Wondering just what is up with those tattoos and if there is really a game-plan ahead for NBC’s hot new drama series BLINDSPOT? You are not alone. So we checked in with executive producer and creator Martin Gero for some answer to all the burning questions.
How did you come up with such an interesting idea for the show?
MARTIN: I wish I had a better answer for this, but I’ve always loved puzzles. This kind of show is a show I would watch. And I just looked around and felt like there’s not a lot of these puzzle shows and it’s because they’re really hard to do. So I really thought about it just in the back of my head for years about how to do a show with a treasure map in it somehow. I lived in Times Square during the Viacom bomb threat, where they emptied it out, and that image has just stayed with me. It’s like so freaky because Times Square is like one of the world’s most famous busy places. And to see it totally empty was kind of an amazing thing. So one morning I was just thinking, “Wow, I wonder what they would do if they went and dismantled a bomb and there was a person inside that bag instead of a bomb?” And then I thought, “How could I connect that to a specific person? You could tattoo Kurt Weller’s name on her back.” And then I was like, “Well, what if she was covered in tattoos? What if it was a whole treasure map?” And I had never seen that before. I’d never seen a person as a treasure map. So I just got really excited about it and was like, “Let’s figure this out and see where this goes.”
We have seen a really strong connection already in just one episode between Jane and Agent Weller. Can you talk a little bit about what the relationship between Jane and the other members of the cast moving forward?
MARTIN: Absolutely. She slowly becomes very close with all of them. There’s a line in Episode 3 where they’re struggling to find what Jane’s role is, how to work it week to week or day to day, and Patterson says, “It’s kind of like a tangram, which is like these Japanese shape puzzles”. And she’s like, “You know, this team has been in one piece for so long, and we’re just trying to figure out how to incorporate this new piece, what shape that team is going to be.” So she really has an impact on all of their lives and the great thing about doing a show like this is week to week you get to deepen all of the characters, not just Weller and Jane. And so you start to have — like Patterson’s going to have her own stories and then Zapata and Reade will start to have their own stories. But it’s all directly tied to how Jane is impacting all their lives. So it’s a fun line to trace as who welcomes her with open arms, who’s suspicious of her, and who’s worried about her. It runs the gamut and all of their lives are changed for good and for bad by knowing Jane.
Rob Brown’s character, Agent Reade, stole the show at points there in the pilot with some of those one-liners. Can you talk about that character? And are we going to see more of him as the season goes on?
MARTIN: Absolutely. I think it’s really important on a show like this to find humor where you can so it doesn’t become all gloom and doom and dour. It’s something we do more and more every episode because our cast is really funny, Rob Brown especially. Certainly Ashley Johnson is going to carry a lot of that weight as well. It’s one of those things when we started testing the show, I was so pleased to find out that people just really connected to Rob’s character and the fact that there was a little bit of humor in the show. So it really allowed us to run with that as the episodes come up.
Did you create BLINDSPOT as a limited series since there’s only so many tattoos on Jane Doe’s body?
MARTIN: No. There’s a real concrete plan for the first three seasons, and then I have an idea on how to take it past there if we get there. The crazy thing about pitching these shows nowadays is people have been so burned by an idea that can last ten episodes. So you really have to — even in the origination of the pitch — come up with an enormous amount of backstory, which at the time feels like an enormous waste of time because you’re like, “No one’s even bought this show. What am I doing?” But the second it gets picked up it’s like, “I’m so thankful that I put in the groundwork when it was no so crazy.” So we have all of the ten full episodes for the first season mapped out and we know what the second season is and how to get into the third season. And then hopefully we’ll see. [EDITOR’S NOTE: 9 additional scripts were ordered for Season 1 of BLINDSPOT as of September 28, 2015.]
What went into the creation of each of the tattoos?
MARTIN: They vary. When I started developing the show, I made a book of like a hundred tattoos that I really liked. Then we hired a graphic designer to eventually layer them on her body in a rough placement. Then we hired Tinsley Transfer, which specializes in cinematic tattoos. Christian Tinsley and his team really took the design to a whole other level, brought an amazing amount of detail and brought an amazing amount of stuff with it. But for us there’s a lot of story on her body that needed to be incorporated. So it’s really a team effort between the writers and Tinsley Transfers, and we’ve brought in this guy David Quong, who’s a magician and puzzle-maker for the New York Times. He’s amazing. So he’s one of our chief puzzle consultants and makes sure that these things make sense and they work, which is super important to me. The second tattoo for the second episode, we put it out for Entertainment Weekly because you could solve it yourself after having seen the pilot, but no one has yet. It’s some sort of prize for the person that can figure it out. I’d be so impressed. But you can piece these together yourself. So it’s really important for us as a collaboration between the writers, Tinsley, and David Quong that this all makes sense and it all has a flow to it. So outside of that it’s hard to get into how we made each tattoo because they’re so based in story that hasn’t come up yet.
How do you appeal to the fans that want that rich mystery with those who maybe just are going to be casual viewers, who may just want to see Jane punch someone or fight someone?
MARTIN: I’ve said from the beginning this is a procedural for people that don’t like procedurals and a character drama for people that don’t like character drama. I think we can find a way to do both really well. Our story of the week comes from one of Jane’s tattoos and is closed-ended and like a little action movie in and of itself. But then what’s great about the show is that we’re able to do a layered character drama on top of that. I think with the “previously-ons” and people finding out information within the show, it’s the type of thing that will reward the loyal viewer but won’t alienate the casual viewer, which I think is so important on shows like these. Certainly, for me, especially when you’re doing twenty-two episodes a year, sometimes you find out about something and you’re like, “Oh man, I don’t have twenty-two hours to catch up on the first season.” And so for us it’s very important that the show has an entry point for anybody at any time.
What this journey has been like for you?
MARTIN: It’s been extraordinarily overwhelming for me and the entire cast and crew. We were really excited about the show and to see that it has connected with so many people is just really exciting. You never know in this business. I’ve been on shows that I thought were pretty good and no one watched. The last show that I created was the lowest premiere in the history of television. So this is a marked difference, certainly, than that experience. And it’s been really wonderful. I think for us, too, it’s exciting because we’re really proud of the pilot, obviously, but we’re even prouder of the series that we’ve made. A lot of people are like, “Sure, but how do you do this week to week?” And I really think we’ve cracked it and found that balance between a great, thrilling action hour and then emotional character drama. And I just can’t wait. People have told me, “I can’t wait to see it.” But we’re just so anxious to get it out there and have people watch it and go on this ride with us. Who doesn’t love a puzzle? Who doesn’t love a mystery? And this one is wrapped in a lot of fun stuff. The mystery of who she is and why someone did this to her, we feel like we have a good answer for that. I think it’s really dangerous for shows like this to feel like all middle from this point on. So we’re really going to churn through some pretty amazing story real quick. Even by the end of episode two, there’s a pretty major reveal in there that really shapes the entire show. So we’re just excited for people to see it.
You’ve created a lot of different projects in different genres. Is there a checklist of story elements that you like to include now that you’ve broken the mold and started blending procedural and character drama into a puzzle for us?
MARTIN: For me, it’s all about the characters. If you’re not interested week to week in what the characters are doing, it’s really hard for the show to work. In the pilot you really have to have these amazing set pieces to really draw people in. But even our opening, which is so enormous in Times Square, I think what works about it is you’re genuinely concerned for this woman. It’s a hook into the show visually but it’s also like, “Oh, my God, what’s happening to her?” So for us the type of action we do on the show is very character-centric. It’s not just massive explosions and car chases. It’s about this woman and this man trying to figure out what the hell is going on with them. So for me, I’m just really excited (a) to have a canvas that’s this big that you can do some really amazing stuff on, and (b) but at the end of the day it’s like the story that we’re telling about these rather unique characters and the drama that they’re involved together is what really gets us excited. I think that’s the one [thing]. I know I’ve worked through a lot of genres, but at the end of the day, it’s the characters I’m obsessed with television. When they come back on it’s like, “Oh, my friends are back,” which is sad and lonely. But how you know it’s a good TV show, when they transcend the show and you just think about them when they’re not on TV, if that makes any sense.
I really liked in the first episode the way that the procedural elements were blended in with that character drama. Do you anticipate the case of the week for the first part of the season and then coming back to it later on in the season or in the series and revealing some more information or in some way having that case have a much bigger part later on than viewers really thought at the beginning.
MARTIN: Yes. I don’t want to say much more because that bleeds into spoiler area, but I will say all of the cases are interconnected. There’s nothing random about any of the cases they investigate. I can think of one that seems semi-random, but the rest of the cases that come from her body are there with a specific purpose in mind. Part of the puzzle is trying to figure out who’s doing this and why, and the really clearest information you have about that is the cases start to develop — at least outwardly — a theme. That theme is very telling, and it’s something that our characters are struggling with. They seem disconnected, but as presented — like if you put them all up on a board — their similarities start to tell a story, if that makes any sense, which makes it very hard to come up with cases because they all have to fit. We have a very specific plan that these bad guys are doing. So you can’t just come in and be like, “Hey, I have a great case idea.” And you’re like, ‘Well, no. That doesn’t fit with our villain’s overarching goal.” So it’s occasionally frustrating in the writer’s room, but I think it gives it a homogeny that is really interesting.
Can you tell us a little bit about what Jaimie Alexander brings to the table?
MARTIN: I think what’s really amazing about both of our leads is – and by the way, you’d be lucky to have just Jaimie Alexander in the show and you’d be lucky to have just Sullivan Stapleton in a show — but I have both of them. It really puts us over the top in a way that I think can’t be discounted. I think what connected me to both of them is Jaimie is an internationally known hard-ass, but she has this incredible vulnerability inside of her that is so important for this character to feel balanced because what she’s going through is totally traumatic. So when we met with her initially, just even her talking about the character there was this emotion that I had seen under the surface of a lot her performances. I had been a fan of hers before we offered it to her. I just watched everything she’d ever been in. I just thought, “She’s a really great actress on top of the fact of being very physically capable.” It’s exciting when you see somebody who’s really great and hasn’t shown all of it yet to the world. So that was really exciting for us and I think it’s really exciting for her. Then for Sullivan, it’s kind of the same thing. I mean, I became aware of Sullivan through ANIMAL KINGDOM, which was this insanely human, beautiful, tragic performance that he gave. Then he went on to become a massive action star. So knowing he’s one of the manliest men I’ve ever met in my life, but also is has got such a beautiful soul and can play this tragedy and this hurt that this character clearly has. I think it’ll be explored a lot. After the second episode you’ll see what I’m talking about. But they both have the strength and the vulnerability in them, which makes them human and insanely watchable.
Did you know from what Jaimie’s done that her character lost her memory in three other projects?
MARTIN: I did know that. It was real crazy. I was like this is old hat for her. She can do this. No problem. She’s like, ‘This is what I do. I’m the no memory girl.”
How do you think social media helps the show? And conversely, do you think it hurts it a little bit, especially since things might get spoiled for West Coast viewers?
MARTIN: I think the fun of this show – and we live tweet both the East Coast and West Coast feeds — it’s really fun to engage the audience in a real-time way and see what’s working and what’s not working, and what they get excited about. And it creates a buzz. We trended on Twitter worldwide for I think four or five hours Monday night, which is extraordinary. I think it drives interest in a show like this because if you’re just somebody that’s not into the show and all of a sudden your Twitter feed blows up with all things BLINDSPOT, I think it drives you to the program. Then as far as the East Coast/West Coast thing, certainly there are shows that I just as a fan have participated in live Tweet-wise. And I just think they’re savvy enough to just be like, “Well, I’m going to stay off Twitter for two or three hours.” Then we do it all again. So it’s not like they’re missing anything. What’s really interesting is how it stays hot well after the show. Because what a lot of people do is they watch the show and then they just enter hashtag BLINDSPOT into their search and then just scroll back over the next hour. And it’s kind of like a director’s commentary or something like that with hundreds of thousands of participants. I think it’s something we take really seriously and I think it helps more than it hurts.
The week-to-week writing process. How does it change when you are writing episodes right now? How does it change you as far as approaching how to write every individual episode getting to specific points?
MARTIN: I think it’s all about servicing those [moments]. It’s not just the end. I know when we started what I wanted episode five and six to be, and I knew what episode seven was. Then I definitely knew what episode ten was — that’s our midseason finale – and what eleven was. Then you have some midway points where it’s like, “Okay, well, fifteen and sixteen have to be this. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two — if we’re so lucky — have to be those.” It’s kind of like an animation in-betweening. You do the big moves and then you’re like, “Okay, how do we get there in an organic way? We know where we have to land with these characters in ten, so how do we get everyone there in a way that feels like it happens naturally and organically?” And that’s really fun to know — to know where you’re going makes this job way easier because you’re not just like, “Well, what do we do this week?” You have a plan of where you have to get to and so both for the characters and for the mystery. So it’s been really fun to work with these amazing writers and craft these episodes week to week, building on, ideally, what we’ve done last week.
To find out just who is Jane Doe and her relationship to Agent Kurt Weller, you are not going to want to miss one second of tonight’s new episode. But also be sure to tune in for all new episodes of BLINDSPOT air Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. on NBC as the clues are laid out one by one and the bigger mystery unfolds.