Interview with Exec Producer Josh Friedman from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

If you have been living under a rock, then you don’t know that my favorite show from this past year, indeed one of my favorite shows ever, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been picked up for next season by FOX. You may also not know that Brian Austin Green has been set as a series regular now as well. So to talk about that great set of news, Josh Friedman, creator & executive producer, talked with reporters, including yours truly, about last season and the plans for next season! So check out what he had to say below.

I got to ask the very first question! I asked Josh what he went through, in terms of logistics & other things in order to get the show picked up for a second season.

I think what we did is pretty much what’s standard on all shows. It’s an opportunity for the studio and the network and the production team to sit down and sort of talk about the show and kind of look at what we did right, what we did wrong, and kind of how we would keep doing the right things and stop doing the wrong things.

We went in and we made a presentation to Kevin Reilly and his team. We kind of have a conversation about the direction we want to go. And in this case we actually, about six weeks ago, the writing team was all brought back on to start working on episodes. So even though we didn’t have the official pickup, we were being paid to start working and generate stuff so that when the pickup came we would be basically, on schedule for a fall debut.

When asked about the show’s budget last season and if it made Fox think longer about a renewal, Josh replied,

No, I don’t think [the budget made] Fox pause at all. Despite what a lot of people thought … I guess in a weird way I’ll take it as a compliment. I think people thought that we were spending more money than we were. I think that the show was incredibly responsible and stayed within the parameters that Warner Brothers and Fox and we had agreed to from the beginning. So if the show looked big, then it was just because we’ve done our jobs well, I think.

But no, I think it was everyone just, it’s a pretty standard kind of process, I think, by which I don’t, I think everyone gets all anxious when are we getting the pickup? When are we not getting the pickup? But the renewal, it’s I mean Fox hasn’t, it’s not like they’ve announced their other shows. I mean I think they like to sort of see what they have coming in and I think they felt pretty good about the show. And so no, it wasn’t, money definitely wasn’t a factor at all, I think it’s just a process, it’s just there’s corporations involved and… They like to torture us.

We already know that Brian Austin Green will be back as a series regular, but what other kind of changes can we expect in terms of the cast or even behind the scenes with the crew?

As everyone’s, wondering, we are getting rid of Summer Glau, no I’m kidding. You know better than that. Anyone who’s worried we blew her up in the end and she’s not coming back, I will reassure you, she is coming back and eventually in full force. She’ll still be pretty. [Physically she’ll most likely be the same] eventually. That’s one of the hard things with her, it’s like to beat her up but you can’t mangle her too much. But I think that car bomb, it definitely will mess her up.

I will say, I brought the entire writing staff back, every single person from last year … brought back. I was really happy with what people did last year I think we were …, in a weird way it’s sort of like any other sports team kind of thing, you’re just getting–consistency and kind of continuity is a big part of it, so I think we’re looking to make as few changes as we can.

And I think we feel pretty good where we ended up and I think there’s wherever we’ve little dropouts of people, some people go get other jobs some of the crew because we’re not schedules are different, but on the whole I think it’s pretty much going to be the same group from last year. People in terms of Brian, I think that character and Brian’s portrayal of it was, I think, people really responded to him last year and we have some stuff we’re interested in doing with him this year.

[Sarah’s ex, Charley and Agent Ellison will be back as well.] Agent Ellison [will definitely be] more amenable [to their cause]. I think he’s certainly seen some things that make him reconsider all of his, everything that he’s done before. I think that he’s certainly much less of a doubting Thomas than he was. And you’ve pretty much almost got him up to speed on what’s going on.

[As for Michael Biehn returning,] I’m not a big fan of the cameo. I feel like it’s really distracting. And I know that fans like it, but I feel, and I think most of it just goes to the fact that we have a different Sarah Connor and I think we’ve worked very hard to have Lena be Lena and not be Linda Hamilton. And I think that when you start bringing in characters from the show, either from the movies, I just think it becomes sort of this weird kind of … where’s Waldo thing, that makes people, it distracts people. I think it’s like you want to have a world, you want that world to be sort of self contained and real, and I think when you start doing that it just I don’t know, I find it distracting. But I love Michael Biehn and I think he’s cool as hell. I don’t know what I would do with him that wouldn’t feel like I was just saying, hey look, it’s Michael Biehn.

Going back to Brian Austin Green, Josh talked about when they decided to bring his character on full-time and how the fan reaction played into that decision.

I think one of the kind of ironies is you put someone on your show and they do a really good job then all of a sudden everybody else wants to hire them, so you sort of have to lock them up. And Brian was becoming a little popular, I think, based on the show. So we moved as quickly as possible to make sure he was going to stay in Terminator land as long as we needed him.

It’s sort of an evolution. I think, with characters that are new, you just don’t know, you never know. I mean I certainly don’t. I’m not experienced enough to really be able to know right away. And I don’t know that you can, so I think I had hopes that that character would really work, but I also knew that just in terms of expanding the sort of mythology a little, it was a pretty, it was a somewhat risky step and I think– and Brian wasn’t like a—probably, I mean he was a surprising choice I think for a lot of people. So I was really hoping that would work.

When asked to look back on the first season and pick the thing he was most happy with and the thing he was least happy with, Josh had a quick answer, at least for the first part.

One thing that I was really happy with, well, this is going to sound kind of generic, but I love our cast. I really–you never know what you’re going to get with people. You audition them and you hope you’ve done the right thing and I really was happy with the cast. I really think that they really did what I needed them to do, and they, and even took it to a different level. And I love the people that we brought on, I love what Dean [Winters, Charley Dixon] did and even Sonya [Wagner, Michelle Dixon] in her little parts, I’ve spoken about Brian, Garrett Dillahunt [Cromartie] is very close to my heart.

In terms of things we didn’t do well, I don’t know, I think sometimes we might have like gotten a little confusing a little more. I think I want to write a show that’s complicated and sophisticated and subtle. That’s at least, everyone does I guess, but I tried to write something that was–it’s very serialized, it’s not–there’s definitely you have to do some thinking. And I definitely that there were points where the story telling was a little muddy, where I think we could probably do a better job at least of not trying to keep 800 balls in the air, maybe we can keep 500 balls in the air.

But I used to have this saying that I was like I instituted a program last year called no plot point left behind, where every single thing that I introduced I kept trying to bring forward and pay off, and I didn’t want to let anything drop. And I think we started accumulating a lot of stuff, which most of it paid off and some of it didn’t. And so I’m going to try to make sure that everything that I need communicated is communicated this year.

When thinking about storylines that couldn’t be finished, what affect did the writers strike have on some of those? Such as the high school story.

Well, [it didn’t really have too much of an affect]. In a weird way, we worked up until the day of the strike, so there was no–I didn’t know for sure there was going to be a strike. We worked as if we had a full season. We didn’t change anything around. Then the strike happened and at that point, there’s nothing I can do. So it sort of is what it is. I mean, I think to the degree that things didn’t–there’s two parts of it. I think that part of it is there are things that we shot for storylines that were there that just got cut out that we had. So there’s things that seemed like they were just dropped, but they were ultimately they were dropped for time or whatever, clarity, but there was other material that we shot and there was decisions made to take them out.

And then yes, there’s part of it is, we had a plan for a whole season and I had certain incidents paced out for the whole season and we lost them. And I think coming back to season two, I think it’s–part of the process coming back to season two is deciding how many of those things are you going carry over, how many of them aren’t that important. You have all the fans and you’re also bringing in, hopefully, new people. And you have to kind of pick and choose; you have to sort of prioritize what’s important, because you also want to move forward. And that’s kind of been a lot of the discussions in the last month and a half, sort of what–how many of those plot point are, what do we carry over, what do we don’t carry over or how much, how different are things going to be?

The high school storyline is the one storyline that sort of–we shot more of that stuff than we showed and it ended up every time we had an episode that was running a little long, it was like the high school stuff always ended up on the cutting room floor. And it’s unfortunate because I actually had a big plan for it, and I think that it’s probably at least in the short-term, yes, stuff that we’ll, we’re not going to emphasize as much. It’s just, and I liked it, but I think that it just every time we ended up long, that what was ended up getting cut. [We may find out how that resolves itself, or we may never find out.] But I’m not going to say right now just to, I’m not going to box myself in.

[As to what open storylines will be tackled first,] I’m not going to give you any spoilers, just because I never do. But I think, the show was about this family and I think that kind of everything that concerns the family is something that still concerns us. And it’s, I think we were sort of lucky to end where we ended in the sense that there was at least a cliff hanger and it was sort of, it was dramatic and I’m not going to ignore that cliff hanger and just pretend it didn’t happen. So I think the ramifications of the end of the season are something that I’m really determined to explore, kind of the ramifications of it. So I think the big ones are all stuff that’s definitely fair game. I can’t promise that every single plot line from last year will be resolved to people’s satisfaction because there’s so many, and I think at some point you just have to move forward.

Josh had mentioned previously that the episode that did not get finished due to the strike was a great episode but would make a terrible season premiere. When asked if we would see that during the second season at all, Josh sounded a bit disappointed when he answered,

Not likely. And someday I’ll share what it was. I want to try to see if I can integrate it in the slightest way. But no, it’s really, it’s like the lost episode, it’s just, not the show Lost, but it’s like the episode that just had to go away, which is unfortunate because I had a very cool idea, but, no.

Josh was asked if the budget for season 2 was going to increase and how that would affect the show.

Yes. I think so. I think we will be incorporating more action this year. I think the show, that’s one of the things that the network and the studio and I have been talking about, as we were talking about the pickup is sort of how much action versus drama versus … facts. And I think that everyone is excited to try to do a bit more of everything. But it’s money, and I think that’s always the issue, you have to stay within the confines of what works economically for everybody. But I think that we’re def—and I think we did some nice stuff last year. I also think you can’t, in a weird way if you do too much I think people kind of get bored of it, I think people like a balance. But I think this year we will try to do a little bit more.

I’m hoping to revisit the Future War, I love the Future War. I had plans last year to do a number of Future War episodes. They’re expensive. They’re the most expensive episodes we do and they’re the most time consuming. And certainly the CGI–the hard part is the CGI, not does it cost a lot of money, but it takes time. And it just it takes … production time.

And it’s hard to kind of turn those things around on the schedule. I mean the Future episode that Reese did last year was, it was shot as a last episode even though there were three episodes after it. But we pushed it until the end. And it was actually the episode that we pushed and pushed until I had left for the strike. I wasn’t on the set for a single frame of the Future episode. I was gone. So it was shot without me. But well we had to push it because it just, we kept moving it because of the amount of prep for it, and it’s a lot of post too.

My friend Dan, over at TheTVAddict.com, asked about where or not season 2 would spend a little more time focusing on John’s character and how he grows into the leader we all know he does.

Yes. I guess, I’d like to think that we–I think yes, I guess the short answer to that is yes. I think that that character does have to grow and move. You sort of try to pace that out. I think last year he was still sort of almost in denial and didn’t really want to–there was problems of being a hero that we was sort of like facing. But I think that this year is sort of more, I would say it’s kind of maybe his coming of age year, maybe kind of becoming a man.

I’m saying that having not finished writing a single episode yet. But yes, I think moving forward, and I think hopefully, you move everybody forward, it’s not just him. And as it relates to it kind of being a mother/son story I think that you want to see growth in the characters and maybe conflicts in their relationships and certainly the more a boy grows into a man, the less he needs his mother. So I think it’s certainly stuff that we’re going to work on.

As most fans will remember, there was a 10 year jump into the future last season. The characters seemed to adapt very quickly to the jump, even with some significant changes. Josh spoke a little about the jump and how it affected the characters.

There [were] a few things that I felt like that were important to me. I think maybe Cameron’s, part of Cameron’s reversion to a more, I don’t want to call it awkward way of dealing with life, but a little less affected because maybe she had a way, she knew how to deal with 1997. She’d been there for three months, she’d been told by John when John sent her back kind of what the world was like when he was back there. They go forward I think she’s sort of out of step with whatever 2007 is. So she’s sort of taking a step back and started re-learning what the new world is.

I think John had to do a little bit … computers, but at the end of the day you don’t want it to be too much a fish out of water technologically. And then I think the one big thing that we dealt with in the second episode was 9/11. We had a lot of discussion about whether to even have a conversation about that, whether we should ignore it. For me it was important to kind of brig it up and realize that this is something that they have to experience, and there is a voice over Sarah kind of trying to process what that meant.

To me that seemed like the big thing that when you jump over, you jump over 9/11 that’s, the world has changed and that’s something that’s worthy of at least spending a scene on. So I think they’re very adaptable people. They’ve moved around a lot through different time and space and I can’t, I didn’t want to spend too much time on it but I think that still we’ve spent some, I certainly wanted to hit it, it’s not something I wanted to ignore.

Someone asked a great question that I’d been wondering myself, especially having not seen any of the movies, about where they get all their supplies & such, including money, phones (which aren’t the cheap kind), etc. Josh had a great answer, one he had obviously thought about a few times before.

The first well, I can try to, I could track it through, but it’s they mug some frat guys in the beginning. I always felt like when they mugged the frat guys, I always felt like they got a couple thousand bucks, they maxed out their credit cards, they got some cash, and they got this cheap crappy little squatter’s house with no furniture. And then they found diamonds in the safe. And my theory has always been they’ve just been cashing in those, hawking those diamonds and buying stuff when they need to.

It’s one of those things that I’m–you either have a show that’s all about process or you have a show that’s takes certain things for granted. And I kind of felt like we spent a couple episodes on process and then I wanted to sort of move into a place of, you know what, they can have some stuff.

Now, if you look they’ve got a pretty crappy TV with a pretty crappy VHS player. They have a second hand sofa most of their clothes are surplus army surplus clothes or hand sewn. I do have a theory that Cameron stays up all night making her own clothes, but I‘ve never really gotten into that. So I think, and then they went out and bought a car but look what that did.

But I figure they got about $300,000 in diamonds sitting around. So they can buy a little stuff. And I also think and I’ve never had to show it but we’ve talked about it a lot, which is there’s certainly, we’ve seen John previously rip off ATMs and things like that. And I think they kind of, they can get it when they need it. So they’re not going to be knocking over any banks, but I think they can get what they need when they need it. I think it’s, they’re not living in the lap of luxury I think that would be sort of abusing the setup.

Lastly, something every fan of the show wants to know, when will the Season 1 DVD be out?? He had to shout out to James Middleton (another producer) to get the answer, but we got a great one!

James Middleton says August. We did do a bunch of extras for the DVD, there’s at least, is it three commentaries out of the nine episodes including a pilot—one on the pilot, one on the finale, one on the Future episode, so we did a bunch of those. We did some mini-docs. We got some good stuff. I think it’s going to be really cool where we had every Summer [Glau, Cameron] and Thomas [Dekker, John] and Lena [Headey, Sarah] and David Nutter [director] and James [Middleton] , John Wirth [writer] and I all did, and then some of the other writers and oh, Brian [Austin Green, Derek] also, we all did commentaries. So there’s some good stuff on it. I like it.

Thanks to Josh so much for taking the time to answer all our questions! Not only did he spend what time was allotted, he even stayed a few minutes late to answer more! Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles will be back in the Fall and if you missed the first season, don’t be stupid. When the DVD comes out in August, buy or rent it and catch up before season 2 starts! You won’t be sorry!

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