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Sex, Religion, and Life After Death: A Very Candid Chat With Bones Executive Producers Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan on What to Expect in Season 8

By on September 7, 2012
Executive Producers Hart Hanson (L) and Stephen Nathan (R) of BONES (Photo © Getty Images)

Executive Producers Hart Hanson (L) and Stephen Nathan (R) of BONES (Photo © Getty Images)

After the dramatic seventh season of FOX’s Bones, which saw Brennan give birth, get framed for murder, and finally go on the lam in the cliff-hanger finale, what can the show’s producers possibly have in store for the new season? This week, Screen Spy caught up with Bones creator and executive producer Hart Hanson and executive producer Stephen Nathan when they sat down for a conference call with the entertaiment press to talk about what will keep us on the edge of our seats in Season 8.

Separation and Reunion

Hanson and Nathan, who co-wrote the first episode of the new season, were lively and chatty, and obviously share a friendly and productive working relationship. They fielded questions on a number of topics about the premiere episode they wrote together, from the change in the credits sequence and theme song (“The Twitter world has already told us how much they hate it, so we know we’re on the right track,” said Hanson), to the rather physical reunion scene between Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) following their three-month separation after last season’s finale.

According to Hart Hanson, the physicality was the idea of stars Deschanel and Boreanaz. “We had written one reunion, and they came and said, ‘Can we go a little farther with this?’ and so we upped, let’s say, the energy of them seeing each other again,” said Hanson. “There’s nothing better than having actors come to you and say they want to do more and not less, especially going into the beginning of Season 8. So we were tickled with it.  … They just wanted to wreck a little more furniture!” He added, “You know, David’s really strong. And Emily’s extremely limber and strong herself. They are mighty, those two.”

“We were happy they broke furniture,” agreed Stephen Nathan.

The two also discussed Brennan’s hair, which was dyed blonde while she was in hiding. After being thanked for dying her hair back to its usual attractive brunette, Nathan laughed.

“I actually expected that to be the first question! And an interesting fact: I washed it, but Hart dyed it back.”

“That’s going to totally creep out Emily, Stephen,” Hanson commented, and offered, “I thought we did an excellent job.”

Andrew Leeds as villain Christopher Pelant (Photo ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)

Evil computer hacker Christopher Pelant (Andrew Leeds), who last season framed Brennan for murder, was also the subject of much discussion. Nathan confirmed that Pelant will again be the main villain in the new season. “Hart and I both hate serial killers as a rule, but we loved this guy. He’s just the most interesting multiple murderer that we’ve ever had on the show, and he’s going to kind of color Season 8 a bit.”

“Color it RED!” Hanson broke in, laughing.

Nathan said that the focus will be more on solving murders this season, and that they’re trying to get the show back to the basics. “However, all of their personal lives have been altered by what happened with Pelant, with Brennan being gone … and now they have to deal with the realities of their relationships and their lives, as well as Pelant, as well as this sort of black cloud that hangs over them, It won’t be dealt with in every episode, but Pelant is not going away.”

Both producers dismissed rumored concerns about ongoing contract negotiations for stars David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel for Season 9 and beyond, saying they were confident they’d come to an agreement. When asked to comment on some of David Boreanaz’ recent Tweets, Hanson said, “I don’t worry at all. David is a mischievous guy; he loves lobbing hand grenades out.”  Stephen Nathan agreed, saying “The undercurrent of all of David’s Tweets or anything he does online or in the press is that he loves doing the show, and he’s better than ever in the show, and I think he wants to come back as much as we want him back. It doesn’t seem to be a real issue.”

Understandably, Brennan and Booth’s three month separation plays a large part in the first couple of episodes; despite the enthusiastic reunion, Booth feels anger and resentment at being abandoned. As Stephen Nathan put it, “Initially, you’re very happy to see somebody, but all of the three months of being abandoned, essentially, doesn’t go away. So that’s still kind of bubbling inside. And in the second episode, we’ll see some evidence of that.”

The two writers had fun dealing with the aftermath of Brennan and Booth’s separation and how it affected the couple’s friends, contrasting the reactions of computer artist Angela (Michaela Conlin) and psychologist Sweets (John Francis Daley), with scientists Hodgins (T.J. Thyne) and Cam (Tamara Taylor). According to Hanson, the more rational scientists tend to accept Brennan’s decision as “the smartest thing to do,” while Angela and Sweets see a more complex situation.

Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz as Brennan and Booth (Photo ©2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Beth Dubber/FOX)

Hanson described the ending of the first episode as “a gulch-hanger … not a cliff-hanger,” that is intended to keep the Pelant story in everyone’s minds.

Moving on to a more humorous topic, Hanson and Nathan both responded to a question of how they would handle being on the run from the FBI themselves. Hanson replied, “I think I would fail miserably. Going on the lam and being off the grid is so hard … I think they’d catch me the first time I stopped to get gas.”

“I think you’re making it too big a deal,” Nathan disagreed, “because I know exactly what I would do. I would call the writers and ask them how the hell I’m supposed to get out of this fix.”

Hanson was skeptical. “Stephen, what would you do if you couldn’t go to your ATM to get money? If you can’t use your credit cards? That’s it – you’d surrender! You’d surrender.”

“No, no, no,” Nathan insisted. “Nuts and berries. Nuts and berries –”

“I can see you sleeping on the beach!” Hanson interrupted.

Nathan continued, unperturbed, “– Sleeping on the beach, and you can always eat a squirrel.”

Taking the question a bit more seriously, Hanson mused, “You know, I know a guy who worked as an undercover cop for twenty-five years, who’s a mountie, who’s a really good friend of mine. What I would actually do is go to him, and hope that he decided to help me, and then I’d be okay. But otherwise, I’d be doomed,” he concluded, then added, “I’d bring you with me, Stephen, don’t worry.”

But Nathan was firm. “I’m calling the writers.”

A Wealth of Supporting Characters

The writer/producer pair answered a number of questions about possible storylines for supporting characters in the upcoming season. Hanson confirmed that the “intern of the week” format will stay in place, saying “We’re going to keep our revolving gang of interns. It just really works for us.” Stephen Nathan added that we will also be meeting new interns at some point in the season, as well as  “revisiting interns that we haven’t seen as much as we want to. We just love having that revolving door in the lab.”

In addition to the interns, we’ll be seeing plenty of the characters’ family members, both old and new. Brennan’s dad Max (Ryan O’Neal) will be back, and the producers said they also hope to have Booth’s grandfather (Ralph Waite) return, and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons as Angela’s dad (“because that’s just total fun for us,” according to Hanson). The pair also hinted at a story line still in development involving Hodgins’ brother, as well as another where Booth’s mom meets Brennan; but they said it’s unlikely Emily Deschanel’s sister Zooey will be back as Brennan’s cousin Margaret, since “she seems very, very busy on her own show.”

David Boreanaz and John Francis Daley as Booth and Sweets (Photo © 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)

“She has a show?” quipped Nathan. “Oh my God. I’ve got to watch that.”

The as yet unknown love interest of Brennan’s supervisor Cam also spurred questions, to which Hanson would say only “It’s not a brand-new person. It’s someone the fans will recognize, and if we’re good, they didn’t see it coming.”

“I didn’t see it coming,” Nathan complained. “I still don’t know who it is.”

“That’s your short-term memory loss,” Hanson retorted.

“Oh, that’s right,” Nathan replied. “Who are you?”

They did allow that the surprise reveal of Cam’s love interest would be in the fifth episode of the season, which is a plot involving crime scene cleanup. “Brennan and the squints go up against someone whose entire life is devoted to eliminating evidence, and theirs is discovering it. It’s spy vs. spy,” explained Nathan.

Another character who will have a story arc in Season 8 is FBI Special Agent Flynn (Reed Diamond), whose motives are still a mystery. “It’s complicated and fun, and we have an end plan with that,” said Hanson. “But, is he good, or is he bad? … is he a threat, or is he supportive?” He continued, “We’ll find out.”

The 150th Episode

Bones will reach its milestone 150th episode during Season 8. When asked if the producers had anything special planned, Stephen Nathan replied, “A massage. That’s a lot of episodes. I ache!” Hart Hanson was more helpful, describing an unusual and heart-wrenching episode where the audience sees everything from the point of view of the murder victim, a boy. “It’s not a funny episode. It’s an outsider’s view, a very single view, of our team at work. In a way it shows what the camera doesn’t usually show: it shows how each of our characters interacts with a victim when no one else is looking but the victim.”

Hanson reported that the episode will feature the return of resident psychic Cyndi Lauper, who knows that the victim is watching, and will help find out what he needs in order to move on.

“Everybody has come together for this one,” Nathan enthused. “Not only was it a great script, it was beautifully directed, the actors were terrific, and now our visual effects team is working on it, as well as the sound mixers. It’s really a very rich episode, and should be unique for the 150th.” He then added, “Now, of course, we’re planning the 300th!”

Science vs. Religion

A topic of special interest to both producers was the treatment of religion on the show. Hart Hanson has always been drawn to stories that showcase the conflict between rational, scientific thought, and more emotional themes of humanity. “We owe a huge debt to many, many pairings through storytelling history who have had that dynamic: Holmes and Watson, Spock and Kirk, the X-Files … Maturin and Aubrey from the Patrick O’Brian novels are my personal favorite of this kind of paradigm,” Hanson said.

“And Abbott and Costello,” put in Nathan, making Hanson laugh.

“And Abbott and Costello are yours!” Hanson laughed, and then continued. “I think it’s something that we face politically, religiously – our whole western world is a huge conflict between the absolutely rational and scientific mode and the religious/superstitious/emotional mode … and most people kind of meet in the middle. So the fact that we can have two polar opposites end up together, raising a child while solving violent crimes, I think that’s a great engine for a series.”

Nathan agreed. “I think it was also a little important to both of us to take on this sort of a religious debate, where you can have people of faith, and people who I guess would be described as secular humanists, or aetheists … that can live, work together, and most of all love each other, and have successful lives together, without being at war. Everybody’s got to get over themselves a little bit, and I think that’s what we see.”

“Quite a religious person came up to me and said that he was very grateful that the religious people in our show were not portrayed as morons, as superstitious morons,” Hanson told us. “And I was very glad to hear that, because we don’t want to come down on one side or the other. We’re all about the debate, and all about the questioning. That’s the engine of our series, as much as solving crimes is.”

A Good Marriage

Listening to Hanson and Nathan talk so animatedly about their show, it was obvious that they felt very close to the characters. I asked them what had been the biggest challenge in maintaining so many realistic characters, and having their relationships develop without either stagnating or crossing into some kind of “jump the shark” territory.

Hanson laughed modestly, and replied, “Gee, I hope you’re right about all that!” He described his and Stephen’s mornings as beginning with a cup of coffee, and then arguing about politics, their families, movies, and books, before moving on to discuss what they would do with the show, and ideas that they would send to the writer’s room, about which he and Nathan both rhapsodized. “The writers’ room … Oh my God … they’re just so good this year!”

Emily Deschanel and Ryan O’Neal as Brennan and her father Max (Photo © 2012 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Patrick McElhenney/FOX)

Nathan continued, “We have an extraordinary group of writers, led by John Collier … they just see the world in such a unique way. They’re giving us murders and body finds that we’ve never seen before, and I think if the characters stay fresh, the show stays fresh, because they lead the way.”

Hanson also gave the actors quite a bit of credit, saying, “These people have been playing the face of these characters for seven seasons. Every hiatus we meet with each one of them one-on-one and say ‘Who do you like being in scenes with?’ and have a ‘hanging and dreaming’ conversation. And we get a lot of ideas from that. We want them all connected, invested in what they’re doing. And we’re very lucky to have that group of people on our show.”

Stephen Nathan had even more to say on the subject. “And you know,” he put in, “Hart and I are both old married men. We’ve been married for so many years to our wives; Bones is another wife, and it’s a very, very, very good marriage. It’s not boring, it’s still alive, we still have sex, and that’s how you keep it alive!”

As Hanson dissolved into hysterical laughter over Nathan’s comment, I asked hopefully, “Along those lines, can you speculate at all on whether or not there might be a wedding in Bones and Booth’s future?”

“Oh, there might be!” Hanson said brightly, still laughing.

“There might be!” Nathan echoed. “But you know, it’s only Season 8 – we’re just beginning! We’re only beginning!”

Bones returns on Monday, September 17 with the premiere of Season 8, ‘The Future in the Past,’ at 9 PM ET/PT on FOX.