Writer-producer and fellow geek Amy Berg got her start writing for SNICK’s Kenan & Kel, and went on to write for such shows as Boomtown, Threshold, and The 4400. Currently she is a writer and co-executive producer for SyFy’s Eureka, the show about Jack Carter, the sheriff of “a little town with a big secret.” Ms. Berg graciously took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions I had about writing genre, shipping, and the alternate timeline that turned the town of Eureka upside-down.
Hollywood Jane: Prior to joining Eureka as an executive producer, you were a writer-producer for one of my favorite shows, Leverage, which features a wonderful Five-Man-Band. Are you more of a Grifter, Hitter, Hacker, Thief or Mastermind?
Amy Berg: Wow, I’ve never really thought about it. Grifter is out, right off the bat. I’m honest to a fault and have a terrible poker face. Hitter? I can kick ass, but I don’t enjoy it like Elliot does. And me as a hacker is laughable — I couldn’t write a line of code to save my life. What’s left… thief? Not hardly. When I was seven I shoplifted a piece of gum from a liquor store and I still have guilt-dreams about it.
I suppose that makes me a Mastermind. The shoe almost fits. I’ve never been one to shy away from leadership positions, whether it was captaining sport teams or spearheading group projects in school. And I’ve been running writers rooms for a while now. Which was an advantage on a show like Leverage, because we had a very inexperienced staff. So whenever John [Rogers] was out of the room or on script, he relied on me to step in and fill the void.
HJ: In addition to Eureka you’ve worked on The 4400 and Threshold. What was your introduction to the wonderful world of genre? Is there a book/movie/tv show that influenced you growing up, or continues to influence you now?
AB: It’s so funny you’re asking this. I was just on set in Vancouver last week and between takes I was singing show tunes, which I do sometimes to keep the crew entertained… and maybe also to encourage expediency with lighting set-ups. I know this doesn’t sound related to your question at all but it’ll get there. Anyway, our script supervisor and I got on a Mary Poppins kick and I made a connection in my head that I’d never made before. Mary Poppins was one my favorite movies when I was a kid, and I’m pretty sure now that it was my introduction to genre. Think about it. Bedrooms cleaned themselves, you could jump into chalk drawings on the sidewalk. It’s a movie that really opens up your imagination, so I have to credit it for getting me interested in fantasy at a young age.
From there I fell in love with sci-fi and movies like Star Wars and Tron and Blade Runner and The Last Starfighter. All the obvious stuff everyone mentions. And I also remember being really obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which is strange to me now because I’m friends with so many of the actors and producers from that show.
But I think if I had to pick one show to call my favorite, something that continues to influence me now… it’d probably be The X-Files. If you subtract the last two seasons, the stuff without Duchovny, I think the show is unrivaled in its awesomeness. It was the first series where I became aware of writers and their individual contributions. I could watch episodes and say this is a Vince Gilligan or a Darin Morgan or a Spotnitz or a Carter or a Morgan & Wong. It was truly something special.
HJ: Were there any particular lessons you took from the showrunners you’ve worked with that you brought to Eureka?
AB: With every gig you learn something new, and sometimes you learn more from bad experiences than you do from good ones. I’ve worked with showrunners who are great human beings but aren’t the best storytellers. I’ve worked with great storytellers who don’t know how to manage people. I’ve worked on shows that relied heavily on contributions from the writers room and I’ve worked on shows that had no writers room at all. The trick is finding the right balance of all those things. And that starts with hiring a supportive writing staff with a broad range of experience and abilities, so you’re not burdened with a ridiculous amount of responsibility. And we’re lucky on Eureka to have a great staff.
Not at all. Our executives were incredibly supportive. They knew that going into the fourth season of a series — regardless of how successful it’s been — there’s a danger that things may start to feel repetitive. The last thing you want is for a show to feel stale, or to be seen as playing it safe.
The studio and network really encouraged us to go big, and we did. But we wanted to do it in a way that gave us a natural story engine going forward. We’re gonna be feeling the repercussions of the new timeline for quite some time.
HJ: How much of the canon from the previous three seasons affected decisions moving forward in the new timeline? Was there anything from those seasons you were especially interested in revisiting?
We took everything into account. But the thing the new timeline gave us was a chance to reset some plot points that perhaps weren’t working all that well, and do more of the stuff we liked but that had been dropped for whatever reason.
There were a lot of new faces on the writing staff for season four. We were all fans of the first three seasons, but we also had the advantage of coming in with a fresh perspective. On the first day, I mentioned a few things that I wanted to revisit. One of them was Sheriff Andy… which was a one-off character I fell in love with watching the season 3.5 premiere. And now in season four and beyond, Andy is a featured player in the series, which is something we couldn’t have done without the new timeline. That change-up was a real bonanza for us, creatively.
HJ: Now that you’ve had Wil Wheaton [Star Trek: The Next Generation / The Big Bang Theory] and Felicia Day [The Guild / Dollhouse] on the show, is there another actor you have your eye on for a guest role?
AB: I guess I’m kind of known for bringing my friends on for juicy roles here and there, like with Wil and Felicia. Grant Imahara and I have been talking for a while about working together. And Mark [Sheppard], Brent [Spiner] and Jeri [Ryan], too. There are a few geek icons slightly out of my reach at the moment… like David Tennant. He’s tonally right for the show. All he has to do is call me. [HJ: Yes, please!]
HJ: Do you have any particular characters that you love to write for?
AB: No way! I love them all equally. I will say that it was blast to script Stark’s return in “The Ex-Files” episode. I wasn’t here the first three seasons so I missed out on all that banter. Carter and Stark have great chemistry as frenemies, so that was really fun for me. As was the creation of Felicia Day’s character, Dr. Holly Marten. It was pure joy trying to figure her out.
HJ: Genre shows in particular seem to lend themselves to ‘shipping’. What’s your take on fans pairing up characters?
AB: I’m a shipper, too. I totally get it. I shipped Mulder and Scully, Riker and Troi, O’Neill and Carter, Marcus and Ivanova, Crichton and Aeryn, you name it. But you have a different responsibility as a writer than you do as a fan. There’s a reason people root for characters to get together. It involves a lot of set-up and subtlety, developing hints and tension over episodes and often over seasons. It’s our job as writers to stoke those flames without extinguishing the fire. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep characters apart either. There are ways to make relationships work on screen without losing the sizzle. But there’s no denying that it’s more difficult.
HJ: Are you working on any other projects at the moment that you’re at liberty to talk about?
AB: Since we’re shooting season five while still airing season four, we don’t know yet when Syfy is going to need more Eureka episodes from us. I haven’t decided yet whether to hop on another show, or just focus on my own development. I already have a few projects in the pipeline, but no… I can’t go into details. Not yet.
The long-awaited second half of Eureka’s 4th season premieres Monday, July 11th at 8 pm. Follow Amy Berg on Twitter @bergopolis and the Eureka writers @EurekaWriters for behind-the-scenes scoop and the latest info.