FOREVER: Matt Miller on the Procedural's Tone, Character Dynamics, and More - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

FOREVER: Matt Miller on the Procedural’s Tone, Character Dynamics, and More

September 22, 2014 by  


There aren’t a whole lot of crime procedurals on tap this season, but one of the ones I enjoyed the most was ABC’s FOREVER. (Which you may have seen since ABC put it online early.)

Ioan Gruffudd is effortless as Henry Morgan, a medical examiner who is fascinated with death for a good reason…he can’t die. The show is breezy, fun, and in the couple of episodes I’ve seen, it has been a fun mix of “case of the week” and dealing with the on-going mythology.

I sat down with FOREVER creator Matt Miller (who has previously worked on CHUCK, HUMAN TARGET, and 666 PARK AVENUE, to name a few) to talk about the tone of the series, the cases that are ahead, Henry’s relationships, and more… (And, warning, there are a few minor pilot spoilers in here.)

When you’re sitting down to do a show like this, do you look at other crime procedurals to get a feel for what kind of tone you want to emulate? Or did you try to avoid them in order to stay in your own lane?
Matt Miller: That’s a great question. For me, I keep in my same lane as much as possible. I don’t watch that much scripted television, just because [when] you do it all day, you don’t want to be seeing what [others] do.

But I watch SHERLOCK, which I thought was really, really well done. But that’s a different kind of procedural. So I’m actually not as familiar with, like, ELEMENTARY, MENTALIST [and those shows]. I know what they are, and I’ve seen CASTLE, BONES — I’ve seen enough to know what they’re about. You get a sense in your head about what you want to do, and then you focus on that.

Whenever there are male-female pairings on shows, there always seems to be an interest in how the relationship is going to be handled. Are you looking at Henry and Jo in a purely platonic sense, or is the plan to eventually steer them into a romance?
MM: That’s the thing — I feel we don’t have to do that. I feel like both Henry and Jo are damaged people. And they’re both in love with someone else when the pilot starts. Both of those people are no longer with us, but they still have other people. So it’s about them helping the other person get over that loss, be able to be a more realized person, as opposed to them being romantically [linked]. Talk to me four seasons in and we’re looking for a story, they’ll get together. But certainly for the short-term, it’s not our intention.

I mean, I worked on a show called CHUCK, and I think I wrote it, but there was an episode early where they just kissed, and it was like episode six — there was a bomb thing and [Sarah] grabbed [Chuck], and kissed him. And then it was out. But that show needed that. That show was so much about the [relationship] between those two characters for a long time. We kept them apart, and then together, and apart, but ultimately they were always together from the pilot on. But with this one, we have other stuff to focus on.

There always has to be a bit of repetition in episode 2 (in order to catch-up viewers who may have missed the pilot), but is there steady progress in the ongoing story of Henry trying to figure out why he’s immortal in the first batch of episodes?
MM: I think the second week, we start with a saga sell — something for people who didn’t see the pilot, a condensed [recap] in five minutes, where he says, “My name is Henry Morgan. I die, I end up in the water naked.” And then we’ll get into a regular episode. He’ll probably die in the episode, but then he won’t die for a couple of episodes. And the anonymous caller [who contacts Henry in the pilot] will be in that episode. That might die out for an episode or two. You also want the audience to not know if he’s going to die in an episode or if the caller is going to come up. But we want to do episodes that have neither the anonymous caller or he dies, and still be totally satisfying.

I do have a nerdy question — when Henry dies, he always shows up in the same body of water naked. Has he tried hiding clothes around there? Or were his clothes getting stolen and he gave up?
MM: [Laughs] That’s hilarious. In the pilot, he comes up in the same place, because we could only shoot that [there]. But it’ll be different bodies of water [going forward], so it’s hard for him to predict. So he has his trusty old Abe who is there to pick him up. But that’s very funny.

We are going to do an episode where one time they pick him up and bring him to Bellevue for a psychological evaluation, because it’s like, “What’s with this guy? He’s constantly naked.”

That’s great. What other cases can you tease are in store this season?
MM: Our second episode will start off with a woman on the 59th Street Bridge, and she’s on the bridge, making a panicked phone call, and tells the taxi driver to stop, gets over the ledge, disappears from view. And Henry looks at the body and — it appears to be a suicide — and he is able to say, “This woman was murdered.” So we get to see his Sherlockian point of view, which goes against what the police are saying. And kind of unpack that story.

We’ll always see flashbacks that will take us back. We’re doing an episode about an old New York matriarch, like an Astor or Carnegie, who is 100 years old, and everyone wants her dead. Everyone hates this woman. And she ends up dying, and Henry looks at the body and says, “She was actually murdered.” So as we put that together, we realize that Henry knew her in, like, the ’50s. So you get to tell those kinds of episodes.

We do a small pox episode, where someone contracts small pox in present day, which leads to great flashbacks of 1860s London.

Will we be seeing flashbacks for any of the non-immortal characters?
MM: The flashbacks are purely in Henry’s point of view. That said, if we get a story that revolved around Jo’s dead husband, we could see him if we found an old deposition tape he was in. So there are ways to see characters without it being flashback. But we can also see a lot of Abe over the years. It’s not Abe’s flashback, but we can see Abe as a young man.

Since Henry is someone who can have children, and he’s been around for a couple of hundred years, will the show be exploring those kinds of losses earlier on?
MM: I think we may not see a child die right away, but we will see friendships he’s had, different people. We’re thinking of doing a serial killer copy cat episode, and he was in London during Jack the Ripper, the original time. It’s a different take. And Jack the Ripper was the fist case where medical examiners were sort of invented. And so we get to see that fun. We will see a lot of other characters.

This is a show where you can jump around to all sorts of time periods on this show via flashback. Is there a particular era you want to explore that you haven’t gotten to yet?
MM: I’m just nostalgic. I think there are some people who look forward, and some people who look backwards. I’m someone that tends to look backward, so I like all of it. I’m a sucker for period [storytelling]. I like the ’20s, which is a fun time we haven’t really done. We did a little bit of ’40s with the end of World War II and the ’50s. We’re going to do that stuff in the second episode. We’ll go far back, we’ll go deep.

With so much time in Henry’s life to cover, how much have you mapped out of the big events that have happened to him?
MM: We’re still piecing it together, but we’ve also come up with a rough chronology: when was he born, what was his father like, when did he realize he had this, what happened when he went back the first time, did he have a wife he tried to tell — we’ve mapped out these things.

Is this a show where you feel comfortable doing 22 episodes a season? Or if you had your choice, would you prefer to follow the trend and do a shorter season?
MM: My preference, honestly, is like a 17 [episode season]; it feels like a nice number. To do 17 episodes and not be canceled and get to come back next year, I think that would be the sweet spot. 13 is great, but it’s a little short. 22 is just brutal. Just the schedule is tough. But we’ll take it [if we get 22].

FOREVER has a special preview tonight at 10 PM on ABC, and then makes its time period debut on Tuesday at 10 PM.

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