‘Sleepy Hollow’ Showrunner Talks Season 3 Changes, ‘Bones’ Crossover

Sleepy Hollow” has undergone some changes in the break between seasons two and three, but when the supernatural series returns to Fox on Oct. 1, the most important aspect remains the same: the relationship between Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), which is as strong as ever despite the yearlong time-jump that saw them spending some time apart.

Although three series regulars from last season are absent — Ichabod’s wife Katrina (Katia Winter) and long-lost son Jeremy (aka Henry Parish, played by John Noble), who died in the finale, and Orlando Jones’ Frank Irving (whose exit is explained in the premiere) — new showrunner Clifton Campbell has added four fresh series regulars to fill the gaps — Nikki Reed (Betsy Ross), Lance Gross (Daniel Reynolds), Zach Appelman (Joe Corbin) and Shannyn Sossamon (Pandora), with Lyndie Greenwood returning as Abbie’s sister Jenny.

Variety spoke to Campbell about the changes fans can expect in season three, the show’s new cast additions and the impending crossover between “Sleepy Hollow” and “Bones,” which will air on Thursday, Oct. 29. Below, we also have an exclusive clip from the season premiere, which finds Abbie and Ichabod traveling to Colonial Times, but not in the way you’d expect.

What was your main goal in approaching season three, since you were coming to it with fresh eyes?

We had some issues with season two that we wanted to adjust and address; we heard our fans loud and clear. There was something engineered into the pilot where they spoke of seven tribulations the Witnesses would go through, and that seemed like a pretty interesting place to dig into given that the first two seasons really were one long season, because one and two were literally seconds apart and that was really the Moloch/Henry/Katrina era.

It felt like a time skip of a year between seasons two and three was not inappropriate and would open up a lot of character development, that we could have our Witnesses come back with some fresh eyes of their own so that we could see the show and the series and their role as Witnesses through their new eyes. So season three is really the beginning of the second tribulation, and allowed us to take both Abbie and Crane a little further into their character development.

What were some of the primary issues you felt you needed to address, after hearing the fan reaction to season two?

Obviously there was a lot of backlash on how much time was spent on the Crane side with his family, just by design of how much time had to be spent developing those relationships from the past to make them play out — you sort of felt like you sidelined Abbie and her half of this equation, and I couldn’t really argue with that. So it felt like, first and foremost, we ought to rebalance the partnership and that we should, now that we’ve had a clean slate handed to us, really deep dive into Abbie’s story and Abbie’s family without going back to the tortured version that we all know from their childhood, and allow both Abbie and Crane to move forward.

And in the case of Abbie, we get back to her original career intentions which was to pursue a career in the FBI and she does in fact go through Quantico and she returns an agent of the FBI. And Crane’s is really an arc about finding his place in the modern world, and it felt like he should do a bit of a walkabout on his own, and he travels to England and Scotland where his family tomb is, and while he’s there he finds something that lends a lot more credibility and opens up the history of his [role] as a Witness in a tablet that he brings back to Sleepy Hollow that does in fact speak much more clearly and has much more resonance with what they’re doing today. And both of them, Abbie and Crane, may have a history with being Witnesses that they weren’t even aware of.

The premiere really finds its groove once Abbie and Ichabod are back bantering together, but you do get the sense that there’s still distance between them after their separation – how much are you going to dig into what happened during the time they spent apart?

It’s more about where they come back and what headspace they’re in, not so much what brought them there. Obviously in the case of Abbie, there’s a human being we can look at – her boss Daniel Reynolds; that’s a relationship that began and pretty much went full circle, or at least so she thought, in the past year, so we get to revisit that forward, as opposed to going back in flashback. In the instance with Crane, because we did balance out a little more in his favor last season, we felt like this was an opportunity to skip past some of the maudlin parts that the loss of Katrina, his wife, would be. We revisit it in appropriate ways at appropriate times as he tries to move forward, but we didn’t feel like we needed to understand that very personal journey that he went through to move past that – it was better to bring that up in the immediacy of moving forward in this season. On both sides, with the uniqueness of their relationship and their partnership, we can have the audience with them each and every time they ask themselves “what is it we’re really about and what is our relationship and our partnership really mean in the bigger picture?” and in the first half we’ve found that to be very, very entertaining, but it also allows us to open up their relationship emotionally.

You’ve got four new series regulars – Nikki Reed (Betsy Ross), Shannyn Sossamon (Pandora), Lance Gross (Daniel Reynolds) and Zach Appelman (Joe Corbin) – what does each of them bring to the table and what can you preview about their dynamics with Ichabod and Abbie?

The one we were all very excited about was bringing Joe Corbin back, who was a fan favorite from last season, just by virtue of the fact that these three people, Abbie, Jenny and Joe, shared August Corbin (Clancy Brown) who for all intents and purposes started this whole craziness in Sleepy Hollow. We find that he’s just a maze of secrets and the fact that he was able to bring these three young adults along and yet keep them in the dark about things that would protect them, was just too tempting to ignore. And just on a practical level, Abbie and Crane need operatives and while Jenny was already in that role already, bringing somebody in that was emotionally connected to their story as Joe Corbin was [felt like] a natural. And the relationship that we’ve been able to build with Joe and Jenny has not only allowed us to tell stories but also allowed us to tell deeper emotional stories that are directly related to our A-stories.

Lance Gross, who plays Daniel Reynolds, brings a lot of great male energy to the show, he helps fill out a part of Abbie’s life that is the path not necessarily taken and we get to feel that tug and that conflict that she has between personal and professional. Because we’re all rooting for Abbie and Crane to maintain the unique relationship that they have and enjoy seeing those little looks that they share with one another, we also feel like any version of a slow burn on that front needs to be complicated and we should complicated with interesting people who really fill out their lives, so Lance really does that for Abbie and has a very unique perspective on Crane and what Crane might mean to her, so it’s given us a lot of mileage to play.

The first two seasons, the twistory has been that the storytelling used ad hoc, it would prop up or support or give clues to the A-story of any given episode; this season we came up with one big twistory that is overarching across the entire season, and it’s rooted in a very iconic piece of American history, or so we think, and I guess in seasons past they’d mentioned a relationship that Crane had with Betsy Ross, and that it might’ve been a little saltier than we all think of when we think of matronly Betsy Ross, and as it turns out, we were right – it is much saltier and a lot more fun, and the show has played with a lot of George Washington, Culper ring spy twistory that has been lots of fun, so we felt like perhaps if Crane had a Mr. and Mrs. Smith relationship with one of his operatives and it turned out to be Betsy Ross, how much fun would that be? They look great together, they have fun, she’s giving him the appropriate amount of grief to his proper Craneisms and it allows us also allows us to move the needle on our overall arcane twistory that does build to something much bigger than anyone expects or sees coming.

And Shannyn is delightful. At the beginning of the season, we talked about who the big bad would be and the idea of a female big bad just got everybody excited. Pandora and the legend of Pandora and her box is something that everyone thinks they know about, and based on the rudimentary understanding of what’s behind that mythology, we found a really interesting character and a really interesting device to bring monsters and demons and evil to Sleepy Hollow that is building to a purpose. And Shannyn has thrown herself into this role and really become this interesting mythological character, and she’s got lots of layers and twists and turns inside her so we’ve been able to play that up pretty nice.

In seasons one and two, Abbie only had to answer to local law enforcement, but the FBI is obviously a much bigger operation and, you’d hope, less likely to turn a blind eye to her shenanigans with Crane. What kind of challenges are presented by her job switch?

It’s much more complicated and much more difficult with an agency as large as the FBI to get away with some of the things that she could so easily do when she was just working for the Sheriff’s Department. It also happens to mean a lot more to her – this is something she’s dreamed about doing and it’s something that’s very important to her, and it really challenges her ability to maintain herself and her identity, and be true to her heart and her passion, but know that at the end of the day she has a calling that goes above and beyond that … how does she bridge those two and live with the decisions she has to make every day? It’s been very difficult to make all that work, and when you go to a federal agency, it’s even more complicated to hide, but we’ve found that that challenge has turned this character inside out in a very good way, and down the road it really, really blows up in her face but that’s an advantage in that I think the audience is gonna love seeing her have to make some really super-tough choices, and how she’s gonna get out of it is part of the fun of the show.

How did you approach the “Bones” crossover and what can we expect?

It was an appealing idea from the beginning. At first we went “what?!” because the shows seem totally different but if you think about it, the hyper-structure of both shows really is rooted in similarities, the difference being that theirs is a grounded procedural and ours is anything but, but they’re both still procedurals. The partnerships between Booth (David Boreanaz) and Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Abbie and Crane are very similar, and if we want to, we can look downrange at the banter that Booth and Brennan had and say well, we are having versions of what those two had early on in their relationship, and how much fun would it be to look at each other and wonder where our relationship is going based on where their relationship has gone? It landed perfectly, it’s our Halloween special crossover, and it made a whole lot more sense once we started thinking about “how interesting would it be if we found a case that started in the ‘Bones’ hour that also had deeper and more personal emotional implications to our guys once the supernatural kicked in at the halfway point, which would be where our episode began. We just wrapped it and we’re all very happy with the outcome.

So it maintains the integrity of both shows tonally without blurring the lines too much?

They both work better because we maintain the integrity of both shows – they’re both a giant wink to the audience.

What’s your favorite aspect of the crossover as a whole?

Just the pairings; we decided there was a whole lot more in common with our characters than you first think. When you put Crane with Brennan and Booth and Abbie together, they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s really fun and interesting to put them in scenes and see how the mechanics of those characters would interact – that was very satisfying.

“Sleepy Hollow” Season 3 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

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