« Look, it was a conscious decision, not an easy one, » says Kevin Wade, Executive Producer of Blue Bloods, to set today’s season 11 openers in a post-coronavirus world.
« On the other hand, on a purely practical level, I especially don’t want to see masked actors, » added the NYPD family drama showrunner. « Now I’ve seen other shows that do and it feels true on one hand and anachronistic on the other. The decision we made was not to play the show like that. ”
How they decided to play the return of the Tom Selleck-directed CBS drama on today’s episode « Triumph Over Trauma » was on several levels. Dealing with issues of police brutality, the fear pandemic and Sunday family dinner, Wade and Blue Bloods are well aware that they are being investigated in an American batter as COVID-19 cases increase, as well as deaths and debates over the role of law enforcement.
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In search of a balance, the well-watched CBS series also knows it has a strong following, starring Bridget Moynihan, Donnie Wahlberg, Will Estes, Vanessa Ray and Len Cariou.
Like the interlocking stories of racial justice, coronavirus consequences, family friction, and a serial killer at large in the premiere of Sept.. Season of Siobhan Byrne O’Connor make it clear – it’s still Blue Bloods, but with an added intensity – and not just with Whoopi Goldberg on board as the city council spokesman looking for changes in the way Selleck’s Commissioner Frank Reagan and his department doing business.
Thereupon Wade had a detailed conversation with me about the debut of the 11. Season, the way through the coronavirus and the aftermath of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The showrunner also admitted that there could be a « setback » to the decisions and instructions that Blue Blood chose. And Wade revealed a little about the fate of the new Reagan family member, Joe Hill. Are we going to see more Whoopi and what’s going on at the Manhattan Law Office?.
DEADLINE: You know the role of the police in our society has come back into the limelight since your last season with the assassinations of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many blue brutalities that led to protests and protests and calls for real change. Like the start of the 11. Season shows, you know Blue Bloods is part of this much bigger discussion. Will we see more of what we saw in Triumph Over Trauma this season and if so, how?
We are in our 11th. Season. We have a tremendous following that not only shows up on Friday nights but also for the syndicated shows to stream to whatever it is. They expect a certain kind of show. I think maybe I’m just kidding, but I think if we had problems, whether black and white or Catholic versus something, or Puerto Rican or Spanish versus something, we’d build a platform of equal dimensions for the other side of the argument.
Of course I was very aware of the scenes between Tom and Whoopi in the first episode, as was Siobhan, who made sure that Not only Whoopis Regina Thomas said her piece, but that she said it as eloquently and truthfully as Tom Selleck’s character does.
This is where the bar is set for me whenever we . . . we do and we will deal with so-called hot button issues, but we are not doing propaganda here, nor are we doing the news. We only do blue bloods. So what we’re doing is going to happen through that ten year old filter at that point.
FRIST: Will we see more Whoopi’s speaker character in New York City Council this year?
WADE: There are no plans at the moment, but the plans are more fluid than ever, because shortly after filming started, I think we were told in episode 2 that or the order had been reduced from the usual 22 to 16. So I would hope to have Whoopi again this season but there is no date, the episode is planned right now.
FRIST: Obviously, your role as Regina Thomas played a very important role in the open discussion with Selleck’s Frank Reagan about race and police violence on an admittedly pretty white show. We saw Det. Luke Raines, played by Jason Bowen, plays a small but crucial role in the season opener. How will more colored people be part of this season if they are?
WADE: Well, Jason will be back as Luke Raines, and we have a new DA, DA Crawford, played by Roslyn Ruff. It is raised that a black woman from Atlanta was transferred from the white governor of New York via Erin Reagan to the acting district attorney for Manhattan, if we want to stay in our fictional world. That seemed true to me, it seemed to me that if none of the summers had happened it might not have been.
Also, we have Eric B, who we had once or twice who is an old friend of Donnie’s and a mentor to him, and it’s been a great chemistry. I saw an opportunity. We can bring her to this office as your CO, but what we’re really using is the black veteran. This opens up opportunities for a very specific conversation about racism or black and white relationships. It’s a very different conversation when it’s between two men who have been on the street for 30 years. I thought this would be a very useful property to harvest.
DEADLINE: Let me turn it around for a second. Do you think expectations are unreasonable, too high for Blue Bloods to address these issues in the US by 2020?
WADE: I think it’s legitimate . . . listen, we were low hanging fruit in relation to the police. We’re a long-running show about a family of white cops, so I understood that the moment George Floyd and everything happened. Of course I do.
On the other hand, listen, if it was the first season of Blue Bloods, we’d probably be doing some things differently or more dramatically. But it isn’t and the people who return this Friday night and after to see it are hopefully returning to something they have enjoyed for over 10 years. For me, the respect and affection of the 12 million people who see it openly takes precedence over the 12 experts who may be seeing it for the first time because it is a show about white cops.
FRIST: What about the pandemic? It had a huge impact on the genesis of the show, showing up in the recent past on the debut of Sept.. Season up. How has that affected the writing that represents a season that is unique to you on so many levels?
WADE: We spent a lot of the downtime with the writers talking to each other about how we would handle it because we had two things on our plate.
One of them was obviously the COVID-19 pandemic. If you asked me in May or June when we started talking, would we actually be shooting next December? Nobody obviously thought that. Nobody from the CDC to the people who work at Blue Bloods. But after much discussion, we decided not to play our actors in masks. We thought we can acknowledge the pandemic we are doing with a story in our first episode, and we acknowledge the rise of a very visible conflict that is really rampant in many cities between black communities and police forces.
So we thought we have to acknowledge this, Adress is, but really thought has been given to whether people tune in to this show to see a reflection of the daily news? Or are they in the mood to be entertained and possibly looking for a reflection but not a documentary? A long way to go to say that a lot of our time wasn’t really spent on stories until we decided which routes those stories would go because that really got us through the summer.
FRIST: You mentioned it, so at the start of the season I wanted to talk a little more about how you are dealing with the pandemic. Vanessa Rays Eddie spends much of the episode helping a woman who lost her father to a coronavirus and whose body has disappeared into the system. Eventually they find it in a mass grave because its name was mixed up and no one claimed the body. But while this is all happening in the now, it’s really a post-COVID NYC that is far from the reality of the now …
WADE: On a practical level, our shows come on a Friday night, certainly not live, but within five or six weeks of being filmed and edited, but all sorts of live in other countries for years to come Platforms. So they’ve been dated the moment they’re on when you do this kind of headline-grabbing stuff.
WADE: Look, it was a conscious decision and not an easy one. However, on a purely practical level, I especially don’t want to see masked actors. Now I’ve seen other shows that do and it feels true on one hand and anachronistic on the other. The decision we made was not to play the show like that.
WADE: I mean, I think if there’s a scene in a hospital or an emergency room, everyone is masked, including the actors. When you walk in I don’t care if you’re the police chief or the guy delivering the pizza. You are being masked in a hospital now, and I think for a while. So I don’t want to call it a minimum because it isn’t, but I want people to be able to come back and say, oh thank god it’s Blue Bloods and not Blue Bloods in a pandemic. It is certainly a calculated risk. We’ll see if there is a setback. I’m sure it will, but I just didn’t think people would be prepared for it at 10 a.m. on Friday night.
DEADLINE: To that end, you have arranged for a Sunday dinner for the Reagan family at the end of the season opener …
DEADLINE: … I wasn’t sure until I saw you were going there, and I bet I’m not alone with that.
DEADLINE: Total. Give me an idea of what this dinner means for you as a production as well as for this start of the season.
WADE: Now put it this way: The fact that you are sitting where you sat before the pandemic and are not wearing masks is arguably being taken as a statement in itself. And I want to stress that all the actors, the safety protocols that are in place before sitting down so that they are in close proximity without PPE, are strict.
They have been tested, everyone around them has been tested. Every corridor they have to this set is monitored and cleared. I have no question if it is more or less safe than if you leave Green Point, Brooklyn and go to where your home is. It is actually much safer here.
WADE: Everyone wears masks on set all the time, except when the actors are filming. Obviously then they are not masked. Everyone else is.
That being said, I just thought people had long been hanging their hats on this family dinner scene. I didn’t mean to mess with it.
I honestly think if I put a subtitle under it I would say that all participants received COVID tests four times a week and blah, blah, blah. Even in the fictional world, I assume that without a script, these Reagans would be tested regularly and would not show up at that dinner without a negative test. This is just the world we live in now.
Deadline: In the season opener world, we’re seeing more of Will Hochman portraying Joe Hill. The newly discovered offspring of the late old Reagan brother Joe, who was once introduced as a « family friend, » is a trigger for his uncle Danny and unsure of his place in the clan. What does the future hold for the character? Has the time between the seasons changed your original plan for him?
WADE: Well, that relationship was . . . we designed them in the first three episodes. I don’t want to spoil the other two, but it’s a closed arc that we play where Joe Hill is faced with a decision whether to go public because he’s part of that family or if he’s forced to go public to go and what would that mean for him?.
In our fictional world, being a cop named Joe Hill is very different from being a cop named Joe Reagan. Because the first question for this guy is, oh wait, is your old man the superintendent? In that case that guy would answer, no, but my grandfather is and my uncle is that guy and my other uncle is that guy and my aunt is the ADA.
So, we’ll act that out and then hopefully we’ll be back with Joe Hill later in the season, but I don’t have to tell you this Dominic, we have a ton of actors to serve who have been doing this for 11 years.
WADE: Exactly. These stories are prescribed, so to speak, that there is a Will Estes / Vanessa Ray story, certainly a Tom Selleck story, a Donnie Walberg story, and a Bridgette Moynahan story. So we really don’t have a lot of real estate to roll out another regular series, and that was never planned.
FRIST: Speaking of which, with all that has changed this year, where are you in season 11?
WADE: I could kind of give you a top of the waves so on Monday the 5th we have. October started shooting, I think. So we’ve only been filming for two months.
We were very lucky because we were very vigilant about our COVID logs. This depends on which job you are testing two to four times a week. Everyone on the crew was cooperative. It’s not always convenient. It takes getting used to. It’s a tremendous shift from the ability to collect and talk out of time about what we’re doing to being at least six feet away with an N95 mask and in many cases a plastic shield over your face, and it’s really hard to do Listen. I mean there are simple things.
WADE: I still go to rehearsals, by and large, and like everyone else in the yellow zone, I am PSA capable, but I listen, I talk and then I’m gone.
We have a setup that I am sure most shows do where we have a feed to a screen in our offices and we have video and audio right through the camera like we are at the video village. So I can view it from there, monitor it from there and send notes to an assistant on the floor, whether by phone or usually by text.
WADE: I think it’s very good, but as you say, very different. We also received marching orders from Viacom CBS early enough that they wanted to start three times in a row this Friday evening. So there are a lot of people in post production who I think haven’t had a weekend off since we got back to work. But we got back to work in October, where we usually go right after the weekend on April 4th. July came back to work.
WADE: The biggest challenge is making sure it doesn’t look like a soap opera with cops. I’m not talking about belittling soap operas. I mean the scale on which they do it. They do them very quickly and they do them almost entirely inside.
The COVID protocols obviously call for minimal crew presence as you can and still do the show, as well as minimal background players.
In fact, we knew the scale of the show would suffer.
We can’t get permission to move around New York like we did before. We can’t shoot in Times Square or jump on a bridge in Brooklyn. We just can’t do it anymore, so we’re writing about conflicts and stories that, because they have to, can take place in very limited properties with very limited backgrounds, something like you describe. This is absolutely a by-product of the COVID protocol.
The biggest challenge is getting people used to a certain amount and movement and seeing New York City and all five boroughs every Friday night. We can’t do that at the moment.
Blue Bloods, CBS, Tom Selleck, Frank Reagan, Jamie Reagan
World News – CA – EP ‘Blue Bloods’ Kevin Wade makes today’s debut of the 11th. Season, Whoopi Goldberg, Police Brutality, & Pandemic Production
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