8:00pm PT by Jackie Strause
'Quantico' Boss on Post-Trump Shift: "It's Not a Show Just About the Liberal Elite"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Monday's midseason premiere of Quantico, "Cleopatra."]
Quantico's post-election shift went into effect when the ABC drama returned for its midseason premiere in its new Monday night time slot.
After a December cliffhanger that revealed Ryan (Jake McLaughlin) as a member of the Citizens' Liberation Front — a result of the rogue terrorist group operating within the CIA (nicknamed the AIC) — the Priyanka Chopra-led drama recapped and placed the terror attack plot that dominated the first-half of the season in the show's rearview mirror. Now, Alex (Chopra) and her friends and foes will continue to attempt to uncover the identities and motives of those in the IAC, in both the present and past timelines, with more of a focus on the characters' interconnected storylines.
The decision to move away from the heart-racing hostage situation was intentional, now that Quantico is aiming to attract new viewers with its move to Monday nights (after lead-in The Bachelor) and keep its old ones while airing in the TV era of President Donald Trump.
"The storyline was always meant to change," showrunner Joshua Safran tells The Hollywood Reporter about not continuing to portray just how dark the world can be through a terror plot. "The crisis was going to end at a certain point and now it's really about the aftermath, which allows us to get into more of the politics. We’re doing an episode now about fake news, we’re doing an episode about the Muslim registry."
Quantico's post-Trump adjustments are part of a larger shift broadcast networks and other platforms have made in recent months to ensure their programming caters to Trump's America, specifically right-wing and blue-collar voters who are believed to have helped Trump to his stunning Nov. 8 defeat of Hillary Clinton.
"We've always been a network that has prided itself on keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront of our conversations," ABC Entertainment Group president Channing Dungey told THR in December. "But we've largely been defining that from a racial perspective, a religious perspective, an ethnic perspective, and looking at it from the point of view of issues of gender and sexuality and not as much through the prism of economics and of cities versus small towns."
Below, Safran, writer Cameron Litvack and Chopra, the latter newly back to work after suffering an on-set injury, spoke to THR about the show's return and what viewers can expect ahead — including a promise that all will be revealed about the AIC in the next new episode. Read the chat below.
Priyanka, how are you feeling after hitting your head and suffering a concussion on set last week?
Priyanka Chopra: I’m usually very careful when it comes to doing my stunts. This was just an accident. Sometimes things happen. I didn’t pass out, but I was seeing stars and the whole ER experience was very daunting. The doctors were amazing, but it’s just scary when you’re rushed into the ER — it’s like being in Grey’s Anatomy!
When will you be 100 percent?
Chopra: The doctor said I would be back to 100 percent in two weeks, at least 14 days. But I’m back at work, I went back Jan. 16. I just have to be careful with physical situations. So that’s what I’m doing, I’m being careful.
Will the accident deter you from doing future stunts?
Chopra: Oh, God no. I’m blessed because anything could have happened and that’s always the case when you’re doing stunts, or just life in general. I’m not someone who is going to be afraid of that. I feel extremely blessed and I’m going to be able to do my job 100 percent, like I always do.
The midseason premiere recapped the first half of the season, was that a bid to attract new viewers in your move to Monday nights?
Joshua Safran: I’m so excited about Monday nights. Sunday night is when you’re preparing for the week and at 10:59 p.m., you don’t want your heart racing. I’m grateful to have been on Sundays and we did well for a while, but I always felt like it was an odd time. Mondays make sense. It was a tough time when we found about about the move because we already had wrapped episode 12 so we had to go back and retrofit scenes in. With the move, you want to be able to catch people up or bring people back. I’m so grateful Eliza Coupe was available. Her interrogation scenes with Priyanka gave us the opportunity to stop and say, ”Did we say everything as clearly as we could?"
Chopra: The show has a new format. The coolest thing about this episode for me was really the recap and introduction of everyone. I really am excited about where were going and to start airing the show on Mondays. The Bachelor will see a new audience coming in. So it’s a good time. It’s a good start.
Safran: The move will be great. I hope The Bachelor audience likes seeing guns.
How does this kick off a different kind of Quantico?
Safran: The way that the show changes, it feels like a different show but it’s the same show. We really are able to sit with this story and follow it all the way through. But if we had not had the hostage crisis, which primes the whole thing, it would not have worked. We really do look at all the ways terrorism is allowed to take place in America, from financial and political, all of the things that set up a terrorism event.
Josh, after Trump's election you spoke about wrapping the terrorist event halfway through the season and shifting to storylines that will reflect more of a state of the current world. How does the midseason premiere kick that off?
Safran: The weird thing about the show is that we really do try to measure the stories. We really want our characters to think different things. It is not a show just about the liberal elite, they really do debate all the issues and they really do feel both sides and they don’t change. They don’t waiver. They have their beliefs. While we have our political beliefs, we try in the writers room to make sure of that.
Chopra: We always take sides on the show, there’s so many perspectives, there’s no right or wrong and it follows that format as well. The incredible thing about our writers room and Josh Safran leading it is that they always try to be very relevant with the times. The show has spoken of issues within entertainment that are not just socially relevant but also extremely current. Within the weaving of drama and entertainment, you actually have conversations about Mormons or Palestine and Israel and what is happening in India and stereotyping someone who looks like they could be a terrorist. That’s very progressive and kudos to our writers for doing that.
Safran: It allows us to play out and fantasize conversations you wish you could have. Fake news is bad, but we also want to talk about why it exists and why people think it can be used to their advantage. Right now we’re talking about the Muslim registry in the writers room, and we have characters who are for it and characters who are against it and we have to talk about that. So it allows us to play out the conversations of the people who are for it and what that means.
How will you be tackling fake news?
Safran: The storyline is about a person who creates a fake news story and we follow how it spirals out of control. We see the origin of it and the fallout. We also see how they put it together and how they create the viral images. It’s something the agents have to respond to.
Quantico's female president (Marcia Cross) makes her return in the next episode, after the president stepped down when the first lady was beheaded. How is there more pressure to represent a female president on TV after Hillary Clinton's loss?
Safran: Marcia Cross is in the next episode and then she’s in the episodes thereafter. She talks about how she wouldn’t have been voted in but is given the job because of the president stepping down, and that forces her to show who she is. We shot it five days after the election and it was hard for Marcia. She went to Hillary's concession speech and then she was here the next day. The story didn’t change, but it changed. It was rough, but it’s a beautiful story. We knew the president was going to step down and that she was going to become president and we knew she was going to talk about being a woman who wouldn’t have been elected, but suddenly, five days after the election, it was this whole other thing.
What was the mood like filming that scene?
Cameron Litvack: We as writers and Marcia as a performer were all yearning for a story with a sense of hope. So we were able to provide Marcia with this opportunity to have that character go to a different place than we had initially thought when we created that character last season. When you see how that story unfolds and the role Marcia takes in the show moving forward, you’ll see where most shows might have kept going on the trajectory with her, we zagged a little bit to take in what’s happening.
Safran: Marcia has an amazing scene at the end of episode 13. She actually has the last scene of the episode, which sort of sums up everything that’s happening in the world right now. Then the last two words of that scene spin off the entire rest of the season. So that is a big episode for us. Those last two words are very important.
How do you handle filling the actors in on the twists, and who is good and bad?
Safran: We actually did tell them what was going to happen because we knew the show was going to switch at episode 13, the true halfway mark of the 22-episode season. We wanted to prime them that it might look like it’s going a certain way, or you might be a bad guy, but it’s not going to twist again. The very next episode, you learn everything. There’s no reveal after the end of next week's episode. Episode 10 is to reveal everything and after that everything stays exactly. There’s no mass reveal, no surprise.
So after next week, everything changes because the viewers are in on it?
Safran: Yes. It’s not so much about being surprised at the story as much as it is about how will they survive. And what are these characters feeling and going through? And then episode 11 is fun. Because you learn everything in episode 10, we spend less time on the crisis and more on their lives at the Farm because it casts a new light on the Farm.
Litvack: The stakes start to become real with the operations they take part in, it’s not just learning, they’re actually doing. It allows us as storytellers to have stakes in both timelines so we can stop going to the future so much.
Chopra: And Alex's view changes once Miranda fills her in. A lot changes with Alex. More than anything it’s a sense of everyone coming together give a conclusion to what exactly happened and solve the old mystery, which started in season one. And Alex’s point of view and what happens to her after is still very daunting.
Are you building to a big finale in the end?
Safran: The show really feels like The Good Wife in the end. I think that’s the closest thing I can say, where there’s a case-of-the-week aspect. They’re all related so what it builds to is that all of those things are pieces of the bigger puzzle and the characters are racing to figure out the puzzle. But it’s not building to Grand Central blowing up [like in season one]. It’s building to a conspiracy, a conspiracy theory.
Chopra: The rest of season is going to have twists and turns, which is synonymous with Quantico, but it's also going to be extremely relieving. Where you’re like, 'Oh, yes, I get it!' A lot of that’s going to happen the rest of the season. You’re going to figure it out.
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