Death Becomes Her
When Kathy Reichs talks shop, not everyone wants to listen.
Early on, she told "Bones' " executive producers how she would go out for pizza with her fellow forensic anthropologists and chat about the job -- a job which, to put it mildly, could involve discussing the more gruesome aspects of dead bodies.
"As they talked about work, they would see people sitting nearby get up and move away from them," laughs executive producer Barry Josephson. "That's their coping mechanism -- to go out and be normal and talk about it and be OK with it."
Fortunately, it turned out that millions of others were OK with it, too. Since 1997, forensic anthropologist-turned-author Reichs has written nearly a book a year about a fictionalized forensic anthropologist named Temperance "Tempe" Brennan, a character whose experience in many ways mirrors her own. Reichs' series of books launched Fox's "Bones" in 2005, giving her one more job description for her resume: producer.
"When readers ask, I say: 'Think of (the show) as an early point in Tempe's life,' " Reichs says.
On the show, Tempe Brennan (Emily Deschanel) is in her 30s and living in Washington, D.C.; in the books she's in her 40s and traveling -- like Reichs -- between North Carolina and Canada. Reichs started work at the Smithsonian, and Brennan's job at the Jeffersonian thinly veils that position. In an amusing meta-reference, on "Bones" Brennan is also an author -- whose signature character is named Kathy Reichs. (The secondary characters on the show are not, however, in the books.)
But personality-wise, Reichs isn't truly the social misfit Brennan is, according to executive producer Hart Hanson.
"She's not particularly Asperger-y; she's very direct and funny and does not suffer fools gladly," he says. "She's one of those people on whom nothing is wasted."
Initially, Reichs set out to be a regular anthropologist. But, she says, "When police started bringing me modern forensic cases, I found that much more compelling. You could impact someone's life."
Which she's doing even more on "Bones," where she reads each script and offers notes. "I do try and keep the science honest," she insists. "We don't get our DNA results in 27 seconds, as I've seen on some shows."
This season, she's taken on another role -- scriptwriting. Reichs' first episode, "The Witch in the Wardrobe," is slated to air in May. She admits to being a little anxious about diving into that area. "Hart asked very early on if I wanted to write one," she says, "but I said I didn't know how. He said, 'Well, you didn't know how to write a novel at first, and that worked out.' "
And then some. Today, the Reichs empire continues to expand: In addition to her script, she's launching a line of young adult books in the fall, featuring Brennan's great niece Tory, a 14-year-old who, with her friends (and some unusual extra abilities), solves cold cases.
Still, none of that keeps her out of the lab. While Reichs has toned down her caseload considerably (and is on indefinite leave from teaching), she never wants to leave her first love -- cold, dead bodies -- behind.
"It keeps my writing fresh," she says.