Are you a fan of the ABC show, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World? While I was in Los Angeles for the Pixar Coco Event, I had the awesome opportunity to chat with Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters who are both Creators and Showrunners for this show.
Interview with Tara Butters & Michele Fazekas
Tara & Michele watched the episode with us and we were able to chat with them about what we can expect this season. I am excited to share some snippets of their interview with us.
Q: Will we see more “warriors for God” in this season?
Michele: Yes. I try not to give too much away, byt yes, we will see more “warriors for God”. Will Sasso plays Dave, who will actually be around for more than one episode. As things move toward them figuring out how to find the first righteous person, we will see more warriors for God.
Q: Where did the idea for the show come from?
Tara: We’ve been with ABC Studios for several years. We did Agent Carter for them and then a show called Resurrection before that. And we had had a different pilot, actually a pilot that was kind of more tied to Disney IP (Intellectual Property) and everything. We had been working on that and because of various things that happened, we ended up having to shelve that pilot. And it was actually literally the day after the presidential election that our pilot went away.
Michele: At that time, we were like let’s just rewrite something.
Tara: Write something for ourselves.
Michele: We’ll just write a speculative script and maybe it’ll be a cable thing.
Tara: Part of it was like, there’s just a lot of people who are unhappy and don’t feel good about where they are in their life, and that they don’t feel heard. I think we kinda took that as something as inspiration – it felt like people needed something that came from a good place and kind of reminded you that little acts actually do add up and that you can have — you can do one thing and that might inspire somebody else to do a good thing.
Michele: Well, after that year of campaigning — it’s really easy to find ugliness in the world. You don’t have to work that hard. Go onto Twitter. Go onto a message board on a news website. So, that’s super easy to find. And so, I think part of us was like let’s just do something — and we’ve written — and we were on Law and Order SVU for five years. That’s a dark show. I have nothing against that — but it’s like I’ve done that. I don’t need to do that again. We always like sort of blending genres and sort of elements of wonder and mysticism. We met as assistants on the X Files. Even on Agent Carter we, we were blending comedy and drama, action and adventure all in the same show. That’s not always an easy tone for people to understand. Like, even with this show, I think people didn’t know what this show was. And it was hard even for ABC to sort of package it. So, it’s just like just watch it and you’ll get it when you watch it.
Tara: I think in the beginning, they went kinda earnest. Like, “oh it’s Touched By Angel!” but it isn’t.
Michele: Well, not really. It’s kinda hard to encapsulate what this show is. We had been working on sort of our cable idea, and then somehow it got back to ABC that we were working on a pilot. The guy who runs our production company said to them, yeah, well, that’s not for you. And he wasn’t being cute, but I think as soon as you say that to someone they’re like, “Wait, it is for me!” So, we get a phone call. They’re like can you pitch that at six o’clock today? We’re like, no, we don’t have it! What are you talking about? So, we sorta got a pitch together and we pitched it to him. And they’re like, yeah, that’s not for us. I’m like I know. It’s not. But they’re like but we kind of like something in the area. So, we worked up a pitch in like a week and pitched it to ‘em real late in the development season, like December 6th, which is when people have already turned in scripts. They bought it over the phone. Soo we had like six weeks to do an outline and a script. I think they too were kind of looking at the world, and they looked at their slate, and they’re like all we have are real — are like dark stuff. I think people might be tired of that or might want another option. So, it happened quick and then we picked up. We’re gonna shoot a pilot. Paul McGuigan wanted to direct it, and he’s amazing. Then we see Jason Ritter’s name on a list of actors. Like, here’s all the actors who are approximately of this age, and we see his name. We’re like ohh. I had seen him on Drunk History. I know he’s real funny and I know he can act dramatically. He came in and did a screen test. We were like, oh there he is. I mean he’s exactly what we needed and then sort of everybody fell into place. Part of the whole idea of the 36 righteous people, that comes from the Talmud actually, like sort of Jewish mysticism. Very, very loosely based. Like, we took a little bit of that and then sort of made our own rules for it. There’s another concept that I’d heard about while we were breaking the pilot. And it’s a concept called metanoia, which is a theological term that literally means to see the world through new eyes. The concept being one person can’t change the world, but there is a transformative thing that happens when you see the world through new eyes where it actually does change the world. It’s kind of a weird concept to think about, but I liked that that’s sort of what happens to Kevin. When he decides to see the world differently, the world is different. And I kind of like that as a way to approach life. I don’t think we would’ve sold this pitch in June when usually people pitch, because I think it’s too weird and people would’ve been like, mmm, but where’s the cop show and where’s the dramatical drama?
Tara: One more thing is that both of us are parents, and I have a 12 year old and a ten year old and Michele’s are eight and six. I wanted something I can watch with my kids and that we could both sit down and enjoy it. Typically what happens is tomorrow morning my girls get up at six o’clock in the morning. We come downstairs and we watch it before school. They see rough cuts, because my oldest reads the scripts, but we’ll watch it on Wednesday morning, because we have to time shift, ’cause they don’t stay up till ten. It was important to us to have stuff that we could watch with our kids.
Q: Kevin’s got the responsibility of finding all the righteous, which could conceivably take seasons and seasons and seasons. How far out have you thought the story?
Tara: Like, year by year…..
Michele: I also know who the last righteous person is. You do have to be somewhat fluid and flexible when you’re doing a TV show, I think. I don’t know if anybody here ever watched Battlestar Galactica, which always amazed me, because stuff from season seven is talking to stuff in season one. It was like is that how Ron Moore thinks, because that’s insane. I also feel like when we pitch a show, we pitch the long, long arcs and then we pitch the shorter arcs. You also have to sort of be flexible enough…and go sometimes where the story takes you and where the characters take you and where the actors take you. ‘Cause a lot of times the actors will bring something to the character that you didn’t expect, and it’s like I love that. Let’s incorporate that into the character. We have a loose structure, and I know who the last righteous person is. We have sort of long arcs for the different characters. But you know, even then it’s like, unless we get a better idea.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise collaborating with the actors and just writing? It seems everything happens so quickly.
Michele: One of the things that I love about somebody like Jason, because he’s got all the tools, he will throw himself around and throw his body around at the drop of a hat. Like, he will fall down – and he told us a funny story about when he was seven, he and his buddy thought that the most awesome job obviously was Hollywood stuntman. So, that’s what they were gonna be. But they thought in order to do that, all you had to do was just build up your tolerance for pain. So, he and his buddy would just like, hurt themselves. I didn’t know that about him that he really will just throw himself around. So, we’ve incorporated that into it.
Tara: I mean the thing is, you literally are casting almost blind dates where it’s like you cast everybody individually and you show up on the day of the pilot.
Michele: Jason and JoAnna Garcia are great together. Their interactions are so real to me. If you have brothers and sisters, you can say the meanest things to the people that you love sometimes and then you can say the most wonderful things to them. So, that feels very real to me. In next week’s episode, it’s a big Kristin and Kevin episode. And their dynamic is incredible. And then like when we have an episode that’s more Tyler and Kevin. Also in next week’s episode, you get Kristin and Amy — you get all these different people in different scenes and you go, “I love them together.” That’s the fun of coming up with weird combinations and ways stories twist. I think that we want these people to do weird, wacky things that you’re not expecting, and hopefully we can always have fun with it.
Michele: I think Kimberly Hebert Gregory, just where her character has gone and where she will go, has been unexpected. She’s so great and she can kind of do anything. I will always laugh when she’s just annoyed with Kevin. She, again, can kind of go from really funny to really dramatic and emotional.
Q: Do you have any input on the music because it is really good?
Michele: There are two different people. There’s a music supervisor who helps us pick the songs that we put in. She’s great. We actually had her on Agent Carter as well where she’s picking all these great ’40 songs. She finds this interesting stuff. Blake Neely is our Composer. He was our composer on Resurrection. He’s so amazing. The way we work together is, ’cause we worked with him before, is he will score the entire show and then we’ll go to his studio and he’ll play the whole show for us. Then we’ll listen to each cue and we’ll give him notes on it. I would say 50 percent of the cues are perfect, great, like ’cause he completely gets the tone of this show. I like music, ’cause I have a musical background. So, I can give annoying notes, like can it be an F sharp and not an F? I’m like, “I’m really sorry.” That’s super picky, but he actually is appreciative of that. So, yeah, we get to have a lot of input on it. And it’s fun. But it also helps that he’s incredibly talented. ABC lets us have a live orchestra record everything, which makes a tremendous — I don’t even think you consciously know what a difference it makes, but you’ll hear it on his synthesizer and it’s amazing, and then you hear the real orchestra. You’re like, oh, wow, I think that makes a huge difference. And I’m glad they do that!
Q: How many writers does this show have?
Michele: We have about 6 writing entities. We had decided let’s have a smaller staff of more upper level writers, people that we knew who could deliver quickly. Then, in success we would have a little bit bigger writing staff and hire some lower level writers.
Q: What is one of the weirdest, unexpected inspirations for writing a scene or, or a plot device?
Michele: We have a group of writers, and it’s so funny how you start with like someone pitches. We’ll constantly say, okay, here’s a bad pitch.
Tara: Here’s something that’s really either on the nose or you’ve seen it before. You might start there.
Michele: I’ll tell a story from another show just to give you an idea. We did a show called Reaper a few — like about ten years ago that was really a show about the devil. It was a comedy about the devil. It was on CW. Ray Wise was the devil; he was great. I’d come in once and I had just gone on vacation with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. And we’d gone to Hawaii. We get to Hawaii and he’s brought three pairs of shorts for a week. I’m like what’s happening? I come back to the writer’s room and there’s a bunch of guys, and I’m like, yeah, so, Vince brought three pairs of shorts. Every single dude is like, well, yeah, that’s probably one pair too many. I’m like what? Eery single one was like three pairs of shorts is the perfect amount of shorts. So, we ended up writing that into a scene where the two guys are talking. It was like Ricky Gonzalez and Tyler Labine. Ricky is making up a lie to cover for something and he’s like, oh, I went shopping to buy some pants. Tyler Labine goes, what do you need another pair of pants for? Who are you, Jude Law? So, just little stupid stuff like that inspired scenes.
Q: . How did your boyfriend/husband feel about your incorporating that scene into that show?
Michele: He always tells me don’t talk about me in the writer’s room. I always say, I will literally always talk about you in the writer’s room. ‘Cause you have to. Everybody kind of talks. Like even at the end of that episode where Yvette is going, “I want silence now. I don’t want you to talk to me.” That’s from Craig’s wife, Abby. If she’s mad at him in the car, she’s like stop talking. I don’t want any talking anymore. So, it — there’s a weird sort of sanctity to the writer’s room where everybody knows that what is said in the writer’s room, you’re not going to like share with other people. Like my husband — we are gonna put it in the show: he cannot tie a tie. I have to tie his ties for him. He was on TV as a network news correspondent, and he would have other people tie his ties for him. I’m like, I don’t know how you get through life. I think this is like some throwback to when you had a mohawk. You’re not punk anymore. Stop it. The nice thing is we’ve worked long enough where we can just hire our friends. Let’s work with people who we like, ‘cause you spend a lot of time with them in the room. Let’s just work with people who have the same work ethic and humor and people you like wanna hang out with. So, that’s the nice thing about being the boss is like you get to pick those people.
Q: This is an industry that has been evolving. It’s more diverse, but it’s still a lot of steps that need to be taken. Do you feel that you have a huge responsibility since, in many senses, you’ve broken ground, because you’re very visible, you are the bosses of this show, and that’s not something that we were used to 20, 30 years ago? Do you feel there’s huge responsibility to the other girls or to the women who are coming after you or might be evolving and growing in this path?
Tara: This year I really like the fact that…in the first 13 episodes…we have three or four women directing. And we were able to get Rob Hardy, a director of color. And that was of the first 13. It’s really hard on a first-year show, because, I wanna say I think it’s below 30 percent in the fact of, of diversity. So when you’re trying to even get 50 and 50 of your directors, it’s incredibly difficult just based on those numbers if it’s around 70 percent white male and 30 percent…It’s actually an incredibly difficult task, because you also know that your first 13 episodes are what you’re putting out there to get the show picked up for a full season. So, you’re trying to find people with the most experience too. I have to say we were so lucky this year. I have been so happy with every episode. Every person has come in and brought their A game. And I really enjoyed the episodes. My hope is that all these directors will come back.
Michele: Even as far as like the writing stuff goes, like we sort of learned how to producers on SVU. We were there for five years. Neal Baer was running that show. He had come outta the John Wells camp. John Wells had this philosophy of we will train you to be producers, and that doesn’t happen on a lot of TV shows. You have this sort of other thing where it’s like I do all things and no one else does anything, which I find annoying. I’ve worked with guys who don’t like their families, and so they stay so that means you have to stay. I’m like, I’m not gonna do that. We have this philosophy of, we will train you how to be a producer. We will train you how to be a showrunner. That means — and that came from Neal, too, where the writer is involved from script all the way to Post-production. Even if the writer is 100 percent rewritten, they are still the sorta shepherd of that script, ’cause they know the script inside and out. And so, they will prep the script. They will go out to stay for production and we will bring them into the editing, ’cause I’ve hired co-executive producers, which is a high level producer who’s never sat in an editing room. So you don’t really know how to do it unless you see it done. It’s not just me being magnanimous. It will make my life easier when you are now taking on that. There was like an article on Deadline like a year or two ago about, oh, there’s no showrunners out there anymore, ’cause there was a show where Tara and I were running two shows at the same time. We were running Resurrection and Agent Carter. Part of that reason is people are not being trained to be showrunners. So that’s kind of our philosophy.
Q: I would like to know how, how long it takes for an episode from the beginning to the end? How many episodes are you ahead right now?
Michele & Tara: Not ahead. Not at all.
Tara: Which is kind of a first year thing, because you’re finding the show. And the studio and the network are also finding the show with you. And so, you get behind pretty fast. In the beginning of the year, we’ll break an episode. It takes about a week to break and episode.
Michele :Breaking an episode meaning you, you have a whiteboard and you have six acts. Every single scene is like, here’s scene one of the teaser. Here’s what happens in this scene. And we always like to say, well, here’s a beginning of a scene. Here’s the middle of the scene. Here’s the end of the scene. Just so we break it very kinda specifically. And so, you do that for all six acts.
Tara: In a perfect world, that takes a week. The writer will go off and write it or write an outline. So that whole thing could take like a month. Then you’re prepping it. You have eight days to prep it — or seven days to prep it, and then you shoot for eight days. Then the director has five days to cut through episode. Then it comes to us. Then we have maybe four to six days to cut it to get it to the studio. The studio gives us notes. And then there’s the network. There’s this whole process of notes. You get notes from the studio and network on sort of every step of the way.
Michele: We all just kinda gang writing each episode, like just do it and cut it in. We’re now at the point now everybody sort of understands — ‘cause part of it too, is you’re teaching the writer what the show is. And what their voices are, and that takes time too. And so, in the beginning I was doing a lot of rewriting just because everyone’s new to the show, and now I don’t have to do as much…and I love good writers who contribute something new to the show that I didn’t even expect, I think. It just makes me a better writer. I think we pretty much approach it without an ego. It’s like if you do something better than me, great.
About Tara & Michele
Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are the creators/showrunners of the new ABC show “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.” Most recently, Fazekas and Butters served as executive producers/showrunners on both “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and “Resurrection” on ABC. Prior to that, they created The CW cult hit “Reaper” and served as writers/producers on “Law & Order: SVU” for five seasons, during which time they received two Writers Guild nominations.
Fazekas and Butters recently signed a new three-year overall deal with ABC Studios, under which their F&B banner, a writer-friendly pod, has been based for the past four years. They have also developed pilots for the CW, CBS and Fox, in addition to having served as writers on series such as “Terra Nova” and Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse.”
About Tonight’s Episode “Dave”
Tune in tonight at 10pm EST to watch the latest episode of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. Here is what you can expect:
Yvette has her reservations when Dave, another celestial being, pops up looking to join her and Kevin on their latest mission: Reconciling Kristin and her mother under the most challenging of circumstances. Elsewhere, Nate tries to work up the nerve to ask Amy out, completely unaware of her budding chemistry with a potential beau.
About Kevin (Probably) Saves the World
Kevin Finn (Jason Ritter) is not a good person. He’s not terrible, but he’s selfish, and clueless, and values material wealth and status over all else. And he’s beginning to realize that those things aren’t making him happy – in fact, he’s fairly miserable. Just when things seem to be at their worst, he finds himself tasked with an unbelievable mission… saving the world.
On a dangerous path of despair, Kevin returns to his childhood home in Texas to crash with his widowed twin sister, Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), and teenaged niece, Reese (Chloe East). It is a strained homecoming – he and his family have grown apart over the years – and Kevin has no real hope that anything will get better. But a series of fantastic events, including a meteorite landing near the house, lead Kevin to meet an unlikely celestial guide, Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory). Yvette delivers incredible news to Kevin: in every generation, there are 36 righteous souls on Earth whose mere existence protects the word. Kevin, she tells him, is the last of the 36 righteous. Humanity has been thrown into crisis. Without the 36, the world will begin to lose the one thing that allows us to persevere through the ups and downs of life: hope.
Now Kevin has a mission, whether he wants it or not: “power up” his soul through acts of kindness and selflessness, so that he can eventually find and anoint a new generation of righteous. Yvette will serve as his protector and teacher, a drill sergeant with divine authority, even if she’s the least angel-like person he’s ever met.