'Burn Notice': Matt Nix Reveals Season 5's Biggest Challenges

Burn Notice (USA)
Virginia Sherwood/USA Network

Where we left off: Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) realizes she belongs with Michael, even if it means dying and abandons Jesse. Michael winds up – shocker! – being dragged off to Washington, D.C., by his old boss (Dylan Baker), leaving his relationship with Fiona up in the air.

Premiere date: Thursday, June 23 at 9 p.m.

What do you do when a guest star isn't readily available or plot points tread familiar ground? Those are the challenges USA's Burn Notice, which just launched its fifth season, face as it looks ahead to the rest of the year.

"We are at a point right now where you can have an idea for an episode and you can be pitching an episode, and realize that you were accidentally pitching episode 311," creator and showrunner Matt Nix tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Or you didn't think about the deep similarity between two episodes."

Instead of trying to rework an idea that may have existed in an earlier season, Nix and the writers have a more upfront approach. "You just don't do it. You throw the episode out. We're pretty ruthless," he says.

Burn Notice hourlongs have traditionally worked backwards in the way they are constructed. For the past four seasons, with main character Michael Westen on the outs with the CIA, episodes were conceived with the solution first instead of the problem. But Season 5 introduces new conflicts for Michael, as he finds himself working with the CIA for the first time in a long while.

"This season, we’ve had to throw out a lot more episodes because we’ve realized that we were treading on familiar ground," Nix says. "That’s one of the reasons it’s been nice to do more intelligence community-based episodes because that’s a whole new set of problems."

One issue that presented itself during the course of production was Dylan Baker's role as Michael's friend/handler Raines, first seen in the fourth season finale. (Baker booked a role on DirecTV's Damages, ironically, as a CIA guy.)

"We originally planned on having this character work in a particular way this season," Nix says, adding that Baker came back to reprise his role -- with a beard (a requirement for his Damages role). "He wasn't really available to do the story line exactly as we'd conceived it."

So instead, the writers made an adjustment. "We ended up reconceiving his role in the season and adjusting to that in some ways," Nix tells THR. "If you'd asked me at the beginning of the season, it might've seemed like a pretty big deal. Right now, I've been living with it for so long, it doesn't feel like anything. It's like, 'Oh yeah, that's all we wanted to do.' "

Nix added: "In our original conception, it was kind of like he was the intelligence community. He was Michael's point of contact and in addressing that creative challenge of 'we can have him but we can't have him all the time,' what we ended up doing was expanding Michael's range of contacts in the intelligence community."

Earlier on Thursday, Burn Notice launched an interactive web comic A New Day.

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Email: philiana.ng@thr.com