Podcast #578: “Revenge” Writer TED SULLIVAN Chats Midseason Finale!

Ted Sullivan (left), Gabriel Mann (middle), Barry Sloane (right)

Ted Sullivan (left), Gabriel Mann (middle), Barry Sloane (right)

 

As the “Revenge” midseason finale approaches, we can’t help but wonder exactly what is going to happen. So many questions are still left to be answered, and it seems we may just get them. I recently sat down and spoke with “Revenge” scribe, Ted Sullivan, and he gave us some insight on what we will see in the upcoming episode, as well as what is down the road. We talked also about character evolution and progression from the first season to now, Tommy Flanagan joining the cast, and the decision to kill off Conrad Grayson. Plus much more.

 

NaVell J. Lee: The midseason finale is coming up this Sunday, sir!

Ted Sullivan: Yes, that is right. I am very excited about it.

NJL: As you should be. From what I understand, you wrote this episode.

TS: I did. Although, I wrote it with a lot of help! (laughs) This show is a beast, and our writing team is not only super talented, but super supportive of each other. We have no snakes amongst us, which is a rare thing inside a writers’ room. Everyone helps out and works really well. Luckily, for me, the dial stopped on me, and I got to write a good, juicy one.

NJL: We’ll get into that episode a bit later in the conversation. However, there is a lot about you that I am slowly learning about. Aside from the fact that you are a comic book geek, you worked on other shows I watched before they went off the air. I couldn’t believe you were at “One Life to Live” and “As The World Turns.” I watched these shows religiously, and the fact that this escaped me is absolutely horrid!

TS: It’s funny…I really, truly appreciated working on those shows. I called it my “grindhouse” era, where I learned how to write fast, write with limited budgets and sets, and developed long-term stories. It was an unbelievable learning experience. I went to USC Film where you THINK you have an idea of how the industry works. Then, you get out there in the industry, and it doesn’t work like that at all. So, it was an amazing training program. In my first year at “ATWT,” I was 27 and wrote about 75 hours of television. By the end of that first year, you say, “I guess I kind of know how to lay out a story, work to an act break,” and all those types of things. It was a very useful process.

We had five or six writers in a room, and we had to write five or six episodes a week. So, you only had two days to write an episode, two days to break, and one day to get notes and turn it around. That was a tough, grueling, unrelenting schedule. Also, they didn’t have seasons, so you would work 50 weeks out of the year. Even if you took a week’s vacation, you still had to work while on vacation. It really helped prepare me for when I made the jump into primetime. While you had time to work on story, you still implemented what you learned in soap opera.

NJL: What a great segue back to “Revenge” as we look at how the characters transitioned from season 1 to now in season 4. So many changes happened including the revelation of who Emily Thorne really is. Personally, I never thought it would be revealed this early on in the series. However, it is a very interesting twist. She is not hiding behind closed doors, but also able to be a badass when she needs to. Also, it brings about a different connection with people. For instance, I am rooting for Daniel/Emily in spite of him shooting her in the stomach.

TS: I think everyone has done some type of crazy stuff to each other. What I love about the show, and I truly love this show, is exactly what you said. The show and the characters have evolved. If you look at the show now and you look at where it was in episode two, everyone is in completely different places, positions and jobs. Relationships have changed, interactions have changed, and secrets have been exposed. Having done shows in the past such as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” or “Rizzoli & Isles,” there is an emphasis on keeping the characters pretty much where they are and not evolve them. This show moves story, moves characters, changes positions like no other. That is why I think it’s interesting. It’s also why sometimes some people love it, and some people get frustrated.

Some say, “I want it to go back to how it was in season 1.” However, it can’t always be like that. The characters have changed, secrets have changed, and the dynamics have changed. What people like about this season is that they are adjusting to it evolving, and that is what is exciting about it. I do see people rooting for Daniel and Emily, and you never thought that would ever happen. People are rooting for Emily and Jack in a way they hadn’t done before. At the end of season 3, there were people who said, “I can’t believe you brought David Clarke back. It totally invalidates everything.” At the same point, they are now saying, “Oh, wow! There is story with David, and I am starting to get a feel of where he has been.” All of those secrets are coming to light right now, and will continue to come to light. It’s fun, cool, and exciting.

NJL: It’s the continuation of a story!

TS: Exactly! A story inherently means things have to change. The show doesn’t have a normal engine. When I worked at “L&O,” there’s a crime that has to be solved by the end of every episode. This is a very different type of show, which is why it is so exhausting, and so hard to do week to week.

NJL: While you were mentioning in essence to David’s return, fans, myself included, in the beginning of the season were confused as to what the true motives were. At one point, we thought it was going to be Victoria’s revenge against Emily. Later on, we see that it’s the story of David’s revenge, and I was like, “This was a twist I could get behind.” I didn’t necessarily want to see Victoria’s revenge as she deserved it. For David, I WANT to see this as he was wronged. I definitely want to know what he has been up to, where’s he been, and how he stayed alive all those months without anyone knowing in the Hamptons…

TS: We wanted to be very careful that we didn’t invalidate Emily’s mission. So, the secrets of where David has been are beginning to come to light, and will continue to come to light over the next bunch of episodes. David WAS wronged, which is why it is very important for this season to be a slow burn of Emily and David to reunite as father/daughter. Suddenly, there are all these family dynamics that we get to play through a “Revenge” lens. It’s never going to be a normal father/daughter conversation. We’re going to hit the same types of thematic things that you might hit on a normal show, but doing it through the point of view of someone like David, who was in prison for years, and Emily, who is a ninja. Those are different dynamics that change how a normal father/daughter conversation might go.

NJL: How did it come about in the writers’ room to officially bring back David Clarke (James Tupper) and kill off Conrad Grayson (Henry Czerny)? I was taken aback when seeing a much alive David stab Conrad in the street during the season finale. Aside from the shovel slap, that was one of the best things ever.

TS: The shovel heard around the world was an awesome moment for sure! Believe me, there is not a decision made in that writers’ room that is not poked, prodded and pushed. I think we were all afraid, at first, to have David come back. In an attempt to say the show changes, surprises, and shocks, there is pretty much nothing more shocking than that. What was more shocking was having Conrad die. That was a painful one for me, because I love Henry as an actor and a friend. I always want to work with him, and he is able to drive great story. David finally got some revenge and closed that door for him, and started a new path for the show. While scary, that was good drama-wise. There was a lot of arguing back and forth, but in the end, we all agreed it was the right way to go.

I think Sunil (Nayar) and Joe Fazzio did an incredible job in that finale writing something that was just nonstop shocks and emotional turns. It totally satisfied stories, and left you with so many questions that you want answered. We’ve been able to delve into that this season, so that every episode feels like there is a big, juicy moment that gets exposed, or a new question gets raised. Also, it allows us to take characters in interesting ways. Josh Bowman has been amazing this season. Karine Vanasse has been so much more interesting as Margaux because she has much more to do. She is delving into a darker direction. Gabe (Mann) being able to interact, as Nolan, with David, is a very interesting dynamic to see him play out. While Nolan may feel betrayed by David, he clearly looks up to him as a father figure. They are going to have to resolve those issues moving forward.

NJL: You bring up one of my favorite characters on the show, which is Nolan Ross. 

TS: (laughs) It’s a safe bet that most people who watch the show are in love with Gabriel Mann and Nolan Ross.

NJL: (laughs) True, and I get made fun of a lot about it! It’s wonderful to see, since we are talking about character development and evolution, with each season progression, Nolan is getting a much stronger backbone on his body. He is not that…complacent in a sense? I see him as more of a guy who is apt to standing up for himself to get what he wants. 

TS: Wait until you see what we got coming up for him. Honestly, you’re hitting the nail on the head there. I think Gabe is a guy who has wanted that, and we are writing toward that now. It’s an interesting color to see him, and it goes toward the character evolve. It’s the same way of having Nick (Wechsler) playing Jack, as a cop, some people at first said, “Why would you do that?” It’s getting him outside that bar, and being active in these cases. You’ll see in the midwinter break, they all get to play roles in things where they never could before. Everyone has an exciting role to play in this story and not sit on the sidelines.

NJL: Going to be amazing to watch! What is also amazing, if many haven’t heard yet, is the latest casting addition to the show. “Sons of Anarchy” star Tommy Flanagan is coming aboard. Love that actor, and cannot wait to see what comes down the road for him.

TS: Well…the first table read with him, and when he first opened his mouth, the ENTIRE room shifted and stared at him. He was imposing, powerful, and commanded this table read. It was really exciting, and I don’t think you are going to believe how awesome he is on the show. You may know as you are a fan, but boy! He brings heat and juice to the show that I think is fantastic.

NJL: Are we able to fast forward to January?

TS: (laughs) The wait is tough. You’re really going to like what comes down the pike. There are some really big twists and turns coming. We are trying to emulate last year’s finale as much as possible in many episodes as we can. You have the scream out loud moments, but also have the emotional moments. Some of the other moments in the finale, and the episode right before the finale, where Emily gets to see Conrad taken down, are brutal from an emotional standpoint. Then, who have someone like Emily VanCamp crush it! You have Madeline Stowe blowing people out of the water, too, because she can destroy a scene. There is a scene in this upcoming episode where Madeline is just jaw-droppingly good.

My mother came to visit set that day, and I said, “You picked a good day. You are going to watch Madeline destroy this scene for three or four hours.” You will know the scene when you see it, and it’s really, really amazing to see. Those are those moments on set where you don’t give notes, especially when they are zoned in on what the scene needs to be on both a macro and micro level. Madeline is particularly good at knowing that. Her notes when she gives them on certain things can be spot on and brilliant for that reason. She understands story, theme, and thinks on that level.

NJL: We saw the promo for the upcoming episode on Sunday, and it says, “Who will die next?” All we can do is sit here and wonder, “Are they really going to rip our hearts out with another death?!” 

TS: Obviously, there is a death in the midseason finale, and I can’t say OR hint at who it is.

NJL: No, don’t reveal. On a scale of 0-10…how bad will it hurt?

TS: I want to be careful on what to say, but what I can tell you is this. This is my favorite thing that I have ever written. We watched the episode yesterday with Fil Eisler, the music composer, who is a genius, by the way. The last piece of music he wrote for it, he said, “This is my favorite piece I ever written for this show.” I think people are going to respond to a satisfying ending to this episode. It’s going to be exciting. And I am not going to say any more than that.

NJL: Fair enough. I know my favorite piece by Fil was in S1: Ep. 15, so I am excited to hear this piece during the episode.

TS: Part of the reason why this episode works is because of the culmination of 9 great episodes leading up to it. It answers a lot of questions, and tying up where stories are going. It also is laying the groundwork for when you see the end of this episode, there’s a lot more story to tell. There’s a lot of stuff coming up with all these characters. Again, people are never going to be the same. It’s going to continue to change, develop and evolve.

NJL: Another thing I wanted to mention, which I did forget, is how we don’t hear an episode start off with a voiceover. What made you guys decide not to do that? Was it because of the evolution of the show, or for other reasons?

TS: Well, we didn’t always do it. We mainly did it, and there were some episodes that didn’t include a voiceover. Even in season 1, the flashback episode, didn’t include a voiceover. The thing with the voiceover is that when you use it all the time, it forces a show to open and close at a certain pace. If you noticed now, some of our shows have been opening up with more energy and excitement right off the bat. We couldn’t really have done with the slower music and the voiceover. We ultimately decided that if the show is going to evolve and change, we want to shake things up a little bit. I don’t think we would be opposed to having the voiceover again if it is organic to the show or episode. All I will say is watch for this episode coming up even. You’ll see that we are toying around with different thing as we move forward this season.

NJL: We had a Twitter question coming in from @Nk3play2, and he wants to know, “Will the show ever actually try to write Jack and Emily as a couple?” I’m sure that may be an open-ended question…

TS: (laughs) That is a question that I certainly can’t answer one way or the other. However, it is crazy to think that would close any doors completely. There are people who couldn’t imagine Emily with anyone BUT Jack, and there are people who can’t imagine Emily with anyone BUT Daniel. There are some who still bemoan Aiden being gone. There are only open doors here in the writers’ room.

NJL: Poor Aiden Mathis…

TS: I miss Barry (Sloane) on set. Luckily, he lives down the street, so I get to drink beers with him. (laughs) He is an awesome, awesome actor, and he is an awesome, awesome guy. I think “The Whispers” is going to be an awesome, awesome show. What he has shown me so far from that show is really cool, and he is going to be a badass on it. 

NJL: I don’t know how you are going to be able to cram all the revelations within an hour on this episode, but I can’t wait to find out.

TS: Every act has a lot of stuff that happens in it. I can tell you that much. It’s actually worse than an hour, it’s 43 minutes. My friends who write for HBO or Showtime, they get an extra 15 minutes to work with. When you think about it, it’s about an act and a half worth of material. It’s not fair!

NJL: I’m sure Twitter will be blowing up during the show. Will you be live-tweeting the show?

TS: I will be live-tweeting the west coast feed. I wish I could do the east coast feed. I think I may have a couple of guest stars over at the house with me, so we will probably be posting some pictures and whatnot while we are live tweeting together. Also, I will be uploading a whole heck of a lot of behind the scenes photos that night on Twitter. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I put up a lot of pictures from this episode. They were non-spoiler ones, but I got a lot of spoiler ones that I will put up as the episode airs and after we hit those marks. 

NJL: I’ll hold down the fort on the east coast.

TS: We greatly appreciate you pushing our show, and appreciate how rabid our fans are. I try to go on Twitter to say thanks to them, and answer questions when I can. Our fans are something unique, and they are passionate. They will follow you, and call you out if you make a mistake. We in the writers’ room love this show, and think of the show all the time. We really try to honor both the characters and history of the show. It’s a great honor to be on this show, and to have so many fans who really love it as well.

NJL: I find it amazing to see how many fans come out of the woodwork when the show is on. I’ve never had so much interaction with people on Twitter for a whole hour than during this show. It’s completely mesmerizing to me to see all these retweets, responses, and questions. It baffles me still, but amazing to see people showing the love and support for the show. You have a strong fan following with this show, and I cannot tell you what it means to me, as a fan, to be a part of that.

TS: It’s really exciting, and I agree. When I go and do the live tweets for an episode, it’s amazing how you get bombarded and you are just blown away. It’s impossible to keep up with the questions, and things are just flying by. It’s great they are doing that, and exciting to see things trending when they do. It’s great that they do that, and I hope they continue to do so and enjoy the rest of this season.

NJL: The midseason finale of “Revenge” airs this Sunday, December 7, at 10/9c on ABC. Ted Sullivan, we follow got you here. Thank you so much, and would love to do this again.

TS: That sounds great. It was a pleasure to be here. Let’s do it again when my next episode is up. It will be fun.

Make sure to follow Ted Sullivan on Twitter and Instagram: @karterhol.

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