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‘Psych’s’ James Roday, Dule Hill Savor Series’ Creative Freedom

USA show's lead duo forged a fast friendship

Before Dule Hill even tested for the role of Gus on Psych, he realized it wasn’t a typical TV series when James Roday, already cast as Shawn, came to his home to rehearse.

“I was taken aback that he would come all the way out to my house when he had the job,” Hill says.

That sense of camaraderie extended into and beyond the pilot, as cast and crew adopted a Little Show That Could mentality. And as it turned out, Psych could.

Buoyed by the buddy genre that has long driven some of the most popular movies and TV shows, USA Network’s Psych has thrived on the chemistry of Roday and Hill, along with the creative freedom initiated by creator-showrunner Steve Franks.

Produced by Universal Cable Prods., the cop dramedy about a faux psychic (Roday) and his best friend (Hill) solving cases for the Santa Barbara P.D. has been a USA mainstay, hitting the rare cable milestone of episode 100 in the current seventh season. Starting as a companion piece to Monk in 2006, the series (which also stars Maggie Lawson, Corbin Bernsen, Timothy Omundson and Kirsten Nelson) is not only a standalone success, it has become a launchpad for the network’s other original series.

“We were this tiny show on a network that was finding its footing,” Roday says. “Nobody knew what or who we were. We tagged ourselves as underdogs and thought the only way we’d be able to push this thing uphill was to do it all together. That was a good attitude to have out of the gates, but it stuck. Now we feel like the Rudy of basic cable.”

Today, Psych is USA’s longest-running current series. And now the show is on its way to setting a new record for the network.

“We still have half a season to go before we catch up to Monk,” Hill says. “But we’re chugging along.”

Roday — who also writes for the show and has directed several episodes — and Hill credit the network with giving Psych time and support to find its audience and creator Franks for carving out storytelling latitude and keeping Psych fresh.

Such freedom led to pineapples appearing in every episode and the popular Psych Out outtakes, such as Roday and Hill vamping Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror while shooting the pilot.

“It’s a great show with a unique voice and a fantastic, specific sense of comedy,” weighs in Jeff Wachtel, co-prexy of USA and Universal Cable Prods. co-head of original content. “It taps into a wonderful theme that will always be timely, the Peter Pan factor of a young man who won’t grow up.”

“At its heart, it’s about two best friends who are putting one over on the adults,” adds USA co-prexy Chris McCumber. “That’s why it is still the youngest-skewing — and getting younger — show on USA.”

“I think it comes down to the banter with Shawn and Gus,” says Lawson, who plays Shawn’s girlfriend, Juliet. “Fans usually quote a Gus nickname, which is funny but a mystery. It feels like a fun game we’re playing. It’s so nice to know they pay attention. … Between all of the characters and relationships, everything has grown in such an authentic way.”

Franks cites his father (a retired LAPD officer) as well as ’80s-era detective shows like Moonlighting and Simon & Simon as the inspiration for Psych.

“I thought it would be fun to apply my comic sensibility to a cop show,” says Franks, who was best known for co-writing Adam Sandler’sBig Daddy (1999) when he was pitching the concept.

Although season eight is yet to be officially scheduled for 2014, bridging the seasons will be the two-hour Psych: The Musical airing later this year. It’s a pet project of Franks, a musician who composed the series’ main title theme song.

“If you’re a fan of musicals, if you’re not a fan of musicals, this could be the musical for you,” Franks says about the upcoming special. “It’s comedic in its approach but soars to great heights. Everyone is talented, and there are touching, big surprises.”

Whether or not Psych continues beyond its next season, it’s been a joyous ride.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” Franks says. “I’ll keep doing it until they push me out the door.”

Adds Roday: “Our creative approach is to take big swings. We don’t always hit ’em out of the park. Sometimes we don’t even make it to first base … but it’s never because we don’t step up.”

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