In Plain Sight’s New Showrunners Talk the Pluses and Minuses of Taking Over an Established Series!

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On Thursday, I had the opportunity to take part in a teleconference Q&A with John Straus and Ed Decter, who have taken over the reins of USA Network’s In Plain Sight [Sundays, 10/9C], which is now in its fourth season.

We talked a bit about their background, and a bit about coming into a established series as showrunners – and got an idea of what we can look forward to during In Plain Sight’s fourth season.

After you check out what they had to say, catch this week’s episode, Crazy Like a Witness, guest-starring Bradley Whitford as a paranoid ex-military man who’s blowing the whistle on a Blackwater-type company. And remember, just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

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Ed Decter: Hi there.

John Strauss: Thank you.

So, let me ask the two of you – what was it like to step into an already established show?

Decter: Well I think the thing we both said to each other – was this is a great cast. This is a cast you can do a lot of stories with and have them be able to perform really two or three things at once, which is really what I – we’re amazed about about our cast that they are so intelligent and nimble and adaptable.

Strauss: We also felt like there were all kinds of opportunities to expand on what was there already, particularly with creating a little more life in the office and using Paul Ben-Victor more and creating a couple of new cast members at WitSec where we really had a family of people working together. And we’re very, very happy with the way that’s turned out.

Okay. And – well, obviously the big news this season is the – Mary’s pregnancy. How big of a part is that going to play as the season goes on?

Decter: Oh, it will be major. It – we keep saying, “In Plain Sight” and – Mary and “In Plain Sight” will never be the same again.

That’s a good (way to look at it).

Strauss: But it will touch – it touches on all aspects of her life from how she is able to conduct herself at work and certainly in her personal life and how her whole world view really is going to change. It was really a blessing for us to be able to add this new dimension to the show.

Decter: And this season – this season’s whole theme was about change, about how everyone around Mary is changing. And then, all of a sudden, the stork gave us pretty much the greatest change that could happen to the show ever.

And between, you know, Mary’s pregnancy and Marshall getting this love interest this season, how is that going to change the dynamic between Marshall and Mary?

Decter: Well, that’s a really good question and one we’re going to not answer because you’re going to have to see it. But there will be changes. There will be changes.

Strauss: Let’s – we can also say that one of our favorite aspects of the show when we walked into it was this great banter that the two of them have had. And we’ve continued that – really stayed true to that relationship. And despite the changes, I think we’re – we will always maintain that, kind of, underlying affection, tension, romantic tension that the two of them have together. Even with the changes, I think you’re still going to see the spark between them.

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When dealing with such an unexpected event like a pregnancy in real life, how do you make sure future changes are organic to the character in the show itself?

Decter: Well, that’s an excellent question. And we’re – it was through preparation. We had all the scripts already written when we got the announcement from Mary — the joyous announcement that she was having a baby.

So, we said, okay well we know the cases that she’s going to be working on. How does her having a baby change the point of view of those cases? And the freaky thing was that we we’re so happy about was that it just made them better.

Strauss: It was one of those – we got lucky. As Ed said, a lot of it was, I think, we were way ahead in terms of preparation. And then we just – it was one of those lucky things that happen where it – it just – it worked.

We were able to go back and, you know, add this new dimension to, you know, more than half of the episodes. And it was a lot of work. But it fit organically versus having to literally scrap, you know, half of the shows that had been written. So it was a happy accident.

Decter: And one of the things about – one of the things about Mary’s character is the most entertaining things in the show are things that annoy Mary. And, so she has stated many times in the show (the) character of Mary Shannon, that she’s not a baby person. She doesn’t get babies.

So there’s nothing better than to have this baby coming and seeing how Mary is going to deal with it.

Well with the pregnancy in mind, how do you see the nature of Mary’s voice over changing for the season?

Decter: Well, yes. That’s – it’s very exciting to see how – what Mary’s going to be thinking about in her voice overs as she is being forced into change. She’s not someone who changes willingly. She’s someone who has to be forced into change.

Strauss: But it’s going to make her think more about family. It may make her think even at some point, more about her own father. It opens up a lot of really, really interesting possibilities for the character.

We talked with Mary and Fred last week. And Mary mentioned that the two of you were already fans of the show when you came aboard as showrunners. Could you tell us, maybe, a little bit about what you were doing before “In Plain Sight” and how that led to your coming into the show as show runners?

Decter: Well, we had been running a lot of TV and movies. (We) – you know, we wrote “There’s Something About Mary” and “The Santa Clause” movies. And we – and – had been doing a lot of TV. And we – this opportunity came out of nowhere.

Our agent spoke to us about it. And we had known and loved the show. What we really liked about the show before we joined up was that it was a procedural show that concentrated more on character than on procedure.

And that was very exciting to us, especially with our past, having written a lot of romantic comedies and things like that because at the core, Mary and Marshall – there’s a little bit of a romantic comedy going on all the time between the two of them.

Strauss: And we’re also just big TV fans in general and, particularly a lot of the (cable) shows, the hour procedurals. We’re both just fans. And this was among the shows that we were fans of and watched. It just – it was a really good fit for us.

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And now with all the changes, I’m just wondering – when you first came aboard, obviously change is something that annoys Mary. And more change will provoke her and probably give better responses overall and more interaction with other characters and things like that. But how did you arrive at a way to bring about these changes even before Mary’s pregnancy without sacrificing the unique tone of the show?

Decter: Well, that’s a – that’s also a very good question. We just (noticed) that the best stories were where Mary was provoked by something. So we said, okay, what if she’s a very protective person with her witnesses and with her family and with her friends – (they were) very close friends.

So what if we throw a lot of monkey wrenches in there? And what does the lioness do when she doesn’t have so many cubs to protect? Then we thought that Mary would have to force some issues of her own about her father, about what – you know, what is her role in the world if she’s not protecting her sister and her mother?

Strauss: It’s also a, you know, really, kind of, a fun position to be in where you can – you know, you’re coming in and the – after three seasons of a show and you can re-watch all of the episodes and see which were your favorite ones and why were they and what, you know, what kind of things worked best in episodes and then play to those strengths. It’s a great way to actually come in to a show.

I was really excited when I heard you were taking over the show because I think you’re very funny writers. And I think – I’ve always thought there was a lot of humor between Mary and Marshall as well, kind of, that whole Bickersons thing. And…

Decter: Yes.

…I sort of love that Mary is having a baby now because I think Marshall has a very (zen). But he really gets in Mary’s head. And I was just wondering – I – you said you’re still going to keep up the banter thing.

And I loved the season opener because that whole opening run with them was fantastic. So, I’m just wondering will Marshall be an influence on Mary’s potential parenting?

Decter: So much. But we won’t tell you the specifics. But, of course, you know, Marshall and Stan and also Paul Ben-Victor – their attitude is going to be, you know, if Mary’s having a baby, we’re all having a baby because they all work so closely together.

Strauss: And as you know from watching the show, you know, Marshall as a character is very opinionated. And we’ve not shied away from that at all. So he will be very, very involved.

[I’m] just real excited to get to talk to you today – love the show. And the season opener was just fantastic. I was a little, you know – I was a little worried with new people (are taking over) a show that I already love.

And I agree with the last person that it was (just taken) – the funny banter was there and — just fantastic. So – excited to see it’s taking steps up. That’s fantastic. I guess I want to know if there – if you’re going to give us any hints about who the baby’s father is.

Strauss: Oh, we can’t do that. That would be wrong.

Decter: That wouldn’t be fun at all.

Strauss: We wouldn’t be good at our jobs if we did that.

Well, I couldn’t help but ask, you know. I might catch you on a slip up or something, you know. How far into the season are we going to get before we start getting little hints?

Strauss: You’ll be a few in – a few in. You’ll have to stay tuned. But you won’t be disappointed.

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Oh, I’m sure. And I’m also wondering is Jinx come – going to be back into the show? She’s, kind of, been absent for quite a few episodes last season and, you know, the first…

Decter: Yes.

…episode. Is she back on board or…

Decter: Yes, we’re very happy (Jinx) is going to be in a bunch of episodes. And she’s got some great stuff to do this year, some new sides of (Jinx) that we haven’t seen before. So we’re very excited about it.

You guys are almost exactly my age. So I just still see her as Cinderella, you know, that’s my – that’s – this is the first…

Strauss: I remember – I actually remember…

(You guys) are probably not as excited. But…

Strauss: She was on “Mission Impossible” way back when.

“Mission Impossible” as well, yes. Yes.

Strauss: Yes.

So I know you guys don’t want to say who the father of Mary’s baby is. But can you at least say whether it’s someone we’ve seen on screen before?

Decter: We can’t say that either. But what we can say is it will be a wonderful twist and surprise for the audience. How about that?

That is good. And how is – obviously, you’ve talked about how this is going to affect Mary and her job. But how is this also going to affect (Brandy) and her relationship and Mary’s relationship with her mom going forward?

Decter: Well, that – we really deal with that in some of the later episodes. At first, Mary, you know, Mary’s – let’s just say this. Mary’s feelings about the – have – being pregnant are very dynamic. And so, therefore, she deals with the pregnancy in a very Mary like way.

And we’re never sure exactly what’s going to happen with here. And neither are (Jinx) and Brandi.

Strauss: But it’s safe to say that they will still very much be intertwined in each other’s lives.