Blindspot’s Canadian creator on The Goonies and fighting to make good TV

Thank goodness for The Goonies and National Treasure. If those two movies hadn’t existed, we never would have gotten Blindspot. Turns out the show’s creator, Martin Gero, is a fan of the two flicks and in puzzles in general. The Swiss-born, Ottawa-raised writer and producer came up with the mind-bending Monday night drama while living in New York City and vividly pictured that dramatic first scene in his head.

We spoke to Gero—who cut his teeth on The Holmes Show and the Stargate franchise before moving on to write and produce Bored to Death and create The L.A. Complex—about how Blindspot came about, the challenges of making TV in Canada and the U.S.

How did the whole idea for Blindspot come about?
Martin Gero: I had been developing various things for Warner Bros. for a couple of years. I actually wish I had a better story for this, but basically I love puzzles. I’m a huge fan of riddles and The Goonies is one of my favourite movies of all time and it’s very sad that I’m to living a Goonies existence every day of my life. I love all the Dan Brown books and I love National Treasure more than an adult male should. Like, I love National Treasure 2.

It was definitely something I had been trying to figure out how to do in a TV show every week. People have tried it and it’s just really hard to make treasure map shows. I lived in Times Square—which is another one of my failings as a human being—during the attempted Viacom bombing. One morning I woke up and was just like, ‘Man, what if they went to disarm a bomb in Times Square and there was a woman in there instead of a bomb, and she had an FBI guy’s name tattooed on her back?’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s something. Wait, what if she has a whole map tattooed on her back? This is going to be great.’ And I sat down and figured out how to make that a show.

How much research did you do into how the FBI works as you were writing the show?
We have some amazing FBI consultants on the show, so they really vet everything we do to make sure the language is right and make sure we’re not so totally off-base. In last week’s episode there was a CIA/FBI Mexican standoff and I thought, ‘No, that would never happen.’ And they said, ‘Well, no, it could.’ [Laughs.] Things get complicated out in the field. I’ve been continually surprised, thinking, ‘Well no, this is stupid,’ and they tell me it could actually happen.

You’ve worked both in Canada and the U.S. on TV shows. Is it harder to get a series on the air in the U.S. than Canada?
I think it’s hard to get a show on TV, period. Canada has its own gauntlet that you have to run that is unique to Canada and America has its own gauntlet to run. Volume-wise, the U.S. just makes a lot more TV than Canada does, but there is also way more people trying to make TV here. I think it balances out. I think it’s equally difficult.

One morning I woke up and was just like, ‘Man, what if they went to disarm a bomb in Times Square and there was a woman in there instead of a bomb, and she had an FBI guy’s name tattooed on her back?’

You know how tough it is to make TV when it’s based on ratings. In the U.S., if a show doesn’t perform, it gets yanked off the air after mere episodes. Are you pinching yourself because not only do you have a show on the air, but it’s performing well and has a full-season order?

It’s not something that feels real to me. The good news it, the job is the same no matter what. When I did The L.A. Complex, we had the lowest-rated show in the history of television and the job is exactly the same. You just have to put your head down and do the work because whether people watch or not is, weirdly, not up me. I feel extraordinarily grateful to be having the fun that we are on a show like this. To have people watch on top of that is gravy.

How many people have you got in the writers room over there?
We have nine writers, four of whom are Canadians [Brendan Gall, Katherine Collins, Chris Pozzebon and Gero]. It’s a big Canada room. It’s a little on the bigger side for a show like this but a lot of the writers are staff writers. It’s a young room.

Every episode of Blindspot gives answers while uncovering more questions. How do you balance those reveals and queries without upsetting the audience? You can piss them off if you string them along.
That’s a great question. It sounds crazy, but we’re making a show for us. We’re the first audience, so when we’re in the room we’re saying things like, ‘We’re dragging our feet on this,’ or ‘We’re doing this too fast.’ Sometimes the story is taking up too much space and we need more room for the characters, or the characters are taking up too much space. You really have to rely on your internal compass. What’s also great is that we’re working with Berlanti Productions, so Greg and his team are involved. It’s a fantastic set of eyes to have when you get lost and can’t see the forest for the trees. To have another producer there that isn’t another ring to jump through but is actually helping make the show better is great.

When you pitch a show, whether it’s in Canada or the States, when you leave the room everyone has a different idea of what the show is. It’s a flaw in the system. One of the lucky breaks in this is that everybody is trying to make the same show, so you’re not having crazy conversations with the network and the studio about, like, ‘What if Weller owns a cotton candy stand?’ ‘Wait, what?! I don’t even know what that’s about!’

Blindspot airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.