Q&A: Jericho showrunner Carol Barbee

By now, everyone knows the story of Jericho--the show was canceled by CBS but resurrected thanks to a "save the show" campaign by its corp of diehard fans.

Things haven't been easy for the folks behind the drama, but thanks to fan perseverance they've been given a second chance. Head writer Carol Barbee sat down with backstage at last weekend's WonderCon convention to discuss the show's direction, its genesis, and what will happen if it doesn't return for a third season. Well, let's just start from the beginning...from the very, very beginning. How hard was it to get Jericho made in the first place?

Carol Barbee: That's a good question. CBS was really looking to do some new content to try to catch the next wave. They've been very successful with all the procedurals, but I think they know that at some point that the pendulum will swing. And they were looking for something new and something to break out.

When they came up with Jericho, it was their first toe in the water with [a new direction]. They tried to go even further this last year. I think they were looking to bring in a younger audience. They were trying to get the gamers, and they were trying to get the Internet audience. And I think we did bring that to them. Jericho has science-fiction elements--

Carol Barbee: We call it speculative fiction--what would happen. But you bring something else to the show, which is really a family-oriented togetherness.

Carol Barbee: Absolutely. I mean I think John Turtletaub--who is the other executive producer and original director of this show--John and I totally have that in common. Most of the work both of us have done has been about families and romantic comedies and dialogue and feelings--all of that. So John and I really met on that level.

This show needed the other thing, which was the puzzle solving and the excitement and the action and all of that. Those are the kinds of shows I watch. I never wrote one before, but those are the kind of shows I watch. And I have two little boys, so I watch them all the time [laughs].

So from the very beginning it was about the marriage of those two things and trying to figure out the alchemy of this show. In the first half of season one, we [wrote] a lot more towards the feelings and the characters. And it didn't quite hit its stride the way it did halfway through the season when we sort of realized, no, this train is moving. The stories that we tell, the emotions that come up have to be told in relation to this strong base story. So we changed the balance and I think we really hit our creative stride.

But I think that the moments that I'm the proudest of, even in season two, are where we earned the right to make [viewers] really care and feel something. Because I think if you don't feel something, if you're not crying or laughing or sighing at some point over these characters, then who cares if they blow things up. Season two has a run of seven episodes. How were you able to cram a whole season in just seven episodes?

Carol Barbee: I've got to tell you, as a writer, that's the greatest thing you can ever do, because the hardest thing is to be staring down the barrel of 22 episodes. That's a lot of material; it's a lot of time. You always end up having episodes that kind of dip. It's a lot of story to spin out.

[Heroes creator] Tim Kring and I worked together on Providence, and he does Heroes obviously. I remember he told me a million years ago that he always wants to cram 60 pounds of story into a 10-pound bag. And so I always think about that. I'd rather have more story and less time.

So with this, we just never had to tread water. Something huge could happen every episode. Every writer felt like they were getting the big moment. So it was really a pleasure, actually. You prepared two endings for this season. Can you talk about the difference between the two without giving anything away?

Carol Barbee: Absolutely. I will say this. Season two is one story. It really is telling the story of one mission. And we tell that story completely. By the end of episode seven that story is complete, and you get payoff, you get resolution, and you get emotional resolution. That happens in both of the endings. In what we call our original ending--the one that we hope to air--that one simply continues the story and starts the mission for season three.

The alternate ending just doesn't do that. It brings everybody together and you see where everybody is and it gives a lot more emotional resolution. But the ending we hope to air just shows you were we have to go, what the next thing is. You were at ComicCon last year and WonderCon this year. How much of a joy is this to actually see the fans in front of you?

Carol Barbee: It's the greatest thing ever. I tell you, I'm going to be so angry next time I'm involved with a show where we don't get to go to ComicCon and WonderCon. I've never had this kind of a relationship to the fans. It's the kind of thing as a writer you never get. Because it's not like live theater where you can sit in the audience and watch people react or hear them react. You shoot it and six months later it goes on television and you never meet anybody. All you do is see numbers in a report that tells you you've been canceled or that you get more episodes.

And Jericho has been the most amazing experience, because we talk to our fans. We see our fans. We shake hands with our fans. We get on the radio and talk for three hours with our fans. They come to our set. It's been the most fun thing about this entire experience. The thing I will take away from this is the fan support, and getting to know the fans and really hearing their reaction to the show has so fueled everything we did. And it's just been a joy. It's been great. You finished production pretty early on season two. Did that give you time to plan out more of where Jericho will go from here?

Carol Barbee: Before we were canceled last season we had to pitch season two to CBS, and we did that in detail. And there were a lot more stories involved than what we ended up being able to shoot for CBS because we only had seven episodes.

So I think we all sort of feel that if we get to season three the first order of business is to go back to those stories and [figure out] which ones we need to tell because there are some of them that need to be told. So we would probably use some of those stories. But then obviously we'd leave season two in a place where that story has to go forth. So I think we'd kind of know what the palette of season three would be.

We haven't storyboarded it, we haven't broken the story, none of that. We were lucky because when the strike hit Jericho, it was a completely finished production. We were almost finished with all the editing. So we were in pretty good shape. We did not get shut down. I think what we're now just waiting to do is find out if there's a season three, and where it'll be. And then we'll get back together and [shape] some stories for the next five years or so. Our users love Jericho. Do you have any final message for them before we wrap this up?

Carol Barbee: Keep watching! Particularly watch Tuesday night [laughs] 'cause I think that's going to tell the tale about how we do. Keep watching; tell your friends. But more than anything, thank you. Thank you.

Jericho airs on Tuesday nights on CBS. For more on Jericho at WonderCon, check out's coverage which includes videos of the panel and interviews with cast members.

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