Tonight marks the season finale of our favorite crime drama “White Collar” and the series’ creator, Jeff Eastin has promised a “major cliffhanger.” Luckily, the show has already been picked up for a second season and Eastin and his team of brilliant writers have been working diligently to ensure that the show stays consistently good and doesn’t disappoint the dedicated fan base. We interviewed Eastin about the series and his future plans for Neil and Peter
Don’t miss the season finale of “White Collar” tonight at 10:00 pm on USA Network. And if you need a series hiatus fix, check in with Jeff Eastin on Twitter.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for “White Collar?”
JEFF: Well, the short version was I had an idea that was called Redemption, which was a much darker idea… I really love “The Shield.” It was one of my favorite shows. And knowing it was heading off the air, I’d come up with an idea for a Vick Mackey type character, who gets put in prison for allegedly killing his partner and he has to be released. The DA’s daughter gets kidnapped and the only person that can sort of solve the crime is this Vick Mackey guy. So they let him out of prison and put an ankle bracelet on him and track him while he sort of tracks down this kidnapper.
And a friend of mine called and said, “Hey, you might want to take a look at this show called ‘Life.’” And when I saw it I went, “Oh.” Which it was exactly pretty much word for word that idea. So I kind of shelved that idea.
And then USA had contacted me and said, “Hey, would you be interested in doing something for us?” And so I was looking for different ideas. One of the things I’d wanted to do, always do, was sort of a buddy comedy in the vein of “48 Hours” or “Lethal Weapon.” And I dusted off the “Redemption” idea and said what if I run… this dark story… through USA’s blue sky filter? That was really the genesis of the show.
I’ve said before I was also going through a fairly painful divorce at the time, which I think, probably it was a good thing that it happened at the time because that became the Kate story for Neal. What I was really worried about going in was that I was going to have this very charming con man and I wanted to make sure that there was something that grounded him. Something that gave him a soul. And so what I was going through personally really became his search for Kate. That was about it. And I’m very, very glad people are actually watching it.
Q: Please tell us the story of casting Matt Bomer on this show.
JEFF: Yes. I can’t say enough how happy and lucky I am to have Matt on this thing. I give most of the credit to Gayle Pillsbury who was my casting director on the pilot… We’d been casting lots and lots of really good looking guys. It’s L.A. A lot of good looking people. And I remember walking in that particular day and Matt… was looking through his iPod in the corner, had jeans on, and his glasses.
Gayle pulled me aside and said, “Keep an eye on that guy. He’s a star.” He came in and read and we liked him right away. We took him to the studio and he went up. He went to the network and they really liked him. We brought him back, I think, two or three times.
I remember it was the scene from the pilot where he’s explaining to Peter that he’s got the photo and… the deduction he wants to go look for Kate. And that was the audition scene. And I remember, about halfway through that scene, I looked at a couple of the executives at USA and we kind of nodded at each other because we knew at that moment that we had the right guy.
Q: When you’re writing a show that has so many characters, how hard is it to maintain a level of excellence writing for that kind of a cast?
JEFF: It can be difficult. What we’ve done is we’ve really broken it down to each person has their own sort of specialty. Peter’s specialty is usually sort of the puzzle solving, the putting the pieces together that an FBI agent would be good at. And I always look at Neal as somebody who can sort of look at the problem from outside the box and approach it in a way that most people wouldn’t think to. Mozzie adds his own expertise, which usually that sort of that street level guy who knows the way that criminals do it. And Elizabeth has a certain amount of emotional intelligence that we try to play off of. She’s going to see things from a human perspective that a lot of times Peter won’t see or Neal won’t see.
So it can definitely be difficult, but I have to say that at times, we put all four of them in a room has been some of my favorite scenes. In “Bad Judgment,” for example, when Elizabeth finally meets Mozzie. Mozzie walking in and debugging their house is one of my favorite sequences so far, I think, in the series.
Q: In a recent episode, Peter started to traverse the gray areas with Neal. He’s not completely opposed to doing something that maybe a couple of episodes ago he would have thought was completely wrong. How much is that going to happen in the future?
JEFF: Yes. Yes to all the above. I’m not going to give too much away for our season finale, but that actually, that particular aspect, Peter’s up to now, sort of unwavering belief in the system and in the Bureau gets shaken pretty good. And it allows Peter, or sort of pushes Peter, to the other side a little bit. Again, we’re not doing a radical re-shifting of the show. Peter’s not suddenly going to become a master criminal. But like you said in this [recent] episode, his willingness to sort of bend the rules more to achieve what he considers a good end, that will increase in season two. Actually, that factors in very heavily.
Q: Since Fowler is somehow connected to the whole case scenario. Clearly, he’s not the guy pulling the strings. So when are we going to learn more about the mastermind behind that and how is that going to play into future episodes?
JEFF: Yes. The big bad, as we call him, who ultimately will be the guy that Fowler reports to. We’ll learn a lot more about him in season two. Our Season 2, and knock wood, our Season 3 mythology really deals with that and really we spend some time exploring Fowler’s back story, which is actually kind of interesting stuff… Fowler will return and we’ll find out a little bit more about who’s pulling his strings and why, which I think is actually a pretty interesting story.
Q: Your show has such a great structure. Not only do we have a really compelling case, but you also manage to develop moments about the characters. How do you pull that all together?
JEFF: That’s probably the toughest thing. I don’t know. My background, I started as a feature writer. Probably one of my proudest moments was Jim Cameron hired me to do “True Lies II,” which ended up bumping into 911 and sort of folding up. But I spent almost a year and a half working with Cameron and he was a real stickler for structure. And I think where I got my just desire to really push the structure.
I’m somebody that approaches the story from two things really. Structure and motivation, which is as long as the character motivation is true then usually things hold together pretty good.
We have the mythology elements. We have the character moments and we have the story elements. And all those things are always vying for time. It’s all about page count. Usually, it’s a 60 page script. If there’s going to be a story with Elizabeth and Mozzie in this episode, you know it’s maybe 15 pages, which means suddenly you’ve got 45 pages to do everything else. So there’s always that balancing act. It’s a little tough.
Q: We heard the good news that Season 2 got picked up. Could you talk a little bit about planning for that, what you might do differently, and are we going to get a major cliffhanger leading into that?
JEFF: Yes. We have a pretty major cliffhanger coming up here in two weeks… The writers’ group has been going about two weeks now and most of that time; we’ve been just working on the mythology moving forward into Season 2. What I did, really, was looked and say what we thought we really did right in season 1 and just try to duplicate that.
Luckily, I was sort of surprised, but most new shows, there’s usually a few shows you’re sort of not happy with… I can’t really think of any show in Season 1 that I wasn’t happy with. I’ve got my favorites. But even the ones that are my least favorite, I still think came out pretty good. So I’m pretty happy about that.
But for the most part, the way I’m looking at the show right now is it ain’t broke and we’re not going to try to change anything majorly in Season 2 in terms of dynamic. For me, the show is really about Peter and Neal and that’s where the focus is going to stay, supported by Elizabeth and Mozzie, and that’s really where we want to keep it going into Season 2.
Q: But as the creator of the show, did you go in knowing how the show is going to end or do you let the characters drive the storyline?
JEFF: A little bit of both. I knew the big points. Like I’d always known that Peter was going to confront Kate in that hotel room at the end of “Free Fall.” I knew that. I’d known some of the big mythology beats. There were a lot of scenes that I’d wanted to use throughout the season. For example, the hotel scene with the girl in the portrait, with the French girl, that scene was actually originally going to be in the pilot, but as I was breaking the pilot down [the script] just got too long and so I dropped that scene out. And I knew I wanted to use it somewhere so I kept it in my back pocket.
In terms of the large mythology arcs through Season 1 and a great deal into Season 2, I’ve known what’s going to happen in the big moments. I knew Peter was going to confront Kate in that hotel room. I knew the ring. I knew Fowler existed. I knew what his story was going to be.
The finale coming up… I’ve always known the ending to that. And planning into Season 2, I’d had a fairly good idea going into that.
Outside of that, that’s the stuff we’re working on now. I wish I’d had the foresight to say that I’d planned all out five seasons of the show, but I wasn’t quite that optimistic going in.