'Extant' Return Isn't a Reboot, Per Se, But New Showrunners Point to a Shift in Tone

"Maybe the criticism last season was that it didn't dig deep into character, so we're digging real deep this year."
Sonja Flemming/CBS
Halle Berry

The sophomore season of CBS' Extant finds the series in far different terrain from its launch last summer. Still in place are star Halle Berry and the sci-fi premise (robot children and a slow-roll alien invasion) — but many other elements are on their way out or already gone.

In part a move to reinvigorate soft ratings, the drama's rejiggered return will see former regulars Goran Visnjic and Camryn Manheim phased out. Simultaneously, Jeffrey Dean Morgan joins as the No. 2 on the call sheet and new showrunners Elizabeth Kruger and Craig Shapiro have partnered with creator Mickey Fisher to bring the drama closer to earth and focus more on its biggest selling point: Berry.

"These things are strange because they're sort of like arranged marriages," Fisher tells The Hollywood Reporter of his first meeting with the incoming EPs over a three-hour breakfast. "But you can always tell when you share sensibilities with someone. Craig and Liz came in with a great focus on characters, particularly an experience writing complex women."

The new collaboration, which found the trio in the writers room little more than a week after their first meeting, does keep the major through line intact — Berry will be on the hunt for her half-alien offspring, quietly threatening to wipe out life on earth — so none of the executive producers are eager to label it a "reboot" as many have been quick to do.  

"'Reboot' can have a negative a patina to it, but the reality is that you learn from every season of television that you do," says Kruger. "We blew everything up. CBS put no boundaries on the show. Maybe the criticism last season was that it didn't dig deep into character, so we're digging real deep this year."

"I feel like we've reset the tone and attitude of the show, but we're building on where we left off," adds Fisher. "We wanted to make sure that new viewers could tune in to those first couple minutes and easily get on the ride."

Extant didn't exactly struggle finding an audience when it premiered in 2014. The show pulled 9.6 million viewers to its first episode, but it skewed old and suffered a drop-off in subsequent weeks. An unreported number also tuned in on Amazon, where CBS brass have been quick to note it performed especially well in the U.K.

Hitting the refresh button, they say, has been easier than it would have been after a traditional 22-episode season. "These limited summer series that are only 13 episodes, they play like little novels," says Fisher. "This is really just the next installment, looking at something completely different in the same universe."

If there has been a surprising challenge for Kruger and Shapiro, married co-writers whose résumé includes creating Necessary Roughness and running the writers room on the first season of Bravo's Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, it's the foray into science fiction — and the futuristic imagery that it tends to entail.

"This show has this whole other element that's like 30 percent of the job," says Kruger. "You write big visual effects in your script and then you sit down with your team to figure out what can and can't be done — and do it in a cost-effective way."

Extant's July 1 premiere falls on the eve of the last day of shooting, and all three seem genuinely excited about the season now almost totally under their shared belt. But to hear Kruger and Shapiro talk about the initial offer from their agent, there was no chance of them ever not enjoying the work.

"We got a call saying, 'Would you like to work on a Steven Spielberg project with Halle Berry?'" Shapiro sums up, laughing. "Sign me up, and we'll figure it out afterward."

Extant airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. on CBS.

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