Dean Devlin on The Librarians: exclusive interview

Image for Dean Devlin on The Librarians: exclusive interview

The Librarians, returning for its third season, intermixes action, humor, visual effects and — keyword here — knowledge as it follows a quartet of characters who are part of an ancient group that devote themselves to the protection of mystical artifacts; a mission that involves magic, the supernatural and sojourns through time.


To accomplish this, The Librarian, Noah Wyle’s Flynn Carsen, has brought together that team consisting of Rebecca Romijn’s Colonel Eve Baird, who serves as the his "guardian"; John Kim’s Ezekiel Jones, deemed a master of technologies; Christian Kane’s Jacob Stone, a combination laborer and expert in art history and architecture with a genius IQ; and Lindy Booth’s Cassandra Cillian, a mathematician who experiences sensory and auditory hallucinations connected to memory retrieval. Their caretaker is John Larroquette’s Jenkins.

Beginning as a trio of of TV movies, The Librarians is executive produced by Dean Devlin (you know, Stargate, Independence Day, Leverage, etc.) who, this year, is serving as showrunner for the first time. Exhausted but up for the challenge, he reflects on it all exclusively with Empire in the following interview.

The Librarians started as a series of TV movies, but what was the the genesis of this whole concept?

About thirteen years ago I got a call from Michael Wright, who at the time was the head of Original Programming at TNT, and he wanted to have lunch. As we sat down he said, "I'm very interested in doing your kind of movie on our network." I thought, “Well, I'm not sure how to do that, 'cause my movies are very expensive.” He said, "I don't know how you would pull it off, but if you did you could own the movie. We'll license it from you to air it for a few years, but you'll own it outright."


Which is pretty unprecedented.

Exactly, and I thought that was a really intriguing idea. I had wanted to become more independent and I thought this is an interesting opportunity. So we had a movie that we were about to go out with that had about a $65 million dollar budget, which was The Librarians. We said, "Why don't we see if we can try and do it at TNT as a movie?" So we had a lot less money, but we were really determined. We had an amazing experience making the movie and it turned out to be the number one movie on television that year. By that I don't even mean made for television movie. It beat Lord Of The Rings that year; it was the highest rated movie on all of television that year.

Obviously then TNT said, "Let's get another one." So a couple of years later we did a sequel and it also performed incredibly well. Two years after that we did another, which also had performed incredibly well. There'd been a lot of talk about us doing a series based on it, but for the longest time I was very worried, because even though these were TV movies, we had really large budgets for television movies. We were making these things for about $12 million dollars a piece, which is kind of unheard of for television movies. I thought, "How am I gonna do that every week?" But right around that time we started doing a TV series called Leverage, where we started to develop techniques to get more and more stuff on the screen for less and less money. After a while we became confident that we could actually pull it off and we said, "Okay, let's try it as a series." That was three years ago.


What was the contrast between a series and TV movies?

Even though our show is episodic, there are larger arcs that play out over the course of the season. Being able to tell a story that, bit by bit, is exposed over ten episodes is a really exciting way to tell a story. In that regard, I like it better than doing the movies. But, you know, they're just different animals; they're different ways of telling stories. Ideally,I'd like to do both Librarian movies and the series.

Is there an audience for that?

I love what they do with Doctor Who, where they have the series and then they do a big Christmas movie special. Something like that for our show would be amazing, but so far TNT hasn’t expressed any interest in it.

This is your first year as showrunner rather than just executive producer. What does that mean?

I’m exhausted [laughs]. It is really a heavy workload, but I have to tell you, it was very joyful and fun. I mean, I had an amazing relationship working with John Rogers when he was the showrunner, and while I was very creatively involved I also took a very hands-off approach to how John ran his writers room and on how John developed the show. Then John and I would work together on the final scripts, but this time having to come up with all the stories and work with the writers and do the whole thing was really challenging, but incredibly rewarding. It was interesting taking over the show, because in a way it was kind of like going back to the movies. There was no showrunner when we did the movies, it was me and the director and the writer. So I went back to the style that we did the movies in.


How would you chart the show’s evolution over the course of the three seasons?

The first season was about complete strangers trying to figure out how they could fit together, and even if they should fit together and if they can learn to trust each other. The second season was really about trying to figure out who they were as individuals; what had they been pretending to be and who they really are. This season, it's really about the fact that now that they've kind of graduated into full blown Librarians, magic is an incredibly tempting and potentially corrupting influence, and they're surrounded by it. They have a lot of different opinions about whether or not they should ever be using magic or just guarding the magic. This creates conflicts within the group, conflict within themselves and I would say the overall arcing theme of this season, whether it's our heroes or our antagonist, is exploring the corrupting influences of magic.

Which by its nature would seem to indicate that the show is going to get a little darker than it’s been in the past.

This season is a little bit darker. I would say that the stakes are a little bit higher. There's actually people that die this season, which we didn't used to do. I still say it's a show you can watch with the entire family; I think it's a little bit like how the Brits describe Doctor Who. You know, it's a show that you watch from behind your couch. The show is as fun as it ever was, it still has the humor, but it's a little bit spookier, a little bit creepier and definitely higher stakes.


Once you’ve done that, does it mean a potential year four would have to elevate the stakes even more?

You'll see by the end of this arc that there's actually a different direction that it turns in. So if we go a fourth year, we're able to go into a whole new realm where it's not so much about ramping the stakes, but changing the nature of their mission.

How would you describe the journey the characters are on this season?

There are some surprising turns and arcs this season. I'll even give you this as a semi-spoiler: We're going to lose a character this year. Like I said, the stakes are high and most of our characters are going to go through something big this year. Something altering of their characters, so it's a very challenging year.


What adversary are they facing?

In a way they have two. In the third movie there's a reference by the Bob Newhart character that the ultimate battle of good and evil is coming. This season is all about that battle; this is when that battle has arrived. The truest evil on our show's this thing that we call Pure Evil, and it's something that's been sealed up for over a thousand years. The spirit of the Egyptian God of Chaos, Apep, has reemerged and been released into the world. His job is to release from it's bonds Pure Evil and once that happens, the balance between good and evil in our world is tipped and there's no going back. So they have to prevent Apep from releasing Pure Evil. That's their big villain. They have another antagonist this year: with all the magical events that have happened in the last two seasons, the government has started to become aware that magic is out in the world and they have formed their own division called DOSA — the Department Of Statistical Anomaly — to investigate these magical events. The thing that they've noticed is that with almost every event that they can track, one of The Librarians has been there. They don't know if The Librarians are trying to stop this or if in fact The Librarians are the cause. As a precaution, they're thinking of The Librarians as terrorists, so they're hunting them down.


What do you think is the appeal of this show?

You know, there’s a lot of superhero stuff out there, and a lot of cop stuff out there. What we have very little of anymore is adventure. The great thing about adventure, when told correctly, is it is one of the few genres that everybody in the family can watch together. Our television has become so targeted, it's so specific that there's literally nothing else on television that grandparents are watching with their grandkids, and they're both entertained. And parents can watch it and not feel that they're being talked down to. When I grew up, Sunday at eight was The Wonderful World of Disney, and it feels like this is the modern equivalent of that. It's sophisticated enough for intelligent older viewers. It's fun enough that my four-year-old wants to see it every week and, you know, the grandparents want to come over and hang out and watch this show. That is the appeal of a really great adventure show.

Season three of The Librarians begins 20 November on TNT in America, and 21 November on Syfy in the UK