'Deception' Boss on Show's Biggest Challenge: 'Creating a Mystery That Had Enough Legs'
In a chat with THR, executive producer Liz Heldens talked balancing the police world with the soapy family drama, employing flashbacks and what she learned from her "Friday Night Lights" days.
Say hello to the Bowers.
Deception, which kicked off to OK ratings last week on NBC, begins the story after the murder of Vivian Bowers, a member of a powerful and wealthy East Coast family with unsettling secrets. Detective Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good), whose mother was the family's head of household, finds herself re-inserting into the Bowers' lives, secretly investigating the events of her former friend's death.
Though there are hints of Revenge and The Killing in Deception's DNA, executive producer Liz Heldens was adamant that that was not the case. "I liked the idea of doing a long-arc murder mystery and I liked the idea of doing an undercover story," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "NBC at the time was looking for a soap so it seemed a way to do a family drama, character soap with a thriller and procedural spine to it."
Heldens spoke to THR about using flashbacks to "show and not tell," why she recast one of the Bowers family members and her biggest worry.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the genesis of Deception?
Liz Heldens: I was interested in stories like The Departed and Donnie Brasco and things like that. I was kicking around the idea of doing that with a female protagonist and combining that with a family drama.
THR: Deception employs the use of flashbacks throughout. Is that a significant plot device that will be used every week?
Heldens: Yeah, we use that device a lot and it seems to work very well. It’s a nice way to show and not tell. Those memories of her and her best friend are. Peter Horton shot the pilot, and I think those flashbacks really do a lot of work for you and they carry a lot of emotional weight without much screen time. it’s a lot more effective than a person just talking. She’s coming back to solve her best friend’s murder, so it was important that we establish this emotional connection between the two girls when they were young, and I think showing those two girls out sunbathing talking about the test they had to take, and you could tell by their body language how much they loved each other, it’s more effective than hearing someone talk about.
THR: What was the most challenging aspect of the show that you had to create the foundation for?
Heldens: The characters all came pretty easily. Creating a mystery that had enough legs and would get bigger and more complicated, that’s the challenge of the show. Is it a murder? Is it a bigger conspiracy? That stuff is challenging; it’s a puzzle, but it’s time-consuming for sure.
THR: Wes Brown came into Deception as a recast for Julian. What was missing from the previous incarnation of the character? (Neil Jackson originally played the role in the pilot.)
Heldens: It was just a chemistry thing with Meagan Good. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit, you know, and so we went back and tried again. We’re so happy with Wes Brown and he has great chemistry with Meagan.
THR: You’ve worked on Friday Night Lights and several other scripted dramas prior to this. What have you taken from those previous experiences that proved beneficial?
Heldens: Friday Night Lights is all about character and it was a reminder that everything great comes from character and if you keep that in mind, you don’t go too far wrong.
THR: What sort of network notes have you gotten?
Heldens: They like the big moves in the story and they totally appreciate the smaller moments. They’ve been supportive. No game-changing, crazy notes. I think we’re all making the same show.
THR: The show went through a few title changes. Why did you settle on Deception?
Heldens: That just seemed like the best fit. It seemed like the best description of what’s going on in the show and the characters. It was a title we liked best.
THR: In a way, Deception is operating on two different levels. There’s the police side to it and then there’s the Bowers family. How are you ensuring that those two worlds will intertwine in a significant way?
Heldns: Going into it, I was a little bit unsure how that was all going to [play out] but it all seems to dovetail quite nicely.
Deception airs 10 p.m. Mondays on NBC.