New 'Sleepy Hollow' Showrunner on Bringing the "Fun" Back With More Procedural Season 3

Sleepy Hollow S03E02 Still - H 2015
Tina Rowden/FOX

Sleepy Hollow S03E02 Still - H 2015

New Sleepy Hollow showrunner Clifton Campbell is looking to bring the Fox drama back to its glory days when the series returns this week with its third season.

The Glades alum will kick off the season with a year-long time jump to find Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) on the brink of the second of seven tribulations they must face as Witnesses.

The series, which lost viewers and critical goodwill in season two, underwent a number of changes for season three, with The Glades alum overseeing production — which moved to Atlanta — the departure of stars Matt Barr and Orlando Jones and three new series regulars including Nikki Reed as Betsy Ross.

"[The second season] seemed so reliant on the mythology that it continued to expand in a direction that I found a bit hard to track," Campbell tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It made it difficult to invest emotionally in the characters. The balance of the storylines with Crane's past, with Abbie also was a bit of a bump for me. The mythology had gotten away from the fun of the show and the really dynamic relationship between those two."

Here, Campbell talks with THR about rebooting the series and what's ahead.

Why bench the Headless Horseman (Jeremy Owens)?

We loved the Headless Horseman [but] what we realized in the first two seasons was that they were really one of the first tribulations and it's spoken about in the pilot — that the Witnesses will experience seven tribulations. With Moloch (Derek Mears) and Headless, that was the start of pairing of Crane and Abbie and the first tribulation. Headless was a phenomenal iconic imagery, but was evocative of that first tribulation. This season is the start of that second tribulation and we think that supernatural entities and the world that the couple can explore are too tempting and there's too much fun to be had if we just stick to one version of what the end of days might look like. We wanted a fresher look so we've come up with more powerful and more demonic big bads and the environments in which to play out these episodes.

Where do Abbie and Ichabod find themselves at the beginning of season three?

There's been a time skip of a year and, in that year, both Crane and Abbie took a look at themselves and have taken stock of their emotional place in life, their investments, their careers and their wanting to know what their place was in the world. Crane went on a walkabout in search of his ancestral roots, which took him back to England. He found a family tomb in which he found a tablet that had been there for centuries. It's very prophetic. It speaks directly to the idea of Witnesses and Sleepy Hollow and becomes an instrument for what we're going to do to open up the second tribulation. It really is a guide on what it means to be a Witness. Abbie also took stock of herself and realized she still has a dream. She still wants to be in the FBI and build out her law enforcement résumé. To that end, she does return to her studies at Quantico and finishes out her work. When she comes back a year later, she is an FBI agent and assigned to the bureau that is called Resident Agency, a smaller agency that is in the area of Sleepy Hollow.

What can viewers expect from Ichabod's flashbacks this year?

We're going to cycle back a little more on his life to before coming to America. We're developing an overall season arc this year with the twists. In the first two seasons, a lot of it was a little in service to a particular plot. This season, we're starting with a very iconic piece of American history and we're going to look at the whole thing that led up to the event and the event itself. And to that end, we're going to go back and forth with Crane and his recollections. We're also adding a counterpart to Abbie in creating this 250-year-old history with the country and a partner that we've talked about in the first two seasons but haven't really seen with the addition of Nikki Reed playing Betsy Ross.

What can we expect from Sleepy Hollow's version of Betsy Ross? Will she appear in modern day?

Ross is a part of George Washington's Culper Ring. Washington was aware of these supernatural forces and of the ploy that they were trying to prevent the birth of our nation. She was a deep, ever-trusted agent in his service and even Crane didn't know what the true nature of her relationship with Washington was — which was to protect Crane, the future witness, from getting hurt or from being co-opted into the supernatural. But she wasn't herself part of the supernatural. She was a warrior against it. And the story mostly at this point is the relationship that Crane had with Betsy and we have a really fun, interesting way to let that play out over the course of the season.
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Abbie has always been faced with having to deal with a boss who is out of the loop about what was really going on in town. How will this come into play with her new boss, Daniel Reynolds (Lance Gross)?

Abbie has always had some form of accountability, first in Irving (Orlando Jones) and then Reyes (Sakina Jaffrey) in the Sheriff's department, but it's all too quickly co-opted by the supernatural in the case of Irving or really kind of skipped over and ignored in the case of Reyes. And we felt that a larger, more urgent law enforcement presence, like with the FBI, and with a relationship that started out as a partnership/friendship when they were both at Quantico, we could develop a lot of emotional complexities in that relationship. We could play with the trust that one has to have when dealing in these sorts of circumstances that law enforcement presents. It still has the accountability but doesn't rely on it being just Crane and Abbie fighting things. It's how Abbie has to deal with that with her boss, who is someone she is really close to and trusts from their time in Quantico. It's still about accountability. It's still about Crane and Abbie fighting a fight that nobody else is in on, but it's much more personal for Abbie this time.

What's this season's big bad like?

This season's big bad goes back 4,000 years and I don't want to get too far into that, but the source material this season for our demons comes from something that is very familiar.

Shannyn Sossamon has been cast as Pandora. Will you be exploring Pandora's Box?

We all have an impression of the mythology and we have a twist on it but I don't think anybody is too far off from thinking that will provide a lot of fun and a handful of demons.

This season will feature a crossover between Bones and Sleepy Hollow. What was the idea behind bringing the two shows together?

There is a shared DNA. They share an interesting relationship to make two halves of a whole that make a "crime fighting team." In Bones, it's more terrestrial; in Sleepy Hollow, it is supernatural and trying to protect the world. Their relationships both have evolved. The Bones side of it is much more enduring than anything we might see in an Abbie and Crane partnership. With that DNA in mind and knowing that we are trying to build out a fun evening on Thursdays, it made sense to throw a crime into the middle of both of them that they can share and evolve those storylines through a cross over.

How are you approaching the balance between serialization and procedural storytelling in the third season?

The episodes that seem to resonate the most with our fans are the ones that carry a nice balance of episodic and serialization. Last season, it aired too far on the heavier mythology and it's really about recalibrating it a little back to the first season. While it really progressed the characters in a serialized way, every episode ended methodically and it was incredibly satisfying. This season is exactly the same thing. We want each episode to stand on its own.

Sleepy Hollow is just starting the second tribulation. Are you approaching this as one tribulation a season, going up to the seventh one, or however long it goes? How long do you see this show running?

I see it running for the full seven tribulations, which is mentioned in the pilot. When I showed up, I realized that it would be death of Moloch and despite the fact that it was over two seasons. Seasons one and two were literally seconds apart, part of one whole thing, the first tribulation. I wouldn't discount the fact that each season might be its own tribulation but I think we need to be open, let these stories play out and I think we're going to find the interesting, supernatural worlds to put our characters into and see how it goes.

How would you describe season three as a whole?

We're going to find there's much more pleasing character development and 100 percent of the fun is back.

Sleepy Hollow airs Thursdays on Fox.