December 14, 2013 8:00am PT by Philiana Ng
'Psych' Creator Fulfills Musical Dream: I've Checked It Off My Bucket List (Q&A)
Psych is putting on its dancing shoes with a two-hour TV musical.
Psych: The Musical was years in the making, with the musically inclined series creator Steve Franks -- he penned and performed the bright Psych theme -- having intentions of doing a full-fledged musical early on in the USA Network comedy's run.
"We talked about it for so long -- from the pilot, even! It was one of those things where I wanted to do it but I kept putting more and more work on my own shoulders," Franks tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It became about me finding time to do it, and I was also learning how to run a television show at the same time, so it was one of those cases where I never had the time to make it happen. When I finally had the time to make it happen, it was season seven."
In Psych: The Musical, Shawn (James Roday) and Gus (Dule Hill) track down an escaped playwright madman named Z (Rent's Anthony Rapp), who six years earlier was deemed criminally insane after he locked a critic in a back room of the theater that he burned to the ground. Shawn and Gus are forced to consult with the one person Z confided in while in the institution, a dangerous villain from Shawn's past. Filmed last October, the songfest also features guest turns by Ally Sheedy and Jimmi Simpson.
Franks talked to THR about bringing the musical to the small screen, how they pulled off a casting coup in securing Rapp and whether he foresees a future beyond the forthcoming season eight.
When did you sit down and actually take the time to write the script and the songs?
At the beginning of season seven. I said, "Enough is enough." I'm surprised that we're still on the air; every year we come back I'm surprised. The clock is ticking. We called the writers and we sat in early and wrote four stories. Once we had those stories done, "All right, the show can run itself for a little while." I went in my office and finally was able to break a story [for the two-hour musical]. It was two to six weeks before I had anything of any sort of substance. It was always too large in scale -- at one point [in the original script] they went to London in the second hour. To me, it was checking off two things from my bucket list, one of which was I was finally going to do a musical. But most importantly, I finally get to do the Psych movie. It was one of those instances where biting off more than one person should chew actually benefited me because it's so overloaded. I feel like I would love this episode even if the songs weren't in it, and the songs just became the gravy on top of the whole thing.
You mentioned that in the original script, Shawn and Gus go to London. How much did you have to take out to make it a feasible shooting script?
I joke that I didn't take out nearly enough to make it a shootable script. We still had more than we should've done. I was also operating on the assumption that we were going to get extra shooting days, which wasn't the case. I ended up sending the London idea into its own episode and it is the season-eight premiere on Jan. 8. It was one of those situations where I was producer, writer and director. We had one shot at it, so we had to swing big. If we failed huge, then that's fine. We've never shied away from taking a big chance on this show.
For the songs, how challenging was it to write all that in a short period of time? Were the melodies and lyrics sitting in the back of your mind?
The songs to me were the fun of it. I was excited to be able to go in my office and get my guitar out and play. I've written songs -- never show tunes per se -- but a lot of the same principles apply; it's almost along the same principles of dialogue because there are arguments within the song and I love playing with words. I waited to the last possible second to bring in Adam Cohen, our composer, because I thought, "OK, this is as far as I can get them done at this point. I'll bring in Adam and he'll do his approach to the songs." To my dismay, Adam was more enthusiastic than I was. He's like, "This has to go bigger!" He pushed me to make it on an even larger scale, but for a while I felt like it could possibly cause me to have a nervous breakdown.
You also got Rent's Anthony Rapp to appear in the musical. How did that come about?
We would have never made him audition. If he wanted in, he was in. I didn't meet him until the day he showed up at Ocean Ways Studio, this great facility where Frank Sinatra used to record, where we recorded the vocals. Anthony showed up, took the red-eye to fly in -- he had a concert the night before -- to [record] these over-the-top, kind of ridiculous songs. It was interesting to see Anthony, this very serious Broadway star, go down the rabbit hole of what we do. It was a coup on our part to be able to bring him into our hole.
What was the most challenging part for you in terms of getting all the moving pieces for this special ready? What did you find most difficult?
Oddly enough, the thing that I was most worried about was the lip-sync, because I've watched a lot of musicals beforehand and the one thing that really took me out of them was if someone was just a mediocre lip-syncer, then it takes you out of the movie completely. We were going to find out on day two when we shot the first musical production ["Santa Barbara Skies"] if it worked or not. There were a hundred extras, dancers -- it was something I wasn't allowed to worry about, it just had to work. There was no fallback. I never prepared so much for anything; I storyboarded as many things as I could imagine doing and then the rest of it I left to the creative impulses on-set.
Is there a favorite performance or song or moment from the musical that sticks with you?
Jimmi Simpson and Ally Sheedy's moment might be my favorite in the history of the show because it's one of those things that encapsulates everything about the show. It's ridiculous, silly and heartbreaking at the same time. It's beautiful to me in a very strange way of how silly it is, and it was one of the few times that the entire cast -- including James and Maggie [Lawson] -- came down to watch us shoot that sequence even though they were done for the day.
What is your plan for Sunday evening when the musical airs?
About a week ago, I finally said, "All right, we need to have people over," so we put out an Evite and we're going to have a handful of friends over to the house. I've never done that in the history of the show. The great thing about doing this and doing the press is we finished this a year ago and the network said, "We like this a lot. We're going to give it its own special night." Now we're mastering the soundtrack album. I'm almost a fan of it myself because it's so far in the past that I'm getting to enjoy it on my own. This show is the gift that keeps giving for me.
Are there plans to release the soundtrack?
It's definitely going to happen. I think it's going to be released [on iTunes after] the East Coast airing -- a short period after, like an hour.
In less than a month, Psych is back for its eighth season. Are there discussions of continuing the show beyond that?
I'm shocked every year that the show continues. I always think that the network has forgotten that we're on and we're like that charge to the gym you're paying every month that is auto-debited and at some point someone's going to look at the books and realize we're still on the air. What's coming up in season eight is we're doing the London episode, which has a Harry Potter theme. I don't want to ever stop doing it, and if that announcement is officially made then I'll be the first person to sign up when they want to make anything more -- TV movies or feature films -- and, by the way, not just one feature film, I'm talking six to eight of them over the course of years.
So you're open to continuing Psych?
We've shot out season eight and if season eight is it, that's what it was meant to be. If it can live on in any other capacity, let's talk Broadway.
What can you say about the season-eight finale? Is it a cliffhanger or neatly tied in a bow?
The season-eight finale is one of my favorite episodes of the show. It certainly has a degree of closure that will be satisfying and has one of the most talked-about guest appearances in the history of the show. I'm hoping that everyone loves the end of season eight as much as I do.
Psych: The Musical airs Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. on USA Network.