'Bones' Showrunner Discusses "Devastating" Season 10 Premiere Shocker

"I'm sure the audience is going to shit green"
Patrick McElhenney/FOX
'Bones'

It's not a typical way to kickoff a season, but Bones launched into its tenth run on Fox Thursday night with an abrupt exit for one of its stars — and it is most assuredly a permanent one. [Here is the obligatory spoiler alert for those who haven't already seen "The Conspiracy of the Corpse."]

As anyone paying close attention to actor John Francis Daley's schedule could probably tell — the multihyphenate is currently in Georgia, co-directing his reboot of National Lampoon's Vacation franchise with writing partner Jonathan M. Goldstein — filming most of this season of Bones was never in the cards. So, instead of dragging out his departure with infrequent appearances, the tenth season of the Fox drama brought a bloody, teary-eyed demise to his alter ego of the last seven years.

Dr. Lance Sweets, the first regular character in the show's long history to get killed off, is no more. And the move, though spurred by Daley's burgeoning film career that began with writing 2011's Horrible Bosses, will likely cause a furor among fans. (The fact that the character was revealed to be reunited with former girlfriend Daisy [Carla Gallo] and is expecting a child before he was shot to death should only stoke those flames.) Showrunner and executive producer Stephen Nathan spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the decision to give Sweets a decisive end, how it's livened up the writers room and what he's planning for the series' upcoming 200th episode.

So you couldn't have just had the FBI transfer him?
It was a devastating thing for us to do. We were in a strange situation and wanted to find out how best to handle it — and we wound up handling it in the most painful way imaginable.

How do you feel about the way it played out now that it's done?
I think with most shows, if they're going to have a character die, it's in the middle or certainly the end of the season. But it certainly seemed great for the story arc to give our characters something so big to contend with. And it mirrored our sadness and despair with John leaving the show. After so many years, he was such a wonderful part of our lives. It's a painful loss, and it was for him as well. But it's a loss brought about by such good fortune and success for him. We're happy to see his other career as a writer and director taking off. We wouldn't want to hold him back.

When did you start talking about an exit strategy for John?
It was about a year and a half ago when Vacation first came about for him. We wrote him out at the end of season eight, Sweets took time off to work with inner-city kids, but that was when [the film] was supposed to shoot over hiatus. The film was pushed and now it would have compromised everything so much — and we didn't know exactly when he was coming back — it didn't seem fair to the character or John to marginalize him and write him in and out in a revolving doorway. It didn't feel right, because the family on the show is so tightly knit.

Did you ever consider dragging this out into another episode?
It's not fair to make the audience wait for another week to see how the characters react. This came very organically out of an arc we'd been doing for the last four episodes of last season, so it folded itself in very nicely with the conspiracy that had destroyed Brennan and Booth's lives. Now, just as it seems that they're making tremendous headway in solving it, Sweets gets caught up in the middle and meets this terrible fate. It worked for the story. And it will keep the story alive, both in plot and emotional terms, for the next couple of episodes — until we ultimately resolve everything.

Where does the next episode pick up?
The next episode picks up very soon after the events of the premiere, probably within six or eight hours. It's everyone desperately trying to not let the trail grow cold, and use this as an opportunity to track down who his behind the conspiracy that seems to be lurking within the FBI. Now there's the far greater emotional component. They're avenging Sweets' death and trying to make it right for Daisy and this son who's on the way and we'll meet relatively soon. It's kicked the emotional life of the series up a notch.

It's a pretty dark way to kick off a season.
Bones is a very light, more often than not comic show, and that will continue — but always with the undercurrent of what has happened, especially for Booth. He has to contend with the tremendous lack of trust he has in everyone around him, with the exception of Brennan. She is going to have to help him deal with this, so we can get back even footing and be goofy again.

Ten seasons in, it's also probably invigorating for the writers.
It's always great to be surprised by the show. We were surprised when Emily announced she was pregnant, and that was a gift to the show. Even Carla Gallo's pregnancy was how Sweets and Daisy got back together again. It's great to have these curveballs thrown at us to see if we're open enough to make them an organic part of the show. Creatively, it's very nurturing — without sounding too lame. I never thought in a million years we would start a season with a main character being killed. I think an audience wants to see the most conflict, joy and sadness they can see in one episodes. They don't want us to be beige.

Are you bracing for a strong reaction on Twitter?
You turn on a show you love to be shocked. I'm sure the audience is going to shit green. I'm sure I'll get hate mail — probably well deserved — but that's why you watch. If we're not shocking and surprising the audience and taking them into new terrain, I don't think we're doing our job. And that's when a show gets stale. I don't think Bones is stale. Maybe it should be after 10 years, but it feels fresh to us.

And you're about to hit 200 episodes.
I can't believe it... because I'm sitting down to write it. We're going to have a good time with it and get back as many people as we practically can. It will be a highly populated episode, and one where we see our characters in ways we haven't seen them before. We're still getting all the moving parts in place, but I can say it's something we haven't attempted before.

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