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Remote Controlled: James Spader on ‘The Blacklist’s’ Blend of Serialized and Procedural Storytelling

James Spader arrives at the NBCUniversal
Ago/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety’s managing editor of TV Cynthia Littleton talks with James Spader, the versatile star and executive producer of NBC’s “The Blacklist,” which recently marked its milestone 100th episode.

After five seasons and counting, Spader says he is able to remain deeply engaged with his man-of-mystery character Raymond “Red” Reddington because of the nature of the storytelling and the ever-changing list of guest stars who enter his world.

Shot in New York, the Sony Pictures TV series revolves around Spader as a former international criminal mastermind who is persuaded by the FBI to help catch the worst of the worst, aka “Blacklisters.” There’s a caper-of-the-week aspect to each episode and a larger mythology involving the core characters that unfolds in fits and starts. That mix keeps things interesting for Spader, who is known as an actor’s actor.

“I look at our series as strange bedfellows in that it’s this serialized story that’s married to a procedural,” Spader says. “Sometimes they are wonderful bedfellows and sometimes they are strange bedfellows. It think it’s one of the secrets to the success of the show. The procedural aspect of the show allows for the serialized aspect to take a rest, take a breath for a while.”

Spader has a long resume of movies and TV series, from “Sex, Lies and Videotape” to “The Practice” and “Boston Legal” to “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” But nothing he’s ever done has given him the level of visibility that he has in his “Blacklist” role. For starters, the show is seen in more than 175 countries.

“I have never worked on anything in my life that has had a broader demographic than ‘The Blacklist.’ Not even close,” Spader says. “This show is watched by people who are 7 years old to 90 years old, from every single cultural and economic background and nationality. It just has been staggering.”

You can listen to this week’s podcast here:

New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes here.