing both Psych: The Movie and Psych: The Movie 2: Lassie Come Home with it.
It’s taken longer than expected for the second TV film, Psych: The Movie 2, to get underway. Originally planned to launch last year, it was moved from USA Network to Peacock. It is slated to air this spring after the NBCUniversal platform launches in April.
The name too has been revamped. The title, "Lassie Come Home," is not just a recycling of an actual Lassie (the big screen and longtime CBS-TV collie dog hero; you know!) movie title, but also a reference to Lassiter, who was largely absent from the first Psych movie after portrayer Tim Omundson suffered a stroke.
I am so much a fanboy of this former USA Network series, it is my extreme honor to interview creator Steve Franks about the second film as well as about the TV series itself. Franks will direct, co-write (with Jim Roday/“Shawn” and Andy Berman) and executive produce (with Chris Henze, Roday and Dulé Hill/“Gus”) the second movie.
Dynamic Forces: Steve, it is quite the honor for me to do this interview because I was – and am – a huge fan of the series. For the longest time, it seemed humor itself had vanished from the American TV scene until Psych, even though an hour show with drama elements, brought it back. Truly hilarious. Tell us just a little about the genesis of the concept.
Steve Franks: The idea was originally one I had for a feature after the release of Big Daddy. I pitched the one-liner to Sony along with a few other things and it didn’t really go anywhere. But I always liked the concept and thought someday it might make a good TV series. I had always wanted to do a cop show but couldn’t imagine doing a straightforward procedural. And when I first segued into television, I was primarily working in half hours, which were fun but didn’t allow the kind of time and space to do a mystery within the structure. As a kid, I loved shows like Moonlighting that were character-driven one hours and they weren’t really around anymore. It wasn’t until five years later when my producing partner Chris Henze hired Kelly Kulchak at his company that I revived the idea. I came in with a list of concepts and as soon as I said “fake psychic detective” the room lit up. It was my first one-hour idea. I even had to get someone to send me a one-hour script so I could see the format. One of the many times in my career that I realized knowing absolutely nothing about what you’re supposed to do is the best way to go.
DF: What can you tell us about developing the main characters and finding the right actors for each?
Steve Franks: Since we were going for something that wasn’t standard cop show, I knew I wanted to take that character as far away from what we imagine a detective should be. I wanted to make a show that wasn’t about the body of the victim they find crumpled up in the dumbwaiter, but the tiny little argument they are having before the dumbwaiter opens. I wanted a hero who was willing to run away when the time was right and was willing to fight only if he had to do so. Shawn was always preoccupied with something else, often food, and applying those needs to the realities of a crime scene gave us hundreds on new directions to go.
James Roday was the guy from the start, he just didn’t look exactly like it. He is the most naturally funny actor I’ve ever met. But what I didn’t know during casting is that James grows a giant beard every casting season. So he comes in with this big bushy clump of face hair and he’s so light and but he’s got this serious actor beard that makes you think he’s coming in to play the killer. It was a strange dichotomy. But I couldn’t get over how fast and limber he was with the dialogue. So, we had him come back and from the moment he walked in the second time, he was the guy.
Dulé Hill was coming off West Wing and we weren’t even sure he’d be willing to read with James. It wasn’t an “audition”, it was just a meeting. We knew he was this great serious actor but were worried that he wouldn’t want to do all the insane things we planned for Gus. So we just sat down and talked. And we just liked him so much. Which is our first requirement. In the best case scenario, you’re going to be spending the next five years with everyone you cast, so you better find people you love to be around. We thought the meeting was great and as we thought it was gonna end, he pulls out the script and says “so should we try this?” And from that first read, we knew we had the right guys.
DF: It was especially rewarding over the years to see the development of great chemistry: Shawn and Gus, Shawn and Jules (will they / won’t they / will they ever?), and my real fave, Shawn and Lassie. Tell us how some of these changes came about, and how you create and maintain great writing and performance as Psych did?
Steve Franks: I used to tell Tim Omundson that Lassiter was my favorite character to write for, and not because it’s smart to tell the actor you’re speaking to that their character is your favorite. He’s the voice of reason in this sea of madness but he’s the one who comes off as being out of line. I loved doing Lassiter from the start because I knew where it was going, we had so much going on under the surface that we were going to reveal and to watch that transformation was going to be joyous. Tim also loves costumes so there’s no idea you can’t pitch to him that he won’t be down for trying.
And it requires an actor of Tim’s versatility to play all those notes with the same amount of vigor. The guy who initially seems like simply the foil turns out to be their closest ally.
We wanted to keep Shawn and Juliet apart as long as we could as the lead up tends to be more exciting than the payoff in the “will they/won’t they” world. But we also wanted her to carve her own path before they became a couple because there was so much intriguing stuff in her backstory. And we would just try things with Maggie [Lawson] and she would make them all work. The network wanted the cops to ground the show but we always wanted her to go down the rabbit hole with the boys. I think we figured it out once she went undercover in “Scary Sherry” and became their performance coach in “American Duos.” After that, it was too late to rein us in.
DF: By far, with the exception of the buddy cop framing, the most interesting aspect of the series, in my opinion, was the use of Shawn’s heightened observational skills teamed with his eidetic memory in detecting crimes. Sometimes I wondered if the writers had forgotten he wasn’t really psychic! Tell readers a little about your favorite instances of Shawn’s use of these talents, and the “crime of the week” which was involved.
Steve Franks: First of all, kudos to you for your use of the word “eidetic.” I kinda think we kept Shawn’s observational skills fairly well in check. Sometimes, I thought we went the other way and the clues were too easy to read. But the network would always want more “shawnvisions” as we called them, so we’d add Shawn looking down at a piece of paper that anybody could see. We occasionally would push it in a slightly fantastical direction just to remind ourselves that our lead has a great skill, because if he didn’t bring something extraordinary to the table, then the cops should just be solving these cases themselves.
DF: Gotta-Ask-It Dept.: What is up with Gus and dress shirts?
Steve Franks: Well, he does have a real job. It also provides the contrast and tells the story in the poster. But mostly it’s because Dulé looks damn good in a button-down.
DF: I loved the snippets of young Shawn and Gus, both animated and performed, and how they were used in the series. How did this gimmick come about?
Steve Franks: It was there from the first day. It was in my pitch to the network. I started with Shawn as a young kid and it was just such a nice way to inform who he is by seeing how he was raised. It tells you everything you need to know about his relationship with his Dad. We had the chance to open up the flashbacks and include other characters and we do something really cool with it in the new Psych movie. The young Shawn and Gus animated stuff was something I really wanted to explore more but we were so limited by the amount of time and budget. There was never enough run time to do anything but a small burst. I think Psych is perfectly suited for animation, maybe we’ll see a version of that someday in the future.
DF: What was the hardest episode of Psych to put together … a story that needed to be told, and yet it was hard for you as creator?
Steve Franks: The one that got away was a time travel episode. We just couldn’t crack it the way we wanted to without Shawn actually traveling through time, which the network wasn’t on board for, strangely. We also had a SpaceX episode that got shut down at the 11th hour. However, in the scramble to replace it, we came up with one of my favorite episodes, which we inside-joke-named “Office Space.” The musical had challenges that one would expect but we were shooting a two-hour and it was a musical so I floated through that one on pure joy, not realizing how difficult what we were trying to do was. The funny thing is they are all hard in one way or another if it really matters to you. Because television moves so fast, you always wish you could keep working on it longer.
DF: Most fans know, I believe, but tell us what was unique about “I Know You Know,” the show’s theme song.
Steve Franks: It’s one of the rare times (but not the only) that the creator of the show writes and performs it, but I think all show runners should get to do the theme song, because, in a way, it’s just an extension of the script. It’s also good just to hear an actual theme song on a show these days. I feel cheated when the title just comes up.
DF: Me too; miss those great TV themes! … Steve, what can you tell readers about the second Psych movie? I know USA Network greenlit it, but does it have a release date, etc. yet? Can you whet our collective appetite with some hints of things to come?
Steve Franks: The movie is subtitled “Lassie Come Home”, it premieres on NBCUniversal’s new Peacock streaming service [this spring]. The story revolves around Lassiter getting shot and the aftermath. If that sounds serious, we compensate for that with a lot of carefully choreographed silliness. We’re bringing back some characters from the first movie, just probably not the ones you’d expect. It’s really fun. And that’s all we’ve ever been about. There’s enough darkness out there, we’re just trying to lighten things up a bit. Hopefully, we can make four more of these after this, we love doing it. We’ll go until we’re eighty.
DF: Any other projects you may be involved with you’d like to tell readers about here?
Steve Franks: I have a lot of things I’ve been working on. The second movie was supposed to shoot last summer but we pushed the start date due to actor availability. So, while waiting, and committed to start directing the movie as soon as everyone was ready to go, I just started writing new stuff for fun. It was so freeing. So I have a tremendous backlog of material built up now. I have a big concept movie that I can’t wait to take out. It’s completely different than anything I’ve done but strangely fits exactly into my voice and it’s not too expensive. I have a half hour spec and a Psych-toned one hour that will require a little bit of a special effects budget. But I think it’s weird that shows don’t aim for a wider audience anymore, things have gotten so specialized and shows are trying to hit such a limited target that the idea of people being able to sit down and enjoy a show together is becoming a challenge. I want to make shows for everyone.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Steve Franks for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Psych: The Movie 2: Lassie Come Home is slated to debut this spring on the Peacock streaming service, which launches in April. Watch DF News for further updates.
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