‘The Night Shift’ finale postmortem (exclusive): Executive producers talk cliffhanger, season 4 hopes
Wednesday night’s finale of “The Night Shift” went all out to create a jam-packed, emotional, and overall fantastic conclusion to the season. We certainly hope it’s not the series finale to go along with it. The show’s ratings tied its season high last night in adults 18-49, and creatively, there is still so much room left to explore.
What we’ve got for you below is a breakdown of some of the episode’s biggest events courtesy of our interview with executive producers Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, and to go along with that, they gave us some early thoughts about season 4 and some of the different avenues that could be explored.
First things first, what made you settle on this being the right way to end the season? How did you conceptualize the different things that were going to happen, like with TC and Syd or with Drew and Brianna? Were you planning this out as definitively a season finale, or as a way to nudge NBC further into giving you a season 4?
Jeff Judah – I think it’s kind of a combination. I don’t think we can predict anything that NBC is going to do with us. We were hoping we’d be picked up by now; we’re the #1 scripted show of the summer. I don’t know how we can go up from that.
There are actually things we left out, because we didn’t know if we were picked up. We didn’t want to make it all big cliffhangers and all big angst because if it wasn’t picked up, we wanted to give some satisfaction in some ways. There were things that were going to happen with maybe Drew and Brianna and Rick, and we thought that really just deserved a happy ending.
Gabe Sachs – They definitely deserved a victory.
Judah – One thing that Gabe and I do is that we shoot ten minutes more per episode than we ever use. That’s our way of figuring out in editing what works. We’ll do maybe two different versions of a story and make a decision in post. That’s kind of what we did with this one.
Sachs – We also often go, and we say this throughout the season, ‘you never know what’s gonna work in the end.’ You really don’t. It’s really helpful to overshoot and have those choices.
Judah – We learned that from [Judd] Apatow on ‘Freaks & Geeks.’ You shoot as many versions as you can of something and figure it out in the edit bay. Even the best-written, best-directed, best-acted scene may just not fit. Or, while you’re editing you have an idea that you write into a different episode and you save it for a different episode.
Since you guys bring up Drew, are you going to revisit what you didn’t use for season 4, or go back to the drawing board and figure that out if or when you start things up?
Judah – It’s really possible. The biggest thing for Drew is that Luke Macfarlane who we love…
Sachs – We like to use him in every episode!
Judah – He’s a full-time actor on two other shows! In the beginning [of the season] we were seeing comments like ‘what happened to Rick’ and ‘why aren’t you showing him?’ and ‘they don’t want to show a gay couple.’ That’s the opposite of what we want to do! He was not available all through April, and then he was only going to be available for an afternoon. We basically shot those episodes for 11 and 13 [of this season] all in one day. That had a lot to do with those storylines and what we could do for Rick and Drew.
Drew had been through so much this year, so it really just felt like it was good to give them a happy ending and we’ll come up with something new for next season. We think there’s going to be a next season — we just wish we knew like a month ago. We’re feeling strong that if it’s not [NBC], then it’s going to be someone.
And numbers don’t lie. Numbers are good.
Judah – Exactly. Listen, we joke around that if nothing else, just pick us up as a vehicle to promote ‘Chicago Med’ during the summer (laughs). Even if you just want to do ‘if you like The Night Shift, you’ll like Chicago Med’ — they run those promos during our show, even though we got no promo during the Olympics — just for that reason, you should pick us up and we can keep ‘Chicago Med’ looking good.
Just for the heck of it, and I know there are different studios involved and whatnot, would you guys be open to doing a crossover with one of those shows?
Judah – Yeah! I mean, we’re open for anything. It’s always interesting to get out of your comfort zone and figure out ‘how does that work, where does that happen.’ Listen, that means we’re doing shows! We’d film with anybody.
Let’s talk about TC and Syd, since that is the cliffhanger that most people are freaking out about. How worried should people be about them?
Judah – Here’s the deal. In that 5% of your brain that you’re thinking ‘what if the show didn’t come back,’ there are a lot of different things that you did not see that we shot. Gabe and I, when we talked about it when the editor Michael Buono, we went through it all and were like ‘if this was the last show, how does it work out for some of these characters?’ This is a world where TC started alone, and he ends up alone. Theoretically, creatively, we are at peace with that decision. That doesn’t mean that he is dead. There are a lot of different ways we can go with that. But I thought that Eoin [Macken] was fantastic, especially in the last three [episodes] when he’s overseas and he’s doing stuff. It’s fun to watch. It really separates us from all of the other medical shows.
Paul’s had his own journey this season, and it’s ending in an interesting spot. He’s now cut off from his father in many ways after he helped buy the hospital, but at the same time things have progressed with him and Shannon. Where is his head at now?
Judah – Paul is one of our favorite arcs. In the pilot, he was a completely different character.
Sachs – It was a completely different version.
Judah – When Robert [Bailey Jr.] came in and was so good, we said ‘okay, we gotta have this guy on the show, but if we do, we gotta change the character.’ He was really kind of a d-ck in the original pilot script. We were like ‘this guy’s got something, and we started to see the whole arc.’ Now, at the end of season 3, the seeds of that are coming to fruition of someone who was getting in his own way and bumbling, fearful start to become this man. Down the line, he’ll get more and more responsibility in his career.
With Robert, we’re really enjoying it. Robert is really killing it every week, and he’s fun to write for. It’s fun to see that you have this idea four years ago, when we were working on the pilot, and to see it come to fruition is great. Paul’s in a place where he will continue to grow and have challenges, like a lot of people in life. Like a lot of people, he’s overcoming an overbearing father as the last step into manhood.
For Scott, there’s two different ways to view his decision to take Annie to rehab. Was he doing it just because he cared about her on a human level, or does he still view her as someone he loves romantically and wants to get better?
Judah -They’re both valid. There was another scene after this that we cut involving Scott and Jordan that we just felt didn’t feel right. I’m not saying they were together, but it was another beat of them. We like how it ended this way. Scott really does care for Annie, and it’s really interesting that he’s torn. Scott’s a good person, he feels responsible for Annie, and he has this relationship with her. Yet, Jordan is kind of around there, and she said ‘I didn’t say no, but I didn’t say yes.’ I think she’s not sure where they’re at, and Scott’s not sure where they’re at. We kind of leave it where he still feels torn between Annie and Jordan. Both interpretations are right.
So Kenny’s in an interesting spot now: He needs $5,000, and he doesn’t have Paul to help him out anymore. Where did this idea come from?
Judah – JR [Lemon] came in [after] we had seen Robert, and we were going to change the character for him to play Paul. Then, JR came in and we were like ‘this guy’s really good.’ Robert’s been doing this since he was six years old, so he’s got 20 years experience doing this, and JR’s just started. He didn’t have as much experience as Robert, but he was really good.
You could see him bringing something off-screen on-screen, and that was something we wanted. This character Kenny was just kind of this nurse who [was] around, but we were like ‘let’s make him that, and then up that from recurring to a regular.’ It was fun watching JR dig in, and he’s been taking acting classes and working his a– off and really becoming a strong actor. You saw what he was able to do in season 2. In season 3, we were able to open up Kenny even more. He’s always been the good-time guy and the emotional glue on the nurses’ level and everybody’s pal. We liked the idea [at the end] of setting something up for season 4 where he’s in trouble.
Sachs – It’s also when a really nice guy, and a really goodhearted guy, gets in a bind. We think that’s a really interesting. That’s what sort of happened with Kenny. He’s great around the hospital and he works his a– off, but he’s in a bind. He made a bad decision and he needs money. We love the consequences and what happens with that.
Judah – What happens when a good person makes a bad decision. Things kind of spiral, and that could be what happens for Kenny in season 4 — and I’m just gonna keep mentioning season 4 (laughs).
Since I know everyone is already feeling tortured already about season 4, do you already have some ideas and themes bouncing around in your heads that you’d like to explore?
Judah – There are some things we are thinking about. Usually, when you know you’re picked up you’re like ‘great, we’re picked up.’ Then, you don’t think about it for about a month. You’ve been going seven days a week, 15-16 hours a day for like eight months. You want to separate from it, see your family, do all of that kind of stuff and then also get the hunger again for the show. Then you’re constantly watching the news, reading the paper, thinking about stories. I have a document that is [about] season 4 ideas, like you hear a story from a friend, or you read something in the news, or you keep doing it.
I mean, we definitely have an idea where we would pick up, and we even talked about it in episodes 12 and 13 with Gabe Fonseca, Brian Anthony, and Tom Garrigus [who were writing the episodes]. Those were the discussions — if we did this, what would that mean for season 4? For example, with season 3 we were able to pick up three or four months later. In season 4, we will pick up right at that moment with TC.
Is there any one moment or storyline this season that you saw as the biggest challenge that, whether it be through the crew or everyone coming together, you were able to pull off?
Sachs – Before that, one thing I want to say is that one thing Jeff and I are lucky to have is to have the show look the way we want it to look. With the effects, it felt bigger and we were able to do these cool things. I think that overall this season, it felt like we really stepped up.
Judah – I really want to mention Jill Danton, our line producer, and how much she contributed to the success of season 3. She changed the whole thing and gave us [so much]. We couldn’t have done it without her, and that’s probably the biggest headline of the help that we had. It’s a hard show to do on a low budget and in the middle of nowhere. She really pulled it off.
One thing that really popped in my head [as a challenge] was 304, the race riot episode.
Sachs – 100%.
Judah – That was difficult in that it was a touchy subject, and we were hoping theoretically to make both sides angry, but also satisfied at the same time. That’s one of the episodes that we were doing rewrites and we were really heavily involved with JR and Robert. As white guys in the midwest, I haven’t experienced things that African-Americans have. I just haven’t. So, I can write and do rewrites about the other perspective, but that whole speech that Kenny has about being in the elevator, that’s from JR, word for word. Usually the actors get the [script] a week and a half before we shoot it … This is one where we were actively involved with JR and Robert and the director Oz Scott. As much as we do with any script, letting people see it in advance and going ‘does this feel legitimate’ and ‘does this feel real,’ [this time] JR would just tell these stories and we were like ‘well that’s going in.’ That was a tricky dance.
We’ve had some great directors. Timothy Busfield is great for us, but Oz Scott was great on this one. It was delicate, but when the first cut came in there wasn’t a lot we had to do with it. Everyone was on their toes. We were thinking ‘let’s do an episode that pretty much takes place in real time,’ and everyone was on from the writing to the directing to the camera people to the acting. It was a harder thing to pull off, but it came off and we’re really proud of it.
Before I let the two of you go, when’s the latest you guys could find about the show’s renewal without having to jump through a bunch of other hoops?
Judah – October 30.
So we have a point to look forward to hopefully.
Judah – Hopefully it’ll be a good Halloween — otherwise we’re not answering our doors when kids knock (laughs). Hopefully, we’ll know before then. The numbers keep [staying strong]. We really can’t harp enough that we had zero promotional ads during the Olympics, and there’s only a billion people watching. A lot of people thought the season ended at 11, so to come back on 12 really strong and to go up again [in the finale], it just shows we have a loyal audience.
As a matter of fact, when we came back in June we had not been on for 54 weeks, and we had retained 95% of our audience. We have a very loyal audience and we’re attentive to it. And to go back to the finale, we do feel loyal to our audience and what they’ve been through. We wanted to give them something that they would like, and also something that they could feel was a good ending.
We want to give a special thanks to Jeff and Gabe for spending their time with us to talk about “The Night Shift”. This really is one of our favorite shows, because there’s so much more to this show then just the medical emergency of the week. These are characters that you become heavily invested in because each one is so beautifully layered in their own unique way that there is always someone on this show that the viewers can relate to. This isn’t an easy feat, so we really have to applaud “The Night Shift” for finding that balance.
Is there anything in particular you want to explore next season? Share below, and you can also head over here to read our review for the big season finale! Meanwhile, you can head over here to secure some other TV news on everything we cover via our official CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: NBC.)