Motive showrunner Dennis Heaton on getting past the “uhhhhh”

DHavatarDennis Heaton

was part of the writing team on season one of Motive, and moved up to co-showrunner for season two. So taking over the reins for season three must have been a thrill, right?

“The first thought that goes through my head when they say we’re going to do another season is usually ‘shit … OK, I can do this … 13 people have to die … uhhhhh,” he told Anthony Marco in a recent TV Eh-B-Cs podcast interview. “That’s the first week. It’s me and six other writers going ‘uhhhhhh.’”

The series was pitched by creator Daniel Cerone as a whydunnit – the killer and victim are revealed at the beginning, and it’s the motive that’s the mystery. “Within that it’s a series of overlapping stories,” Heaton explains. “We have our investigator story, killer story, flashback story.”

“I mean this in the best possible way but these are hideous little Jenga puzzles that kill me every time we go to put one together.”

He calls that first week in the writers room – which for season three convened at the end of May – “bad idea week” as they find ways to be creative within the formula of the show without getting into a “Find/Replace” mentality.

“The trick is to not let the formula become a format, and to find ways – and this is the creative stamp I get to bring to a show (as showrunner) – to not just do the same thing week after week.”

“We’ve had killers you can identify with, we’ve had killers you can’t identify with. We’ve had victims who are tragically innocent, we’ve had victims who had it coming.”

He sees character development as the primary task. “You want the audience invested in the characters’ lives. If you can’t get them to do that, they’re going to invest somewhere else.”

“There’s always that conversation about likeability but I’m more interested in the character that’s compelling,” he says. “That can be either a truly heroic character, a flawed character, or the antihero — as long as that character is compelling you’re going to be along for the ride. Casting is such a huge part of that.”

After about four months in the writers room, they should start filming this month. Given season one premiered after the Super Bowl in February and season two in March of last year, he assumes season three will begin sometime between January to March of 2015.

Listen to the full interview here, where he and Anthony Marco talk about what being a showrunner is all about, the creative process behind the camera, planning a season’s worth of episodes, how the characters are the thing, animation writing, Tarzan, Sid and Marty Krofft, and the elusive Gold Monkey.