×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Psych’ Train Not in Vain

Journey to century mark has been a trip

Not many writing staffs get to settle in on an Amtrak train to hammer out new storylines as they head toward the destination where their series is set.

But for the writers of “Psych,” led by showrunner Steve Franks, the train ride to Santa Barbara has become the traditional way to get back to work before the crew heads off for production in Vancouver.

The efforts of Franks and his team on the cop comedy about a faux psychic and his best friend solving cases for the Santa Barbara Police Department have paid off extremely well for USA Network. During the current seventh season, “Psych” will hit the rare cable milestone of airing its 100th episode.

Starting as a companion piece to “Monk” in 2006, the series, starring James Roday, Dule Hill, Maggie Lawson, Corbin Bernsen, Timothy Omundson and Kirsten Nelson, boasts one of the most loyal audiences on television and has not only become a huge standalone success, but a launching pad for the network’s other original series.

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

Also unusual for a long-running series, “Psych” came back this year with a 22% 18-49 ratings increase over the previous season’s premiere, which network execs attribute to a powerful multiplatform social media campaign and a six-hour, seven-episode “slumber party” marathon that aired before the premiere, as a sort of tailgate party prior to the big game.

“The marketing department has come up with great ideas of engaging the audience, like spotting the pineapple in each episode,” says Hill, who also cites a fan appreciation day in held in New York, a college tour and appearances at ComicCon, all of which have met with enormous response. “It’s become a love-fest between ‘Psych’ and its fans, the ‘Psycho-Os.’ ”

Adds USA exec marketing and digital veep Alexandra Shapiro: “We didn’t have a huge marketing budget, but we inverted the marketing paradigm and made fans advocates, which resulted in mass engagement, particularly amongst the 18-34 audience.”

“Psych” engages auds through online mystery games such as “Hashtag Killer” and its latest incarnation, “Social Sector,” in which they get to help solve cases, and through Twitter and Facebook, where the series counts more than 2.5 million fans.

“We offer relevant content that fans want and the ability to interact with their own content based on the show,” Shapiro says. “The way you interact and reward is where you get the return on investment.”

Still, success boils down to the fact that fans love the characters, their interactions and the storylines.

“At its heart, it’s about two best friends who are ‘putting one over’ on the ‘adults,’ ” says Chris McCumber, the net’s co-president. “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, and are very specific, which is so flattering.

“Between all of the characters and relationships, everything has grown in such an authentic way, as we did in real life with each other, and our writers picked up on that.”

Show creator Steve Franks credits his father, a retired LAPD officer, as the inspiration for “Psych” — as well as ’80s-era detective shows like “Moonlighting” and “Simon & Simon.”

“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’s “Big 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 also 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.”

More TV

  • THE BLACKLIST -- "Katarina Rostova (#3)"

    ‘The Blacklist’ Bosses on Delivering the 'Really Intense Family Drama That We've Been Promising for Seven Years'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Katarina Rostova,” the midseason seventh season finale of “The Blacklist.” Since “The Blacklist” began it has been building towards a confrontation between Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) and her biological mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robbins). That promised confrontation was front-and-center in the seventh season [...]

  • REEF BREAK - "Pilot" - When

    'Reef Break' Canceled After One Season at ABC

    “Reef Break” will not be back for a second season at ABC. The series debuted back in June on the broadcaster and aired 13 episodes, with the finale airing on Sept. 13. It starred Poppy Montgomery as Cat Chambers, Ray Stevenson as Jake Elliot, Desmond Chiam as Wyatt Cole, Melissa Bonne as Ana Dumont and [...]

  • Jeff Shell

    Jeff Shell: Who Is the NBCUniversal Heir Apparent?

    Analytical, decisive, loyal, fair, empowering. Those are just a few of the choice words industry insiders who have worked with incoming NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell — set to succeed current chief exec Steve Burke, as Variety exclusively reported — use to describe the longtime media exec.  On Universal’s North Hollywood lot, many insiders who work [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon Kerry Washington Little Fires

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Reveals 'Little Fires Everywhere' Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Hulu announces a premiere date for “Little Fires Everywhere” and Variety exclusively obtains a first look at this year’s Christmas episode of “The Simpsons.” DATES “Little Fires Everywhere” will debut March 18, Hulu announced. Produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street, and ABC Signature Studios, the show [...]

  • Watchmen Regina King Tim Blake Nelson

    How 'Watchmen' Pulled Off One of the Best TV Seasons of the Decade

    The first time Damon Lindelof realized that “Watchmen” — his adaptation/remix/continuation of the groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — might actually be a hit was after the pilot debuted at New York Comic Con in October. In the following panel, the 46-year-old writer-producer could tell the audience was connecting with [...]

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the “Christmas

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Dec. 2: 'The Good Doctor,' '9-1-1' Top Gainers

    “The Good Doctor” on ABC and “9-1-1” on Fox were the two biggest gainers in the Live+3 TV ratings for the week of Dec. 2. The pair benefited from the absence of NBC’s “This Is Us,” which to date has shown the largest gains across all scripted shows after three days of delayed viewing. “Good [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content