“Bones” is Back! A Q&A with Michael Peterson, Co-Showrunner, Writer, and Executive Producer
Michael Peterson has been a part of the Bones crew since 2009, wearing many hats including writer, co-producer and executive producer. His previous credits include the television series Any Day Now, and Strip Mall, and the films The Green Mile and The Majestic. In his spare time, Michael is into UNC Basketball, and advocates for neurofibromatosis. In this interview, Michael discusses Hodgins’ plight, and the bittersweet news that the series will be coming to a close with Season 12.
During the premiere episode, one of the things that stuck out was how Hodgins’ paralysis is being used to redefine the people that we already know. Booth is all about he needs hope. Bones is about how he needs to be realistic. Can you talk about how you’re using Hodgins’ paralysis as more than just the actual paralysis?
Yes. That was the real appeal of doing this storyline. Well, first of all, before we began we started the season first through a phone call to T.J. and just to let him know that this is what we were thinking of. And he could not have been more excited to really stretch his legs as an actor by not using his legs. But he was just over the moon about the idea. And we really wanted to make sure that this was something that, it wasn’t like Matthew on Downton Abbey where it was very quick and done. And we really wanted to make sure it affected everybody. So, I’m glad that that radiated when you were watching it.
And it is, it’s such a wonderful, and I always thank Hart for, we call it the BNA that he put into this show, of making such dynamic characters with such opposing points of view, and I think this really brought it out. And we wanted to make sure to, from the first episode it’s really about we see the different viewpoints. Booth is much more about the hope, and Brennan is looking strictly at the science of the situation, which is not so hopeful.
And then it really from there takes off because we want to make sure Hodgins, he gets to feel every different emotion that comes when you have this sort of tragedy. So, a little bit in denial at the beginning and then we see some anger coming out later on. So, I think he did a tremendous job. But, yes we didn’t want to shortchange it. If we were going to go for this, we wanted to go for it full hog.
Can you talk a little bit about which squints will be coming back for these final episodes, and maybe Betty White? I also was talking to Cyndi Lauper about her new album coming out and she would love to come back for the final season, so have you thought about which guest stars you’re going to have also?
For Season 12? Yes. I’m interested in the squints for these final episodes but also if you’re thinking about big name stars for the final season.
Yes, I think really, you know, talking it over with Hart we really want this to be a grand ride off into the sunset for the final 12 episodes for next season. And we will. We will bring back as many guest casts as humanly possible and whoever’s available. So, we’d love to get Cyndi back. We don’t have Betty coming back for the second half of this season. We would love to have her come back next season. We have one episode in particular that we’re getting for her for Season 12. We’re already starting to look at how we’re going to break Season 12, and we’d love to have her back for that. I think it’s going to be Episode 3 next year.
But we’re leaving it wide open. We’re going to have myself, Jonathan Collier, Steven Nathan, and Hart Hanson, we’re going to have breakfast soon. We have the broad strokes of what we’re going to do for next season, but Hart is going to write the finale for the series, is what it looks like right now. So, we’re really excited about that. And he has a vision for how he wants the whole thing to end, which I am not privy to yet. So, I can’t wait to sit down and see how we can incorporate it with everything else that we have planned.
Can you talk a bit about the big bad this season (introduced in ep 3) and maybe if there’s going to be more surprises or whatever coming up this season that people can be looking forward to?
That one is pretty much our big bad for the remainder of the season. So, we will be seeing that person again. And I’m glad it was a little bit creepy. That was one I wrote, and it was something that the show lends itself because of Brennan obviously dealing with skeletal remains so much, I had been re-watching a lot of old Hitchcock, and Psycho in particular, and thinking about that movie and then Ed Gein and the people it’s based on and how very similar they are to Brennan in a way, where they’re able to live with remains and see them as still alive. And I think Brennan sees these remains a very similar way. And it’s a unique perspective. So, we really wanted to look at the flipside of that coin, and to get a little bit of that nice creepy feel.
The inspiration also was, and there’s a little homage to it, there was an X-Files episode called “Home,” which meant a lot to me. It was one of the big reasons why I wanted to do TV. And they do a great job in that episode of juxtaposing happy music with creepiness, so we do a little homage to that in there also. But, yes, that’s going to be our big bad for this season, and maybe a little bit into Season 12. But we’re still playing around with that.
Can you tell us about any of the upcoming guest stars for the rest of the season?
Well, one person that’s just off the top of my head because we’re getting ready to start shooting this season finale, David Boreanaz is going to be directing it, so Ryan O’Neal, who plays Brennan’s father, will be coming back for that one. So, we’re very excited to have him back. I think the one that most excited David Boreanaz was we have an episode with some hockey elements to it, so Jeremy Roenick is going to be in that one. So, he’s beyond thrilled about that.
As far as other special guest cast, we were looking at getting Betty White back for the second half of the season. We weren’t able to do that, but hopefully for next year. Who else? I think as far as, I’m looking at our list, but it’s wonderful actors but not a lot of, what you call stunt casting. It’s just some people that we just found that are absolutely fantastic. So, I think the big thing is getting, we also have Parker coming back, so he’ll be coming back in Episode 16, so it’s more of a family affair here of getting Parker back, Mac’s back, and people like that, rather than stunt casting.
As Angela and Hodgins go forward, will t they pursue growing their family as they had planned before, provided that Hodgins is able to come back to himself? There’s a whole field of infertility and all of that. What do you think?
We’re definitely going to be exploring that. I think the first thing that Hodgins has to do is he has to go to a place of acceptance before he can move forward in any other capacity for his relationship with Angela, moving on with having additional children, and anything else in his life he just has to get to a place where he is accepting of this injury and the new limitations. And so that I think is his biggest journey, is to get there.
And I know you guys got to see up through 13, but 14 is also going to be a big episode as far as Hodgins and Angela, and where they’re going, because with everything that’s going on with him it’s also this Crucible moment for Angela, where we’ve introduced this character at the beginning of the season, this Sebastian Kohl, who’s her photographer/mentor and it’s this glimpse into another life that she could have had if she had taken off and been more the artist. And so it’s going to be tough on everybody. There’s going to be temptations for Angela, temptations for Hodgins, and hopefully we’ll do it all in the correct way, so still showing restraint.
But it’s not an issue that’s going to be resolved easily.
One of the upcoming episodes talks about Cam and her relationships. Can you tell us a little bit about that? It seems like she’s always unlucky in love.
Well, we don’t want to make her perpetually unlucky. No, or she’s very lucky. She has many men who have loved her. But I think we’ll see a lot more with what’s going on with her and Arastoo as the season progresses. And hopefully she won’t always be unlucky. We’re going to see some movements. But Cam, she definitely marches to the beat of her own drum, and I don’t think her relationship with Arastoo is going to follow the model of Brennan, or Hodgins and Angela. It’s going to move its own way. And so hopefully it won’t seem unlucky. But, yes, there are a couple more twists and turns as far as that goes. But we’re going to see a lot more. At the beginning of the season it looked like Arastoo might be gone, but his relationship with Cam is more important than anything else for him.
Let’s go back to talking about Hodgins in the wheelchair just a bit. What are some of the challenges of having him in the wheelchair in terms of the writing and just from a production standpoint?
There aren’t a ton of challenges. I guess with all things in television challenges and opportunities go hand in hand. So, it’s been fun, where after this happened we looked at little things like the platform. All of a sudden we’re like, well, wait, how is he going to get up there? And so just talking about that lends itself to a great opportunity that was in Episode 12, where we really get to see the world through Hodgins’ new point of view, where we see him going through the lab, he’s at a different height, he’s at a different level, he’s looking around the lab, all the things that he cannot do that he used to just take for granted. And so it was a question that became a wonderful opportunity, and so we built this elevator for him, and Antoine, who directed that, just did a magnificent job. And we got to understand his new perspective before really seeing him become angry, and I think it gave great empathy for him.
So, there’s a ton of challenges as far as that goes. But also T.J. is just amazing. He stays in that chair all day. He gets out of his car, he is in the chair, he stays in it until the end of production. He’s the most amazing professional I’ve really ever dealt with in terms of just commitment to the role. So he’s made it wonderful and he’s challenged us every step of the way, where if the character is not, if we’re giving answers that are just too easy, he says, “No, we’ve got to go through this journey all the way.” And so he’s been just fantastic and it’s been a blessing.
The second episode back has a Meninist storyline. Was there a specific event that inspired you guys to pursue that topic as a subject? And did you at all contemplate the potential negative social media feedback when people tackle that subject matter that can happen?
Yes, we know that there’s always going to be, if you do anything that’s sensitive you’re going to get some kickback. But it was just such an eye opener. When we bring up subject matters we don’t want to go into territory that every other show has done, and so this was one that was pretty fresh feeling to me. And so when I started learning about more the details of it, it was just so right for our show, where we have all these characters who have such opposing points of view, and it opens up a great conversation.
And I think good TV should do that. We open up interesting conversations. And I just found the whole thing fascinating. And as a man I also found it very amusing. By the time we got to the point where people are suing over being circumcised I just couldn’t stop laughing. It just seemed amazing. But I thought that was fascinating, and then also the women who support the Meninist movement. So, you know you have a good episode on your hands with the more research that you do the more fascinating it becomes. So, it just seemed ripe for a Bones episode, so we just ran towards it. And I’m sure there will be some interesting talkback, but I love a good conversation. So, we welcome any feedback that comes from it.
When we left off the season Booth was having a huge midlife crisis. How has Hodgins’ injury affected his midlife crisis?
I think it helps him to put everything into perspective. We talk about the midlife crisis of the cowboy episode, and that was just delightful fun. It was great to have Corinne Rosenthal back, who had written so many of our best episodes. And we really wanted to go out it in a different way, and so I think we had a lot of fun with that episode where they had to be strangers to each other and got to rekindle that old romance. And I think that’s a lot of what midlife crises are. It’s a scary time maybe for a guy, but it’s a chance to recapture some of those feelings that you had in your youth of new love, or driving a new car, or whatever else. And so that episode helped to do a lot of that.
But Booth’s going to have some other little crises that are worse than a midlife crisis. We have one episode coming up where he almost finds himself becoming something of a squint, and nothing more horrifying to Booth than to find himself behaving in a squint-like manner. So, we’re going to give him some little tests, as far as that kind of stuff goes. But I do think an injury, when you see somebody else suffering in a real life way, it helps put everything in perspective. So, definitely Hodgins’ injury is going to help Booth as far as that goes.
You just were mentioning the undercover episode they did. Emily always talks about how she loves those. Is there going to be an undercover episode in the rest of the season?
There won’t be for the rest of the season, but absolutely for Season 12. We love doing them and we just think we’ve found a good one for Season 12. But we’re going to hold off doing that. We usually do about one a year, so, yes, we’ll save one more for Season 12.
Everybody is asking, obviously all the fans, can you talk a bit about relationship stuff that’s coming up for Booth and Brennan a bit this season?
Sure. Absolutely. Well, we hit on some of it in Episode 13, where we see what Brennan is going through of really experiencing guilt for not being there at the time of this murder that takes place and had a feeling of responsibility, where she quit her job and bad things happen when she leaves. And so I think that helps with her arc. She’s somebody who’s always been able to separate herself and not become as emotionally attached to elements of the job. But she realizes the responsibility that she has, and so the way that they both handle that situation will definitely be telling.
We also see a lot more Booth. I think we try to stay true to the characters, where Booth is this person who, he is self-sacrificing. He puts himself very much in the line of fire. We saw it at the beginning of the season where when his brother was in trouble and what he did there. And we’re going to see it again. Episode 17 is a Secret Service episode, and quite literally Booth is in the line of fire, so the more that he is putting himself out there and putting himself into danger, that’s definitely going to have an effect on Booth and Brennan.
And then another episode that we’re very excited about is Episode 18 that’s coming up. It’s more of a documentary style one. It’s our cross between Modern Family and Making of a Murderer. And what’s fun there is we do get to lift up the curtain and see behind the scenes, so a big reason why I wanted to do is to be able to get into some of this relationship stuff as far as our leads go. And we get to learn a little bit more about their past. It’s not a standard episode and we really wanted to do it as a tribute to the fans, of just saying, there are some things people wanted to know about our characters, and here’s our opportunity to do a documentary style episode where we can tell you a little bit more than usual. So, those are just some of the things that we’ve got.
And then at the end of the season we’re going to be leaning towards a cliffhanger, that’s obviously going to be a big effect on Booth and Brennan and it’s going to lead us strongly into Season 12.
Do you know if is it going to be a split season again, or will we be able to get all 12 episodes before Christmas? Is there any kind of planning going on about that yet?
You get preliminary plans, but at the end of the day you never know how it’s going to actually end up. Everything that I’ve heard from Fox is they want to make it as continuous as humanly possible. We always have to worry about baseball and elections and stuff like that, but I think we’re going to do it as much of a straight shot as possible. Because this four months have been tough for fans and have been tough for us. We like to see as continuous as possible. So, I don’t think it will be one of those things, you know, nobody has come to me saying it’s going to be six episodes in the fall and then six episodes in the spring, nothing like that. So, it’s going to be as close to continuous as humanly possible.
Can you talk about adding Sarah Rue to the cast?
Oh, yes, we love Sarah. She’s absolutely fantastic, yes. We had her in’10, we brought her back in ’13, and then she’s in one additional episode, she’s in Episode 15. She’s just been a breath of fresh air. David and John Boyd especially just love having the interaction with her. And we wanted to make her a little bit different obviously.
But her comic instincts have just been absolutely fantastic and so we wish only that we could have her back for more. She’s on another show called Impastor, and so she got shipped off, and we tried to fit her in for a couple more but if possible we’d love to get her back for Season 12. But we’re delighted to be able to grab her for three episodes of this year, because she brings a lot not only for the cases but we think there’s some great opportunities as far as interplay with her and David and her and John Boyd in particular. So knock on wood, hopefully we’ll get her back for Season 12 and be able to do even more with her.
We had the one season of The Finder that was a spinoff from Bones and then also the crossover that we had of Sleepy Hollow recently. I wondered if there were any more talks of crossovers or bringing anything like that back in any of the upcoming episodes?
There haven’t been any talks, but we are very open. Fox is the one who came to us last year with the Sleepy Hollow, and at first it was a little bit daunting, where we were saying, really, it’s supernatural show and a procedural, how do you make this work? But we had fun with it. We had a great time. So, if they come to us with any kind crossovers we’ll definitely be game.
As I said, I’m going to talk to Hart hopefully in the next couple weeks and love to maybe even bring The Finder character back in Season 12 for a special arc there. It’s really more of a question of whatever the network wants us to do as far as a crossover or a spinoff. I’ve always said I’d love to keep writing the show for the rest of my life, so if we can figure out a way to spinoff and have a similar vibe, similar feel, I’d be delighted. So, I’m just waiting for the go to, and any suggestions are welcome.
Since it’s the last question, how does it feel to be bringing a show that has been on for 12 years to a close, for the cast, crew, and the fans, to bring such a well-loved show to a conclusion?
I think what was interesting was we kind of felt like Hodgins when he became paralyzed. It was a strange thing where at first we’re like, no, it can’t end. We want this to go on forever. And so we’ve gone through every emotion possible. I think we were in denial, we were angry, we’ve just gone through it. And obviously it’s not the same thing at all as being injured in a horrible way. But it was tough at first for us because we love this. This is our family. We want to keep going.
But now we’re at the place of acceptance and we’re finding that we think there’s a great opportunity here. It’s so rare to be given such fore notice that we’re able to really close the show out in style. And so I think we’re very, very excited about that.
But it’s bittersweet. We love being here. We hope it transcends on to the screen, but this really is a family. We have people who have been here since the pilot. I’ve been here for eight seasons. This is a tightknit group. But it’s such a thrilling opportunity, and best of all for me is I probably am not going to be writing the finale. That will be on Hart Hanson’s shoulders. So, my plan is not to mess it up until that point and then he’ll hit a grand slam at the end. So, it’s just great fun. It’s a delight, really.