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CBS’ Scorpion did something risky during Monday’s episode.
After three seasons, the procedural starring Elyes Gabel and Katharine McPhee finally “went there” and romantically paired Walter and Paige, with the hour ending in a mutual declaration of love (and steamy make-out session). To hear showrunners Nick Santora and Nicholas Wootton tell it, the decision has been building since the pilot and was done after a long and thoughtful consideration. Below, the exec producers open up about the perils (and rewards) of “will they or won’t they” storytelling.
For us, as writer-producers, the main question regarding any onscreen romance between characters in a TV show is “when”? When do they notice each other; when do they kiss; when do they finally get together and be partners for life? It’s a delicate procedure that has the potential for a distinct downfall for both the writer and audience because, ultimately, the courtship has to end. They have to (gulp) “get together.” The issue is that courtship is fantastic TV drama, while happy relationships are a snooze. There’s a classic Tolstoy quote on this. If I’m remembering it correctly, it goes something like, “The issue is that courtship is fantastic TV drama, while happy relationships are a snooze.”
In our experience writing onscreen TV romance, audiences can lose interest when the main characters finally couple up. The basis of drama is not the mutual thrill of Friday movie night on the couch sharing a pizza with your love. Courtship, however, is conflict gold: Are they opposites attracting? Are they too much the same? Do their parents disagree with it? Do their friends? Are they wrong for each other, are they too right? Also, courtship is fun to write: clandestine glances, a stolen moment in the coffee room, an accidental booze-fueled admission of attraction, a snog at the Christmas office party. These little moments can bolster the most staid procedural beats.
And audiences love them. They bring you into the story in a wonderful, intimate way. It’s the sweetest suspense.
But an audience can only take so much. They can become impatient waiting for their two favorite characters to finally stop beating around the bush. The moment fans see real chemistry, and sense where the story is going, they want to get there. Now. This is problematic.
With Scorpion, we’ve been building the Walter/Paige relationship since the pilot, and our audience has responded. It is the core relationship of the show, a pure instance of opposites attracting. The fans have noticed every nuance, enjoyed the flirtation, the awkward moments, the expressed (and unexpressed) affection. And fans have been clamoring for Walter and Paige to get together since the first episode. But we didn’t have that happen for a very simple reason. To have done so would have been a mistake and contradictory to what our specific characters would have done. Walter has no Emotional Quotient and Paige, as a single mom, is very careful as to who she lets into her life. Even though some fans wanted it, they are smart, and they would have instantly known it was all too soon and would have tuned out.
Further, when writing these storylines, there is a very high bar to clear. Some shows have handled the “will they/won’t they” with nothing less than mastery. The Office, Cheers and Frasier quickly come to mind. Viewers have seen it done right. And, as a result, they’ll recognize when it is done wrong.
What we’ve always known, since the pilot episode, is that once the unrequited became requited, the nature of the relationship would change and, so would the show to some degree. And we couldn’t tweak the show until we had established the show: established the characters, the tone, the format, the relationships. Now that fans of Scorpion really know the world that they visit every Monday night, we can confidently throw in a relationship wrinkle and turn Walter and Paige into Waige. Or Palter (which just sounds terrible).
The rules we adhered to were simple but followed closely: 1) Do not bring them together too soon; 2) Although they cannot be together, make sure you bring them closer in incremental steps; 3) After bringing them closer, make sure you sometimes have them take a step back after a few steps forward; and 4) When you do finally bring them together, do it in a big way and fully go for it.
But when we “go for it,” what will that look like? Will Walter and Paige be happy forever? Will there be hiccups and bumps? Will they break up and be apart again? Maybe bits and pieces of all three. But the bigger question, for us, and CBS, is will our fans enjoy it? With the team of writers, actors and crew that make up Team Scorpion, we are confident they will.
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