How ABC's 'The Catch' Mixes 'Scandal' With 'Ocean's Eleven'

Showrunner Allan Heinberg talks with THR about rebooting the drama after the pilot.
Courtesy of ABC
'The Catch'

Allan Heinberg has some pretty big expectations on his shoulders.

The 10-year Shondaland veteran was tapped in August to take over buzzy midseason drama The Catch after Shonda Rhimes and series creator Jennifer Schuur did not see eye-to-eye on the creative direction of the Mireille Enos starrer.

Heinberg — who counts Grey's Anatomy, The O.C., Gilmore Girls and Sex and the City among his credits — initially didn't want to take over the drama that, at the time, centered on Alice, a forensic accountant (Enos) who exposes fraud for a living until a case turns her world upside down. The drama had already been sold domestically and internationally in multiple territories but Schuur and Rhimes could not figure out what episode two of the series looked like.

Peter Krause, fresh off six seasons of NBC family drama Parenthood, was tapped to replace newcomer Damon Dayoub as Alice's love interest, Christopher. Sonya Walger took over for Bethany Joy Lenz as Margot, Christopher's real love interest. The pilot was reshot. Twice. Then Heinberg came along. With The Catch's premise hitting close to home — his own 10-year marriage ended in what he calls a "not dissimilar way" — Heinberg had a vision for the show's future that cracked the case.

"When they recast me in this role as writer-showrunner, I had to look at the piece as a whole and as separate pieces and figure out how I was going to use all of the elements," he tells THR. The first thing to change was the dark and gritty style of the original pilot. In came a more Ocean's Eleven and "banter-y" style that reflected Heinberg's personal tastes as he looked to make the series "more fun and caper-y — and sexier."

"It wasn't a rejection of what came before," he stresses, noting that he had no idea how to tell weekly case studies about a forensic accountant. Alice was then turned into a private investigator as Rose Rollins' Val character was adapted into more of an equal.

"We have a strong female friendship, and Alice and Val remind me of Meredith and Cristina [on Grey's Anatomy] and Olivia and Abby [on Scandal]," says Heinberg. "We are trying to build something that was both very different and very similar in that there's a man you love but you can't have."

"I wanted it to be lighter — more Soderbergh-ian Ocean's Eleven and The Thomas Crown Affair … and more like classics about con men and women that weren't dark, … but it's Shondaland so [it had to have] laughter and tears within the same story and episode as well as the cat-and-mouse sequences. I wanted it to be a romantic comedy-fantasy — and there's not a lot of those on TV," he says.

As Heinberg shot what would be the third pilot for The Catch, he was given two sets of marching orders: to use the same cast, set, wardrobe and, in a directive from Rhimes, to push the boundaries of the way sex was featured on the drama.

"That was her biggest adjustment," Heinberg says with a laugh.

Indeed: Alice and Christopher do share a steamy sex scene in the pilot for The Catch — which takes over How to Get Away With Murder's slot at 10 p.m. and keeps ABC's TGIT block intact.

As for what to expect, Heinberg says he's comfortable with The Catch drawing comparisons to Scandal. The writer jokes that he went from the Scandal writers room one day to The Catch the following day, and took a lot of the energy from the D.C.-set soap with him.

"The way Olivia works with her team is the way Alice works with hers," he says. "The way the stories are laid out, I have these very Scandal reflexes — we meet the clients, a case gets boarded … it's built into my DNA. We're telling a story about a powerful woman who has this incredible blind spot in her life and in her romantic life in that the person she met and fell in love with is bad for her. … The comparisons are fair." 

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