Alan Cumming as Dr. Dylan Reinhart in INSTINCT - Season 1 - "Tribal" | ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc./Jonathan Wenk

Alan Cumming as Dr. Dylan Reinhart in INSTINCT – Season 1 – “Tribal” | ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc./Jonathan Wenk

In the opening narration for CBS’s series INSTINCT, Alan Cumming’s character Dylan Reinhart playfully informs us that he was Agent Reinhart when he worked for the CIA, Professor Reinhart when he started teaching at a university, as well as becoming a best-selling author, and now that he’s helping NYPD homicide detective Lizzie Needham (Boyana Novakovic) solve cases, he’s Consultant Reinhart. In Dylan’s personal life, he’s married to restaurant owner Andy (Daniel Ings), who worries about the return to crime-solving; Lizzie is still mourning the line-of-duty death of her partner.

No matter his title, Dylan is clearly on to something: INSTINCT has its first-season premiere this Sunday, July 1, and has been picked up for a second season. Executive producer Michael Rauch adapted James Patterson’s mystery novel MURDER GAMES into INSTINCT for television; Rauch previously executive-produced ROYAL PAINS and created the series LOVE MONKEY and BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE.

At the time of this interview, Rauch did not know yet that INSTINCT would be picked up for a second season, but he was hopeful.

MICHAEL RAUCH: INSTINCT got picked up for series, so it’s one of these things where, I could see it running for eight seasons, I could see it running for eight episodes. I’ve had both in my career. There’s no way to know. We had a great time every day, which is the most important thing to me, and right behind that is delivering a good show, because if people are going to spend their time watching something, I don’t want to let them down, and we don’t, so I think we’ve done both those things, and now it’s out of our hands.

ASSIGNMENT X: How would you describe what INSTINCT is and is not about? How is it different from other light crime procedurals?

RAUCH: [One aspect] I think that makes the show different is that there’s no will they or won’t they [between Dylan and Lizzie]. I feel like most of these shows, someone asked about CASTLE, so much of that show was will they or won’t they. And there’s something very refreshing as a writer to not have to deal with that, because they’re not going to. So there’s no sexual tension between them. When I first pitched it, I talked about screwball comedies. I’m a big screwball comedy fan from the ‘30s and ‘40s. With the Hayes Code [the censorship of that era], there were certain things you couldn’t say, you couldn’t depict. So much of the sexual tension came out in dialogue and banter. And I wanted to use that as a paradigm for this. Since we’re not going to show these two together ever, to let their sexual tension be about the conflict that they have as people, how they approach the world, their methodologies, and just the way they talk to each other.

AX: What do you hope people will get out of watching INSTINCT?

RAUCH: I hope that people watch INSTINCT for a few reasons. One is, for the people who love figuring out crime dramas, or being stumped, that we’re telling satisfying A stories. More importantly, I hope they watch it because they care about the characters and the relationships, and they want to have fun, and they want to laugh. We have an incredibly talented cast, so it’s very easy for us to tell stories about the characters, but to me, the best episodes will be where you don’t know who did it, you’re having fun along the way, and there are surprises with the A stories, but with the characters’ relationships as well.

AX: Is the combination of humor and darkness here comparable to the combination on ROYAL PAINS?

RAUCH: Absolutely. I love ROYAL PAINS so much. When we first started that show, it started much darker. It was very important to me and to us for it to be a show that made you feel good. And I think that was a big part of the success, and I think that there’s so much great television out there that is dark and antihero and apocalyptic, and I feel like there’s not a lot of TV out there that you can go along for a ride, but either watch with your kids or just feel good about the world when you’re done. And ROYAL PAINS was something that we really tried to do that with. Even though we had dark stories sometimes, we tried to balance it with humor, and with a humanity, and characters that you liked and you cared about. And it’s very similar in this. We have darkness – hopefully not too much darkness – we have stakes, we obviously have murders – I’ve never done that before, I’ve never killed anyone before on a show, which is really weird.

AX: Didn’t people sometimes die on ROYAL PAINS?

RAUCH: People died, but no one was murdered on ROYAL PAINS. So it’s a lot of pressure and responsibility to do that on a show, because even though it’s make-believe, it’s still people watching people die. So it was a big challenge to figure out how to balance that tonally. I’m a giant SHERLOCK fan. I think that show, more successfully than any other show I’ve seen, balances stakes and urgency with humor. So I think tone is an incredibly important part of the show. There’s a scene in the pilot, which I think they showed in one of the promos, where Alan and Bojana are standing over a dead body, a guy who’s been stabbed fifty-two times, and you see all the stab wounds, but they’re having banter over it. To me, that scene works, and yet, it was a challenge – I felt a lot of pressure, and we felt a lot of pressure, in making it, because these two people are making fun of each other over a corpse. And so if that doesn’t work, then the show doesn’t work, but I think the scene worked, and I think that scene in a way is a microcosm of what we’re trying to do with the show, which is balance crime and stakes with being able to have fun at the same time.

Alan Cumming as Dr. Dylan Reinhart and Bojana Novakovic as Det. Lizzie Needham in INSTINCT - Season 1 - "Pilot" | ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc./Jonathan Wenk

Alan Cumming as Dr. Dylan Reinhart and Bojana Novakovic as Det. Lizzie Needham in INSTINCT – Season 1 – “Pilot” | ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc./Jonathan Wenk

AX: How do you show someone who’s been stabbed fifty-two times without it being too gory for INSTINCT’s tone?

RAUCH: Very carefully. We had a rule when we were on ROYAL PAINS, which was to show just enough, and not too much. And it’s the same thing that we’re doing on this show, too, which is, when you see fifty-two stab wounds, you’re going to see a little bit of blood in fifty-two places, but you’re not going to see a guy in a river of blood, because that’s not our show. That being said, everything we do, we have a doctor there to basically approve the authenticity. So we’re not going to do something that wouldn’t be real – we’ll say, “What’s the minimum amount of gore we can show that is real?”

AX: Did you do any workshopping with Alan Cumming on the Dylan Reinhart character prior to shooting?

RAUCH: Marc Webb directed the pilot; he’s a terrific director. Marc and I and Alan and Bojana had a six-hour rehearsal one day [after the network table read] in Marc’s apartment. And that just got everything to click. Because you do your table-read for the network, for the network president, everyone there, everyone’s nervous and terrified, no one’s read any of the dialogue together, and all of a sudden, everyone’s saying the words out loud.

I wanted to basically jump out of a window after that table read, because it was horrible, because I didn’t work with any of the actors, they’re nervous, everyone’s doing it in their accents, Alan [who is Scottish] is playing an American, Bojana [who is Serbian] is playing an American, Dan Ings [who is English] is playing an American, they all have [real-life] accents. They only one with an accent who’s allowed to use it is Naveen [Andrews, who is English and plays Dylan’s CIA friend Julian Cousins]. So it was just like a Frankenstein’s monster. My dialogue sounded horrendous, and then we had a cast dinner afterwards, and I was thinking about how quickly my career would end after we shot the pilot, and then we started rehearsals, and once we were able to really talk about the characters together, and Alan and Bojana find their rhythm, which they did so fast, it all clicked.

AX: How did you come to cast so many people who have real-life accents?

RAUCH: It was not intentional. Alan was pre-cast, which was a dream for me, because one of the hardest things in a pilot is finding a lead. So when you have not just a lead already booked, but an incredible talent like Alan, you’re far ahead of the game. And then it was about finding the best actors. Bojana was the big surprise to me, because I had watched her work and loved her work – I had no idea she was as talented as she is. Every day, she surprises me. Naveen was a surprise, in that the part was written for a tall, bald black British man. And we saw probably twelve to fifteen tall, bald, black British men, who were so talented, and so talented that it was hard to figure out which one – because some were massive, some were small – and then Naveen sauntered in. I’d never met him before. He’s neither tall nor bald nor black [Andrews is of Indian ancestry], and he’s wearing a black duster, and he’s got this sexy, mysterious energy, and I first saw him, and I was like, “This is going to be an awkward meeting, because he’s not at all what I imagined.” And then by the time he sat down, I was like, “This is the guy. No one else can play this part except Naveen.” And he’s so smart that he realized very early in the meeting how much I loved him, and very quickly excused himself, ended the meeting like five minutes in, to say, “Thank you, nice to meet you,” and not overstay his welcome. So it was great. And then Dan Ings, we saw a lot of actors – he plays Prince Philip’s best friend on THE CROWN. If you’re watching Season 2 now, he’s all over it. He’s very talented, and he sent a tape in from England with an impeccable American accent, and a great look.

AX: Are you concerned there may be will they-won’t they tension with the Lizzie character and the Julian character, since they’re both single and heterosexual?

RAUCH: I hope there is. I’m concerned if there’s not, because they are both really powerful actors, and they both jump off the screen, and it’s the opportunity for a real triangle on the show, because Alan’s character has very different relationships with each one. So they’re both his partners in very different ways, so the notion of a triangle there I think would be terrific.

AX: Can you talk about shooting INSTINCT on location in New York?

RAUCH: We actually hired Mike Fucci, who [was the location manager on] ROYAL PAINS. So he did the pilot, and the first season, because he understands, as he did in ROYAL PAINS, that even though things look very similar from episode to episode, they also have to be different. I was born in Manhattan, I’ve grown up in New York, I’ve lived there my whole life – showing all aspects of New York, we’ve shot on every borough and we will continue to, so that we don’t just see the SEX AND THE CITY New York, we see the Bronx. We’ve shot in the Bronx a couple times. We see Brooklyn – our stage is in Brooklyn. We’ve shot in Queens, in Staten Island. My favorite location we just did in the finale, which was, we were in Long Island City, on the East River, facing the Manhattan skyline. Just being able to have in the background – my favorite building in Manhattan is the Chrysler Building, so having the Chrysler Building, and the U.N., and the Empire State Building as a backdrop, you can’t replicate that anywhere in the world. It’s the most iconic thing. But honestly, being anywhere in New York, you feel the texture and the energy of the city, and although our tone is slightly elevated – we’re not going to show graffiti, we’re not going to show some of the filth that’s there – at the same time, we really want to let New York be a character in the show.

AX: In terms of writing scripts for INSTINCT, when you construct mysteries that aren’t the mystery from the book for the episodes, do you start with the solution and work backwards, or do you start with what would be really satisfying to see and then construct a murder case around it?

RAUCH: The answer is both. Sometimes it’s a great set-up or a great moment or a great scene, and we have an episode where something happens on a subway, and the idea of what happened on a subway was pitched, actually, by James Patterson. And it was a great idea. But it was just the inciting incident. There was no story. So figuring out that story, or sometimes it’s the character of, what would happen if this type of person ended up in this situation? Now let’s work backwards and figure out how to get there.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about INSTINCT?

RAUCH: I hope that people watch the show, give it a chance and enjoy it, both as a police procedural and as a fun, character relationship show. And hopefully, we can deliver on those things.

This interview was conducted during CBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

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Article: INSTINCT: Exclusive interview with creator Michael Rauch on Season 1


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