Executive Producer Craig Silverstein Talks NIKITA, Final Episodes of the Series, Balancing Personal and Fan Satisfaction, Swan Songs and Happy Endings

     November 29, 2013

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The high-octane, edge-of-your-seat final season of The CW series Nikita sees Nikita (Maggie Q) trying to find her footing with her team again, while also trying to clear her name.  With the help of Michael (Shane West), Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford) and Ryan (Noah Bean), they must track down and stop the nefarious Amanda (Melinda Clarke) once and for all, and put an end to the most outrageous plan of hers yet.  From show creator Craig Silverstein, the drama also stars Lyndsy Fonseca and Devon Sawa.

During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, executive producer Craig Silverstein talked about having a list of things they wanted to accomplish with the final six episodes of the series, what they didn’t get to on that list, balancing personal satisfaction with fan satisfaction for how the series wraps up, that not every character will make it through to the end, that there will be some legitimate happy endings, how Judd Nelson ended up in the final season, the memories that stand out for him the most, and getting straight to work on his next series, AMC’s Turn, set during the Revolutionary War and centered on a band of young soldiers and civilians who come together to form America’s first top-secret spy ring to help turn the tide against the British.  Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.  

Executive Producer Craig Silverstein NIKITA Maggie Q Collider:  Knowing that this would be your final season and that you only had six episodes, did you have a list of things you wanted to accomplish with it? 

CRAIG SILVERSTEIN:  Yeah, we did.  We had a list of things, and we crossed off a bunch of things on that list, but there’s probably some stuff we didn’t get to.  I would have really loved to see Percy again, in a flashback or something, but we weren’t able to really earn that and make that work.  But, we got a lot of things checked off. 

Was it important to you, with just six episodes, to really jump right in and keep going until the last minute?

SILVERSTEIN:  Oh, yeah!  There was no time to waste.  There was hardly anything episodic.  A little bit in the first two, but then it just moves away from that.  We looked for inspiration in the last six episodes of the previous seasons we had done.  Things tend to ramp up towards the end, and any steam the serialized story has built up really takes over.  So, we approached this season saying, “Why don’t we just do that?  Why don’t we start like it’s the final six of some other season?” 

It’s a rare opportunity to know that you’re doing what will be your final season.  Was it a bit intimidating or nerve-wracking to know that this was it and that you had to wrap up everything you wanted to wrap up?

SILVERSTEIN:  No, it wasn’t.  It was great!  It would have been nerve-wracking, if there was some question left open, as to whether it wouldn’t be the end or not.  That would have really screwed me up, I think.

Did you have to lay out all the questions you wanted to answer ahead of time, so that you knew how to work everything in and make sure you got to it all without running out of time?

SILVERSTEIN:  Sure, yeah.  We started that process near the end of Season 3, knowing that we’d have some kind of reduced order, but not knowing exactly what the order would be for the number of episodes.  And then, there was a lot of debate, at the beginning of this season, over the kind of plot.  We had quite a different plot that we were going to unfold, but we knew we had to figure out what the arc over the six was.  For a staff that had come out of doing 22 or 23 episodes a season, it was so manageable to us.  We thought, “Six?  We can figure out six!”  Any fan of Nikita knows that we always pack our episodes to the gills with story.  We don’t really chill out with a lot of filler. 

Knowing that you can’t ever please everyone when it comes to ending a show, do you go into it knowing that you can really only please yourself, and then hope that most people will be happy with that?

SILVERSTEIN:  Yeah.  I definitely wanted to satisfy myself with the kind of story that I wanted to tell.  Within that, I knew there were certain things that the fans would expect and that, if we didn’t address them, they’d feel cheated.  Whether we addressed them enough, I don’t know.  I think we hit those buttons, by the end. 

nikita-castDid it feel like a juggling act to make sure that everybody got a satisfying conclusion and nobody got short-changed, as far as the characters go?

SILVERSTEIN:  Yeah.  We definitely wanted to honor the characters and bring each one to their proper conclusion, and I do think that we hit that.

Would it be safe to assume that not everyone will make it through to the end of the season?

SILVERSTEIN:  Yeah, unfortunately.

Does anyone get a happy ending?

SILVERSTEIN:  There will be a legitimate happy ending or two. 

Did you talk to your actors, at all, to see what they would like to have happened for their characters, in the end, or did you not take that into account?

SILVERSTEIN:  We talked about that kind of stuff, from time to time.  We had fallen into a pattern where they mostly trusted us to deliver them to the right place.  Even if that place was death, an actor would call and say, “Just make it a good death.” 

How did you end up bringing Judd Nelson in for the final season?

SILVERSTEIN:  His name came up.  We knew what the role was.  We knew the role was going to be Birkhoff’s father, and we knew that there would be some kind of expectation for that role, like there would be if you introduced any of our main character’s parents.  Judd Nelson’s name came up and his having played so many rebels in his past career seemed to fit.  The knowledge of his past work and somebody with that character just made sense.

What made you decide to move the lair onto a plane and have the team be mobile?

SILVERSTEIN:  The only alternative, really, was moving back to a safe house, like the beach house in the second season.  It was born out of a desire not to repeat ourselves, and also to help with our story because we knew that it would be a global story and they would be globe-hopping.  If their base was mobile, we could help explain how they were getting everywhere.  In the first season, Nikita had a NetJets account, and Division had private planes at their disposal, but a team that’s truly on the run wouldn’t have that.  So, what they have is Alexandra Udinov and her money, and she would be able to get them a cargo plane.  That just made sense to us and was exciting.  We had literally destroyed and blown up every single lair that they had ever been in, so we were looking forward to finding out how we could blow up the plane and destroy it, but we never got there. 

How challenging has it been to have such an enigmatic villain with Amanda?

SILVERSTEIN:  In the beginning, it was what drew us to her.  It was a great strength to have her enigmatic.  It really was her power.  A lot of times, once you explain the psychology behind a villain, they tend to lose a bit of that power.  But, we did go into Amanda’s backstory and I think it was suitably disturbing and uniquely tailored to her.  It did humanize her, and that raised the stakes.  Her obsession with Nikita, and her identification with Nikita leads to an almost, but not really, touching place between the two of them and their final confrontation.

What have you enjoyed most about your time on Nikita, and what stands out most for you, in having done this series?

nikita-maggie-qSILVERSTEIN:  In my personal memories, the thing that stands out most would be breaking through stories that were really, really difficult to crack.  When we didn’t feel like we could ever figure it out, and then breaking through to the other side of it and figuring it out was a thrill, and I’ll always remember that.  And then, there’s the pride in the cast and in the crew.  We were trying to juggle so many things, in terms of characters and plot.  One quick example is, in the second season, Nikita had to ascend the side of a skyscraper to get to the penthouse to assault this Wall Street bad guy, and we had so many things to figure out in that plot.  Our fingers were also in different stories at the time, too.  So, we had put in as a placeholder that she would shoot a grappling hook up to the top and grapple up the side of the building.  That’s something we’ve all seen before.  The production, led by Marc Alpert, who was our producer on the ground in Toronto that really brought this to life, said, “We just don’t think any grapple hook could reach that high.”  We said, “We agree.  We just know she needs to get up there, and we have all this other stuff to figure out.”  And he really came up with this idea that she would have this device that plugged into the grooves along a building, that they all have, where the window washing platforms hook into, and that this device would have a small motor in it, and she would have one handle and one foot rest, and it would move her up the side of the building.  So, we built this device and we made it work.  Afterwards, I had the huge, heavy prop shipped back to L.A. because I was just so proud of the fact that our production was able to take a cue and make it better.  That, for me, was one moment that symbolizes something that happened a lot on this show.  People were not content just to rest at something that would work.  They wanted to find something that was a little more special and a little better.

This was a show that consistently had a lot of shocking moments.  Were there particular storylines or characters that you got the most feedback from fans about?

SILVERSTEIN:  Certainly, Sean’s death in Season 3 was a shocking moment.  There were many, many fans of Sean who had a great outcry.  And then, there was Michael and Nikita getting together quicker than we had originally planned for, and the whole Mikita thing became such a fan favorite part of the series.  And then, the other moment was Nikita cutting off Michael’s hand.  That was definitely a moment that created a great reaction.  We probably moved too quickly to patch things up with that consequence.  We could have drawn that out a little more.  But, those are the kinds of things where you’re reading ahead to the shock.  You’re like, “People are going to be so shocked by this.  They’re going to be so upset.  We’ve got to say, ‘It’s okay.  He’s still gonna be on the show.  He’s still gonna be active.’” We probably over-worried, at that point.  They were shocked, but then I think they loved it. 

What do you remember about the last day of shooting?  Were you on set for that?

maggie-q-nikitaSILVERSTEIN:  I was actually not able to make it up for the last day of shooting.  I went up a little bit after that, for the wrap party.  It was really horrible, and almost nobody up there believed me, but I lost my passport.  I could not find it.  That was right when the government shut-down was happening, although I don’t think that affected the passport office, but it was really difficult.  So, I did find it the next day and I was able to get up there for the wrap party.  But, the last day was literally the last scene that you’ll see.  Marc Alpert had scheduled it that way.  And then, in true Nikita fashion, they went on to shoot some insert shots, which we were always doing, all throughout the show.  But honestly, by the end, it was a bit bittersweet because a lot of the crew that we had for a long time, who were counting on these full seasons, had already moved on to other shows that were shooting in Toronto.  So by the last day, a lot of the crew were new faces.  The key department heads who had been there the whole time were there, but there were a lot of new people, right at the end.

When you do a job like this, for this length of time, what’s the first day like that you don’t have to go to work on it?  

SILVERSTEIN:  In my case, I was already moving forward on another show – the show I’m on right now – which is a new show for AMC Network, so there was no time without it.  There was no day after, for me.  I’m happy to be able to say that pretty much all of our staff and so many of our actors are already on to new shows.  I did have the staff over to my house and it was a nice moment.  Carlos Coto, who’s an executive producer that’s written a lot of the great episodes of the show, had started a tradition called Wine Fridays, where he had this little wine fridge and would open a bottle of something, usually on Friday afternoon.  He saved the corks of every bottle and wrote on the cork in Sharpie which episode we were working on, at the time, or which crisis was happening with the show, at the time.  He saved all these corks and, when I had everyone over, we had this giant glass jar filled with these corks, and it was like going down memory lane.  We took them out, one by one, and read the Sharpie on it.  It took us back to those episodes, and those times.  That was really nice.  That’s how we said goodbye.

How did you come to do a show at AMC?  Were you looking to do something with a shorter run for cable, or was it just a happy accident? 

SILVERSTEIN:  In truth, this pilot (for Turn) was actually developed and pitched before Nikita.  It has been a long time coming.  I think precisely because it was before Nikita is why I was allowed to go make it.  Usually, you wouldn’t be able to do that for another company while you are already on a show.  That’s how that happened.  It wasn’t, “I’m coming to the end, so let me start this thing.”  This project existed from long before.  And interestingly enough, it’s a spy project.  It just happens to be set in the Revolutionary War.

nikitaIs it just a passion project that you weren’t going to let go of?

SILVERSTEIN:  Yeah.  There were many times when it looked like it would just die or go away, and there was always somebody or something there, rescuing it and bringing it back.  It had a destiny of its own.  It kept demanding that it got made, and now it is.  We’re shooting the first episode of the series, as the last season of Nikita is airing. 

And who’s in your cast?

SILVERSTEIN:  It’s a big cast, led by Jamie Bell from Billy Elliot and Tintin.  It’s a cast of great actors from all over the world, including the U.K., Australia and the U.S.

Nikita airs on Friday nights on The CW.

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