Bones producer Kathy Reichs on what it was like to experience the metafictional premise of 'The Suit on the Set'
I had no bones of contention with the “Suit on the Set” episode of “Bones” Season 7. It was like looking in a mirror pointed at a mirror reflecting my life. A character from my books is in a show that has an episode about a movie about a book written by the character about the author that created her. Did you follow all that? “Bones” has never taken itself too seriously, and I love that it’s unafraid to mock show business. It does so with a sharply written and cleverly thought-out storyline. When it comes to crime, real life can seem like theater, and Tempe and Booth deftly harness the interplay between spectacle and humanity.
The episode not only showcases Booth and Brennan at their wittiest, but also Hollywood slyly skewering itself: from the victim, Hanson Stevens, who’s name and face are an amalgamation of producers Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan, to the over-the-top explosion-filled movie trailer, and narcissistic actor caricatures. “The Suit on the Set” is a merry tribute to ardent “Bones” fans, delivering subtle nods (like the shout out to delicious Huck’s owned by Nathan’s daughter), along with the big laughs. The plot is filled with cunning interplay, such as the “prop” of a real corpse, to the “actor” squints with scientific training, and the real Cam with a bloodcurdling secret cinematic past. As someone who blends my real life experiences into fiction, I loved it.
I particularly appreciated Tempe and Booth’s flirtation with life in Los Angeles. After my first guest appearance on “Bones” in Season 2, I was ready to pack my bags and embrace The Life. This episode captures the allure of Hollywood, but anchors in the “new” family-focused Booth and Brennan. As usual, one and all get their lines just right.
We asked Bones executive producer Kathy Reichs: Does writing a TV script differ from writing your Bones novels? Is one more difficult than the other?
Kathy answered: The similarity between a Temperance Brennan novel and a “Bones” script lies in structure. My books typically have a lot going on—subplots, or what you might call an A story, a B story, maybe even a C. Ditto a “Bones” episode.
In my new novel Bones Are Forever, for example, Tempe discovers the bodies of three infants in an apartment and takes part in the ensuing investigation. That’s the A story. Following the trail to the remote northern Canadian city of Yellowknife, she gets drawn into a shady web of characters in a town where asking questions about diamond mining and drugs puts her own life at risk. The B story. And, all the while, there’s her complicated love life. C story.
In the season five “Bones” episode that I wrote, “The Witch in the Wardrobe,” two sets of remains are discovered in a burned-out house. The witch in the wardrobe turns out to have been dead for quite some time. A story. The witch under the foundation is identified as a recent homicide victim. B story. Angela and Hodgins go to jail (and love rekindles). C story.
Very similar structures! But there are differences. For example, in a television script there’s no need for detailed description of setting or action. A screenplay or teleplay is all about dialogue, character, and story line.
Another difference involves the creative experience. When I write a novel, I am the stereotypical loner working at my keyboard. No one helps me. No one approves or disapproves my work. Not so the television writer.
Once a story idea is accepted, the entire “Bones” writing staff brainstorms together, hammering out an outline act by act, scene by scene, working on giant erasable white boards. The process is collective, and it is exhilarating.
Once the outline is approved, the writer then “goes to script.” That means back to the lonely keyboard to produce what is called the writer’s draft. Then there are re-writes. And more re-writes. Studio draft. Network draft. Production draft.
In the end it is amazing to see your episode actually being shot, with all the actors, the director, the gaffers, the grips, and the best boys. Just like it’s amazing to see your baby on the printed page.