ABC's drama "Brothers & Sisters" airs a two-hour episode this Sunday that is chock full of relationship and business drama for the Walker family as well as someone's life in danger. Our Jim Halterman talked to executive producers Alison Schapker & Monica Owusu-Breen about the appeal of the family drama, the future of Balthazar Getty on the show and how not to 'jump the shark.'
Jim Halterman: Why do you think family dramas have always been such a big draw on television?
Monica Owusu-Breen: I think everyone spends a lifetime negotiating those relationships with your siblings and your parents and your children.
Alison Schapker: And you get to explore more intimate stories as opposed to some of the other more high-concepty shows on TV, which are awesome, but I think "Brothers and Sisters" is just another in a long history of family dramas that deal a little bit more with the personal more head-on.
JH: The opening image of Sally Field marching dramatically through a hospital corridor clearly shows that this is going to be a serious episode. Did you feel the need at this time in the season to give all the characters a big dose of drama?
AS: Yes, we aimed in the two-hour episode to give everybody their moment and to really show the family in all its colors. In some sense, certain character's stories drive the other characters more than others but we really wanted our viewers to get a sense of each person's finality in this family and also to see, however fraught that it is, how much they love each other.
JH: The promos shows something big happening to one of our characters. Without giving away any spoilers, what can you tell me?
AS: One of the things we like to do on the show is play out our stories over time and I think something as big as a health crisis and the ramifications for the character... just the idea that whenever something happens that changes your life that drastically... it's something that we'll explore in the back half of the season.
MOB: Especially for a character as strong as [this character has] been to suddenly face that vulnerability and something beyond your control.
JH: There have been a lot of rumors about the status of Balthazar Getty (Tommy Walker) on the show. Can you set the record straight?
AS: He's very much a part of this show. We feel that it is the trajectory of the character arc that he's been on this year that he comes to a self-destructive place that will require his character to take some time to figure out himself and, in that respect, Balthazar will step away from the show for a time next year but it's our every intention that he will return and resume his place in the family.
JH: Also, Ken Olin (who also serves as an executive producer and often directs episodes of the series) has returned as a father to Rebecca (Emily VanCamp) and as the ex of Holly (Olin's real-life wife, Patricia Wettig). How long will the character of David be around this time?
AS: David is definitely a character that we are bringing into the series. He will be around for a while. To what extent, at this point, we haven't broken next season but I think David's return is not a quick flight back to New York. He has business he realizes he needs to settle so he'll be around.
MOB: And now that the issue of Rebecca's paternity has been settled and involved him... he is her father and we're going to explore that.
JH: Ryan Lafferty (Luke Grimes), the recently discovered half-sibling of the Walkers has now turned up on the series and, correct me if I'm wrong, I sense a lot of drama on the horizon. Just watching him, I was thinking this guy is trouble.
AS: Ryan is a big catalyst for drama and I think some of our fans have certainly called the show out on just recycling a plot that we sort of did with Rebecca so we feel the onus to bring that story to a different place and we think we have.
MOB: He comes back and he needs answers to specific questions that will reveal themselves.
AS: But in his need to find out more about what happened to his mother and what her relationship was like with William (Tom Skerritt), it will effect everybody else's story. He has a big role to play. For us, this show lives and dies in its execution and, for that, each character has to have a three-dimensional point of view and Ryan will come in with that as well. He won't be easily put into a box. He will stir up trouble but it is our hope that he does it in a way that people can relate to. It's not an easy story to take sides on.
JH: Every show when it gets through its third season or so, it sometimes feels the needs to evolve a bit more but how, as writers and producers, how do accomplish that without "jumping the shark."
AS: I think the answer is that you can't be afraid to let your characters grow and change and in that sense find themselves in different situations and different relationships to focus on and a different set of obstacles. Monica and I both believe that every season should feel like its own season. We already have ideas for the characters next season that will take them on a different journey but, with that said, I think when shows jump the shark a lot of it is because in some fundamental way the truth of the character was betrayed or been lost. Not on purpose but somewhere along the way it stops feeling like the characters you know and love and the show suddenly feels different in a way that doesn't feel satisfying. We realize that not every story can please every fan but we hope it does and they'll stick around long enough because I feel that next year... Monica and I are very excited about the stories we have to tell for our characters and I think to let them evolve in a way that people will understand and recognize and continue to empathize with and care about. That is the trick, for sure.
While ABC has not officially picked up the show for a fourth season, ratings are strong and, as Schapker said, "all signs are good." The two-hour episode of "Brothers & Sisters" airs an hour earlier than usual this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on ABC.