Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Warehouse 13 Interview with Executive Producer Jack Kenny

Photo by: Justin Stephens/Syfy

Fans of Warehouse 13 probably won’t be surprised to hear that Executive Producer and showrunner, Jack Kenny, got his start writing sitcoms. That’s why he’s able to infuse his sci-fi thriller with very welcome comedic beats. In a recent interview Kenny talked about what to expect on the series in its second season, addresses the ever popular question of whether or not Pete and Myka will ever hook up, and explains what’s keeping him from appearing on-camera on his show.

Warehouse 13 airs on Tuesday nights at 9:00 PM on Syfy.
 Q: How important is it to you to find a balance between comedy and action in Warehouse 13?

JACK: Oh, it’s paramount. I think it’s very important because I think that’s one of the reasons the show was successful is because we’ve been able to access, I call it a “thrilleromedy,” because we can do it. We can do a little bit of everything.

And our actors are so good at comedy. I’ve known Eddie for ten years and we’ve worked together on comedies and dramas, and Saul [Rubinek] is a brilliant comedian. I mean, they’re all very funny people. They all have their own different parameters of comedy. And if we didn’t access that it’d be a darn waste of good talent.

And I’ve always found too, that great comedic actors are usually great dramatic actors as well. And I feel like, too, that it’s a reflection of life. Life has a lot of funny moments in it and why would we deny that in our entertainment? It keeps things moving.

Q: Do you feel any pressure or the need to go darker like other Syfy franchises like Battlestar Galactica or Stargate Universe?

JACK: Well, I think they’re darker in a different way. I mean we definitely want to examine dark issues. We don’t make it a light frothy comedy. Last year in an episode, we examined Pete and Myka’s guilty past and what they’re guilty about. Pete about his Dad and Myka about the man who died on the mission she was on.

And so, we… certainly don’t want to avoid dark issues or emotional issues, on the contrary, we’d like to dive head into those. But, I also feel like we can mix it with the comedy of the moment. Not jokes per se, but situational comedy, character-based comedy, but I don’t think–because Battlestar… it was a darker world, it lends itself to a darker feeling. I mean, the advantage of our show is we go everywhere.

We’re doing some episodes this season that have very dark overtones, and some that have very light overtones. We’re doing a body switching episode that you can’t avoid having a light overtone to it, even though there is a danger element involved. And then we’re also doing a very heavily emotional episode near the end of the season.

So, we kind of cross all the vectors.

Q: Well, last season we ended with Artie and the warehouse exploding. Will Artie be back this season?

JACK: Absolutely. I don’t think it’s a secret to anybody that Artie will be back. The question with Warehouse 13 is always… how does he come back? How would he survive? It was actually just the umbilicus tunnel that blew up, it wasn’t the whole warehouse, so we didn’t really destroy the warehouse. Well how will Artie come back? He could come back as a finger puppet you never know. But, he’ll definitely be back in Season 2 when we’ve got a lot of really cool stuff planned.

We left a lot of strings untied at the end of last season; a lot of loose ends. And we will tie them all back up in the first episode returning. And we’ll also reveal that another end was left untied by MacPherson that is going to string through the entire season this year. MacPherson did something, released something in the warehouse while he was in there that will affect the rest of this second season and give our agents something to hunt down and fight against.

Q: We don’t know if you’re talking about some sort of artifact or not, but can you tell us anything about any of the new artifacts coming this season?

JACK: Oh, well let’s see. Well, there’s an artifact that ages young girls 60 years in the blink of an eye. That’s a really cool artifact. I don’t want to tell you what that artifact is because I don’t want to give away the episode.

There’s an artifact that gives somebody superhero powers, or seemingly superhero powers, let me put it that way. That’s an episode that we have Sean Maher and Jewel Staite in. That’s a lot of fun. That’s our second episode of the season.

Let’s see, what else have we got? I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff. As I mentioned before, we have an artifact that causes body switching. We have an artifact that a woman can use to make a man do whatever she wants, which I’m sure the marketing department will want to get going on that right away.

Yeah. And I’m going to keep thinking. We’re doing crossover episode this year with Eureka where Fargo [played by Neil Grayston] comes to visit us and Claudia goes to Eureka. And in Fargo’s episode we look for an artifact that was responsible for a computer mishap with one of the original computer systems built in the warehouse.

And another great guest star in that episode is Rene Auberjonois, who plays the warehouse agent who kind of lost his mind working with these computers, and how the artifact is involved in all of that. There’s a really cool besoatrope that we use that’s involved in that.

What else? Let’s see, well I have to go through the episodes in my head, one, two, three, four, five is–oh, right there’s a walking stick that creates earthquakes when slammed against the ground. And I can tell you that because that’s not the mystery of the episode. There’s another artifact in that episode that causes a mystery that will unfold as that episode opens up.

Let’s see in six there’s an artifact that makes these young men on this college wrestling team get incredibly strong and muscular and able to win these matches all of a sudden. That’s a very exciting episode for our female fans.

Q: How much of Artie’s back-story will we see in Season 2?

JACK: Actually, quite a bit. We’re going to discover what his past was with the NSA. In Episode 9 we discover what exactly got him arrested for treason, and how he campaigned to Mrs. Frederic, and what the consequences of what he had been doing was. And he actually tries to rectify some of those wrongs in Episode 9 and what takes him to Russia. It takes him and Pete and Myka to Russia in that episode. So, we learn a lot about his past.

And then actually, this year we’re doing a Christmas episode that’ll air in December where we learn about Artie’s father, and why they had the rifts they did, and how they can come back together. So, we’re learning quite a bit about Artie this year.

Q: Do you have any episodes focusing on Claudia this year?

JACK: Oh, yeah. Well, Claudia is essentially a regular this year. I don’t know the legal ramifications if she isn’t recurring in every episode or how that works, but she’s in every episode this year, and she’s an integral part of the warehouse. She and Artie are essentially a team.

And we actually send her and Artie off on an artifact hunt at one point while Pete and Myka are off doing something else. And in the college wrestler episode we actually team Myka and Claudia up to go and investigate it because we thought it would be fun for the two girls to go to the male college wrestling team.

So… the warehouse investigative team is really Pete and Myka, Artie, and Claudia. And Leena’s involved more with stuff at home at Leena’s B&B and at the warehouse. But no, Claudia is very, very important to the tour show this year. She’s in a lot of cool stuff. And we also get to see her brother Joshua again this year in the first episode and possibly in a later episode.

Q: Now, some of the artifacts we’ve heard of, or we’ve heard of how they’re attached to famous people, how much of the original story attached to those artifacts do you use for the storyline?

JACK: Well, it’s mostly invented because we… it’s sort of the nature of the beast, but we try to base as much of it as possible certainly in history, an historical fact with the person and what they may have used. And also, in as much science as is humanly possible in a science fiction show, we try to really base things in truth so that they have a ring truth, and a real prominence to them.

So, every time there’s an artifact that comes up it generally springs from what we need something to do or be, and then we start going historically over what that might be. Gosh, we were talking the other day about an artifact that could turn mass into liquid and make it easier to move through. And somebody brought up John Henry’s hammer, or John Henry’s pickax, the guy who dug his way through the mountain faster. If there was a piece of that pickax or the pickax itself, could that be an artifact that caused things to liquefy it?

So we definitely delve into history and then try to juice it up with some fictional imbuement of powers or prowess.

Q: The key to any hit shows is its characters and you’ve got a really good core of characters and a few on the periphery. Will there be any new and unusual recurring characters introduced in the next while?

JACK: Yeah, I think there will be… We’ll meet Kate Logan, played by Tia Carrere in a couple of episodes. We’re going to see Benedict Valda as Mark Sheppard… in two or three episodes this season.

We’re meeting another regent named Adwin Kosan near the end of the season. What other… characters rear their heads to us again? Leena, of course is back. Joshua, Claudia’s brother is back to see us again. We’ll see MacPherson again. Oh, yeah, MacPherson will be back with us. And we’re introducing another big bad this year who will be with us quite a bit. And that’s all I can tell you, unfortunately because there’s a lot of surprises in the premier episode that I don’t want to spoil.

Q: There are two women guest starring this season. We read that they’re going to be love interests for Pete. Is that correct?

JACK: Um-hum.

Q: Have you considered a romantic relationship between Pete and Myka?

JACK: Well, let me answer your first question first. Yes, Tia Carrere plays a secret service agent stationed in Chicago who runs into Pete and Myka on a mission. And they had a thing in the past, sort of a friends with benefits kind of a thing, and that gets reawakened a little bit. And we’re also bringing Tia back for another episode later this season.

And then in between all that, Pete meets and falls in love with Paula Garces as Dr. Kelly Hernandez a local veterinarian in the town of Univille. The town that hosts the warehouse, we call it Univille, it’s actually Unincorporated Township, South Dakota, so we just named it Univille.

And Kelly is a veterinarian in town that Pete meets and has a very electrical relationship with. I mean, they sort of shoot barbs at each other and then they fall in love, and so we’re playing that this season. So, Pete will definitely be moving around.

And so that in mind, Pete and Myka, we are kind of staying away from the romantic entanglements right now. We certainly play a little bit of that tension once in a while. I think last year in Duped you probably saw that Pete certainly found Myka attractive and there’s a really beautiful moment in Episode 4 this season in that takes place at a fashion show where Myka has to go undercover. There’s a really nice scene between Pete and Myka where he talks to her about how beautiful she is.

And so, right now it feels more like a brother/sister thing because of the way they seem to relate to each other and the chemistry they have, but we certainly wouldn’t rule out a romantic relationship down the line. We just kind of don’t to play that part yet because everybody always says at the end of a series, I mean, who knows if it is or not, but why risk it?

Q: Aside from being the Executive Producer, what makes you want to jump in and write certain episodes?

JACK: Well, I kind of feel like with being the showrunner, it’s kind of my job to bookend the series and also because it’s fun and I really like doing that. I really like wrapping things up and leaving a lot of crazy loose ends and stories that will reach into the next season.

Writing the first episode, I always like to do that because if we have any new writers on staff I think it’s helpful for them for me to layout kind of how we do the series, and I kind of feel it’s my responsibility. Plus, they’re the easiest ones to write; the first one and the last one just timewise, because my life in between the first and the last episodes tends to be taken up with 1000 other things. So, I really can only focus on the first and last episodes.

In the meantime… most shows work like this, every episode works its way through my computer before it gets to the studio and the network and stage. I do a lot of the rewrites on it. So, I don’t have time to actually write a cold episode during the season, except at the end. I’m writing the season finale this year with Nell Scovell, one of our other writers.

Q: You started you career in sitcoms like Dave’s World and Caroline in the City–were you always a Sci-Fi fan and did you always intend to do a show where you melded those two genres together?

JACK: I do love comedy. Comedy was always my goal. My father wanted me to be a comedian when I was kid. I’m the only kid in America whose father actually wanted him to be a stand-up comic.

So I do have a tremendous level of comedy. I did my seventh grade term paper on Groucho Marx. So, I’ve always been fascinated by it. And like I say, I always find that comic actors can make you cry more readily and more easily than dramatic actors can, a lot of the times. Some of the great performances are from incredibly comedic actors. So, I do have a love of that.

I love sci-fi the way the average person loves sci-fi. I love Star Wars and Star Trek, and you know, Indiana Jones. I mean, I loved all that. I love all those movies. But, I’m not a, what my fellow writers lovingly refer to them themselves as a geek. I’m not a Star Wars… I’m not a sci-fi nerd.

And that was kind of what I went into Syfy with on my interview. I said, “You know, you guys, you have the sci-fi audience. They’re going to watch your shows because they love sci-fi. You need me. You need a guy like me who’s kind of afraid of a name Battlestar Galactica because all I think is, ‘Hmm, am I going to be into that’.”

And it turns out it was a brilliantly written series, but… what I said to Syfy was that we need to expand the brand on this and bring in people who can relate to it on, not only on a sci-fi level, but on an emotional level, on a character-based level, on a comedic level, on a dramatic level, just bring it all in. And fortunately we’re blessed with a cast that can give us that.

And so, my goal was always, let’s grab it all. Let’s let’s go across the boards and do a “thrilleromedy” or an action-comedy… and cover it all. So I’ve never tended to be a total into everything sci-fi and total geekdom, but I do love a good story well told. And it doesn’t matter what genre it’s in.

I think the reason Star Wars is such a brilliant franchise and the movies in that franchise that work, are the ones that focus on the relationships whether it’s Luke and Leia or Luke and Yoda or whoever relationships they’re following that’s what you’re excited about. The genre is also exciting but it’s sort of a separate thing, but that’s kind of my take on it.

Q: We noticed that you’ve made a lot of on-camera appearances on shows like Cheers and Herman’s Head, and we were wondering if there’s any chance you’ll make an appearance on your show?

JACK: Well, you know if I can lose 20 pounds, sure. But no I was an actor for many years. I graduated from Juilliard in 19, blahbety, blah, blah, but you can probably look up that as well. So I was an actor for about 13 years before I started writing. I do love acting, but I also know how hard those jobs are to come by, so I would never want to take a job away from an actor on the show.

If it was an emergency situation or something that had to be done and we couldn’t get somebody last minute, but… I’m going to direct the Christmas episode this year, and I just love being with actors, so writing and directing is, for me, just as good as acting. I have just as much fun. Although, Saul keeps telling me he’s going to shove me in front of the camera one of these days, and I dread that day. You know, the camera adds ten pounds and there could be two or three cameras on me, so I don’t even want to look like that.

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