Exclusive Interview with SMALLVILLE Executive Producer Brian Peterson

     October 26, 2009

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A few days ago I got on the phone with “Smallville” executive producer Brian Peterson. While the show moved to Friday nights this season, “Smallville” still has a loyal following as 2.5 million tuned in for last week’s episode. While that number might be low on any other night, you’ve got to remember Friday nights are a death sentence for every network and getting a few million to watch is pretty good especially since the CW isn’t one of the four major networks. With that being said, no one knows if this is the last season of “Smallville”. Anyway, when I spoke to Brian Peterson about the show, I asked his thoughts about a 10th season and got updates on a lot of other things.

The big news is the CW Network has been told there is a date when the network has to decide if “Smallville” is coming back, so if it isn’t, they can wrap up the storyline for the fans that have been watching from the beginning. Also, for fans of Geoff Johns, what was supposed to be a one part Justice Society episode is now a two-parter. We talked about a lot more so hit the jump to read the interview:

Since some of you might not have the time to read our entire interview, some of the highlights are:

  • They are writing episode 15
  • They are filming episode 11
  • 22 episodes are scheduled for this season
  • The Justice Society episode by Geoff Johns is now a two-part episode
  • I asked if there is any chance of straight to DVD movies after the show ends. Brian Peterson said due to contracts, the chances are very slim.
  • Some of the Watchmen movie sets are still standing in Vancouver. They used it on a future episode that happens to take place in the future
  • The Zod storyline is still coming
  • And some of the future episodes have Lois and Clark being morning talk show hosts; an episode called Candor shows the back-story and the history of Zod and the Candorians and how they got here and what they’re doing; and episode 8 has the wonder twins.

Here’s the full interview. Of course a big thank you to Brian Peterson for giving me so much time.

smallville_tv_image_tom_welling_superman_clark_kent_eric_durance_lois_lane_01.jpgCollider: So how has this season been going

Brian Peterson: It’s actually been phenomenal. I think the episodes have actually exceeded our expectations and we’ve been working so closely with Canada to make sure that the vision of each episode from start to finish is coming through and it has been. There’s been very…basically no moments where we’re like ooh, that’s not what we were looking at. So I think we’ve been incredibly happy. I think the fans, from what I’ve seen, seem to be responding in a way that we had hoped. So we’re trying to really this season take Clark from a place of being in indecision into a place of being in action. Trying to figure out exactly what that action means, how it turns him into a hero so that when we come out at the end of this season or next we honestly believe he’s gone through every trial possible before he becomes Superman.

You guys are filming in Vancouver, have you ever been tempted to sort of have like an Easter egg with “Fringe”?

Brian Peterson: (laughter) With us and “Fringe”?

Yeah, because guys film near each other, I think, the same city. So I’m curious if you guys have ever been on location kind of run into each other? Have Clark walk in the background vs. some of the characters…you see I’m making sort of a joke but sort of serious.

Peterson: I can tell you there was a bit of a stand-off over the use of the Watchmen set and I think we won, because the Watchmen set is up there and we shoot one episode using part of the Watchmen set. Other than that, I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s been a lot of kissing of the different shows, but there definitely was a location…I wouldn’t say a battle…there was a location stand-off at one point.

I did a “Watchmen” set visit and I was up in Vancouver recently for another set visit and we drove by that “Watchmen” set and I couldn’t believe it was still standing.

Peterson: Yeah. And lucky for us it was because we actually got to shoot episode 9…part of episode 9 there.

smallville_tv_image_justin_hartley_green_arrow_oliver_quinn_01.jpgCan I ask what you shot on that set?

Peterson: Oh is that spoiling it? I don’t know. Let me think. We shot…I don’t think this is spoiling anything. We shot a piece of the future in episode 9. We go to the future with Lois and see what her visions are. We shot a piece of the future there.

Interesting. Okay, well, let me jump into a few other things. Where are you in the writing process like what episode are you guys breaking down right now?

Peterson: We are kind of in the middle…let’s see we usually have several going at the same time. We’re kind of around, I would say 15.

And is the plan for 22 this season or 24?

Peterson: 22.

And what episode are you filming right now?

Peterson: We are in the middle of filming 10 and we’re about a day out from filming episode 11.

Okay, so you guys are relatively close. You’re not pulling the oh shit we need to have another script done tomorrow kind of thing?

Peterson: No, in fact we traditionally have never been in that place because with all of our heavy production, you know, we’re not exactly a soap opera that shoots on one set. Visual effects and stunts and crazy locations. We always have to be quite a bit ahead and traditionally our show has always been very ahead.

Do you read the online sites and what has been the reaction that you’ve seen to Clark’s new uniform?

Peterson: We do read them a little. It’s hard because it’s…well it’s very, very valuable information and we want to make sure the fans are all happy. We would not be doing our jobs if we were tailoring a show for a sub-section of people. We really just want to make the best show we can. But I think fans are so-so on the outfit to be honest. I think, obviously, a lot of the reason is that they want him to be in his Superman outfit and they want him to be Superman, and clearly everybody wants him to be Superman. Unfortunately the character, I believe, still have several trials to go through. I think that if Clark Kent, in the show we have today, were to put on the tights and try to be Superman I don’t believe he would be prepared. So that is the story we’re telling is him really trying to weigh all the really difficult dilemmas that come with now that he’s embraced being a hero, what kind of a hero? What kind of a look? What kind of a theme and a symbol does he try to put out to the world?

I watch the show and I totally get where you guys are going with it. I personally don’t have a problem with it, because I understand the big picture, but I could see how fans might be…they’re waiting for it to get to the next thing.

Peterson: Right, right.

smallville_image_allison_mack.jpgOf course I want to ask about Geoff Johns. He’s doing the Justice Society episode. Could you talk a little bit about that?

Peterson: Sure. He actually is working right now on it. And in fact it has become kind of a two-episode event now. So we’re working on two episodes where the Justice Society is featured and it has been amazing working with Jeff. He brings so much from the DC universe and the world and his knowledge is so amazing and on top of which he’s just a great guy, so it’s just been really fun to use everything that he brings and to enrich the show in a way that I think isn’t just a stand-alone like one episode or two episodes but the way that the Justice Society is introduced into our storyline really takes a kind of burgeoning league of heroes that we have and thrust them in a very galvanized solid direction. So I think coming out of mid-season, all of our characters will be actually in a little bit different place than they’ve ever been before, so that’s great. I think it’s very exciting for the show.

When did you guys realize it was going to be a two-parter and did you…I know that every show has like a certain budget they have to work with, did you guys manage to sort of raise the budget a little bit for the two-part episode or are you spending a little extra money on it?

Peterson: Part of the idea came from the fact that when we got the script it was fantastic, but we have so many characters in it that we really want to spend the time to be able to get into their backstories and get into who they are and give them all arcs. And we were realizing that actually is probably going to take two episodes and now we actually have two full episodes of it. I can’t really talk about it to be honest. I will say that there is a definite focus on these episodes and we’re trying to support them in the best way that we possibly can.

I totally get it.

Peterson: So I can say that.

I opened up some questions to people who follow me on Twitter. One of them was… we all know you can’t use Batman or Wonder Woman on the show. Are there other characters in the DC universe that you also can’t use?

Peterson: There have been a couple people that we have….very few I will say first of all. Very few. The only restrictions come when those characters are actively being written into scripts for feature films. That is when we have issues. And in all honesty I can not remember. I know there were a couple we floated for this year that were somewhat off limits for us. But for the most part, you know, unless there are rights issues or feature issues we have been working in tandem with DC and this year is an example of that. I mean, we’ve had Roulette. We’ve had the Wonder Twins. We’ve had Toy Man come back, you know? We were able to have all these JFA characters, so its been great.

smallville_image_tom_welling_as_clark_kent_and_erica_durance.jpgYou guys are on Friday nights now. I am curious with the…obviously Friday nights are not a ratings night for anybody. What’s been the reaction at CW with the move to Fridays and do you think this is the last season? Has CW come to you and said we’re going to do another year?

Peterson: I think for all parties involved it’s too early to tell which is why there hasn’t been any communication one way or another on that. We are very proud of the shows we’re putting out this year and I think the fact that, you know, our audience really grew last week and I think I’m hopeful we’ll continue to grow. Definitely has to say something. I think the fact that we are right up with “Dollhouse” and only a handful of other shows as far as the top DVR’d show every week definitely speaks volumes. And aside from that, I’m going to leave that in the hands of the powers that be. I’m optimistic and I think everybody on the show is very optimistic for a 10th season.

I watch your show as I mentioned and I watch it DVR’d. That’s just my…for me…you know who’s home on a Friday night.

Peterson: Right, exactly.

When I spoke to you a year or two ago at Comic Con you said the hopeful goal is when you know the end is coming that you have like an arc that you sort of want to tell, you know, at the very end of the show. What’s going to happen…I’m speaking as a fan…what’s going to happen if you guys are sort of arcing out episode 21, 22 and then CW’s is like you know this might be the last year?

Peterson: Well, we have a contingency plan in place. We have a couple of different storylines that would wrap up either a season or a series finale. We definitely have expressed that there is a bit of a drop-dead date which I’m sorry I’m not really allowed to say but there is a bit of a drop-dead date where we will need to know…you know we would need to know to be able to wrap this show up. To be honest, we’re trying to keep that in the back of our minds and push forward for a season 10.

No, no I totally get it but this brings me to the next question. Do you think there’s ever a chance that say it does wrap or it doesn’t wrap regardless if you get a 10th season, do you think there’s a chance of doing sort of like “Smallville”…I don’t want to say specials or straight to DVD movies or anything like that, but are you sort of thinking in the back of your mind, you know, that’s a possibility?

Peterson: I would….what is difficult with that is all the legal contractual things that have to happen because you know cast, crew everybody falls under a very different set of rules, restrictions, all of that. So I would say it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility but I think that would most likely not be the case.

smallville_tom_welling_and_erica_durance.jpgIs it sort of because people…so you’re basically saying because people have contracts for seasons everything would have to be reworked?

Peterson: Right. TV falls under very separate WGA, SAG, Directors Guild rules as movies of the week, as direct to video, as feature films, and negotiated specifically for television, you know for network television. So I think that would be somewhat unlikely, but I would never say things are impossible with this show because everybody is so invested from the cast to the crew that if there is a possibility, I think most people try to make things work. So I would say most likely “Smallville” will remain strictly just season by season on network television.

Could talk a little bit about what is upcoming on some future episodes that haven’t aired?

Peterson: Next Friday, we have Crossfire, which is perhaps one of the most fun episodes we’ve had probably in the series. It’s a great Clark/Lois episode where they decide to try to try out to be morning show hosts on a morning television show. And kind of counter-balancing the fun of all that we introduce Speedy with Mia Deardon, who is Oliver Queen’s (Green Arrow’s) sidekick. So that is a fantastic episode. After that we have a great mythology rich episode called Candor which really unfolds the back-story and the history of Zod and the Candorians and how they got here and what they’re doing here. And we get to finally meet Jor-El who’s played by Julian Sands, who does just a fantastic job. So I think that has a possibility being a huge fan favorite and after that we introduce the Wonder Twins in episode 8. And in that episode Lois goes to therapy, which is fun in itself, to try to distinguish her feelings between Clark and the blur and then we wrap up this fall run with Pandora, which is a huge kind of epic in scope show about what Lois saw when she went to the future at the beginning of the season. And we finally get to see the future through Lois’ eyes.

And we see the “Watchmen” set?

Peterson: And you get a quick glimpse of “The Watchmen” set, but I won’t tell you which one it is.

smallville_image_superman_green_arrow.jpgI understand. Last question for you. With the finale last year and the beginning this year, I think I and fans sort of expected a little bit more Zod. Was Zod originally going to be more of a part of the season or are you sort of building to that or….because it’s been kind of quiet over the last few episodes?

Peterson: We’re trying to build to that. I know people are expecting that but we also have, you know, our main characters who we’re most concerned with. And we really want to unfold the Zod storyline in a way that feels organic to the way he’d be relating to Clark and not just blow it all out at the beginning of the season. And so as we’ve been talking in the writers room, it has really unfolded at the pace that it feels it should be unfolding. And I think once we re-connect with Zod people will also feel that and it’ll feel right.

Cool. Well, listen I hope you guys end up getting picked up for another season and I do hope that if it doesn’t, they give you enough time to end the series right.

Peterson: I hope so as well and we’ve all got our fingers crossed. And at this point it’s up to the fans to tune in!