'Revenge' EP on Managing Viewer Expectations and How Fans Killed a Possible Story Line

Revenge Group Shot - H 2011

Revenge Group Shot - H 2011

Writer and executive producer Mike Kelley has been around the soapy TV block -- his credits include Swingtown, The O.C., and One Tree Hill. Yet as the head of ABC’s new hit drama, Revenge, the showrunner admits that plotting the series has been tougher than he expected.

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"I didn’t have any idea frankly when I jumped into this how complicated the serialized nature of this can get,” Kelley tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And as fun as it is to watch, there’s a lot of trickery going on that takes a lot of thought.”

Part of the challenge for Kelley – and any showrunner for that matter – is keeping the fans happy with where the series is going. So, THR spoke to Kelley about his writing process and how much viewers’ expectations affect what happens on the series.

I was sure the original Emily (Margarita Levieva) would be gone by now. What was your reasoning for keeping her on this long?
Mike Kelley:
Well we have a long-term, midterm, and short-term plan for that character and she’s definitely stretched beyond the midterm. So, that’s the other fun of the show is that we keep discovering it as we go along. We have a blueprint but we try to allow for adventure and discovery as we’re telling these stories. I knew who the players were and where we wanted this season to end and where we want it to go from there. But we really, really are taking care to enjoy the ride along with the audience. And we find if we go down a certain rabbit hole that feels fun, we don’t stop ourselves. We go all the way.

How do you manage fan expectations? For example, all the rumors that were flying about the sibling relationship emerging?
Well, I love when the fans are right and I hate when they’re wrong. When you’re in touch with what the fans are hoping to see there’s a symbiotic relationship and I feel like that’s happening right now. So, I hope I don’t disappoint anybody. Anytime that the fans are guessing something, it’s good. It might not play out exactly how they were hoping, but maybe with an extra twist that they didn’t see coming. So, you want to satisfy people but you also want to hold back just enough or reveal something that’s doubly surprising. So, that’s what we’re hoping that we’ve accomplished.

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Whenever a show like this resonates with fans, there’s going to be ones that start to want certain characters to hook up romantically – the “shippers.” Are you aware of what the “shippers” want and how do you manage their expectations?
I try to limit my exposure to the fans, because it can become such a compelling force for choosing the stories I want to tell. But, I get a lot of it through my family. And my friends and family are the ones that really tell me what people are responding to – and, also, the people that work with me. I try to stay off the boards. I try to just appreciate that people seem to be connecting to the show. 

But having been down this road a few times, people like to stir up trouble sometimes -- I can give you a really specific scenario. There’s a thread on a particular website where basically they say if we reveal that Emily’s [Emily VanCamp] father is not dead we have ruined the show and that was an option for me. At this point, I’m no longer considering that option. So, I try not to let what fans want decide what the show is going to be. But, I also want to respect what people are responding to. It’s complicated.

And then you have network bosses you have to please. What’s the worst network note that you’ve received in your career?
A lot of times logic becomes your enemy. The worst note that I ever get is something that is a note that begins with the phrase “we’re very afraid that” or “we’re terribly worried about,” because fear is not a great environment for hatching a good story. You try to be fearless. You try to be motivated by a little bit of bravery, maybe a little bit of recklessness. But, fear notes are the ones that hurt projects in my experience.

Revenge airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro