SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s series finale of Royal Pains.
Royal Pains, which ended its eight-season run tonight, was the epitome of USA Network’s “blue skies” brand – fun, light shows in beautiful locales. Set in the posh summer enclave of the Hamptons, the series starring Mark Feuerstein as concierge doctor Hank Lawson, was a breakout hit when it premiered in summer 2009. Seven years later, USA is home of darker, edgier fare highlighted by its new flagship drama Mr. Robot. The end of Royal Pains, the last of USA’s blue-sky shows, marks the end of an era for the network. In an interview with Deadline, Royal Pains co-creator/co-showrunner Andrew Lenchewski and co-showrunner Michael Rauch discuss the finale and the musical episode that preceded it, the last scene and how it bookends the series, alternative endings considered and what the future holds for the main characters: Hank, Evan, Paige, Divya, Jeremiah and Boris.
Obviously this is not the original finale you had had in mind because Brooke D’Orsay was not in the picture at the onset but how close was the series closer to what you’d had in mind?
We never spent much time trying to divine what the series finale would be. There were a few vague notions we had, about what it would be fun to do in our final Hank scene, or our final Hank/Evan scene. But ultimately, the finale had to largely serve the stories we had been telling in our final couple of seasons. And there was no real way to anticipate what those stories would be. Having said all that, looking back on the finale now, it’s nice to feel like it was really the one and only way to end the series.
What are some alternative endings you considered?
The biggest debate in the room (and with our very passionate partners at USA and UCP) was whether Hank should end up in the Hamptons, or elsewhere. Was the Hamptons just a pit stop on his road to reinvention? Or was it his ultimate destination? It was a pretty polarizing debate, with everyone bringing very strong arguments to the table. But ultimately, we felt that the audience wanted to walk away from the series, feeling like Hank’s life in the Hamptons would continue, even if they weren’t there to see it.
Was Hank always destined to end up with Jill?
And that was the second-biggest debate. Watching the pilot, and seeing her introduced as his reason for moving to the Hamptons, it does feel inevitable that they’d end up together. And ever since Jill Casey (and Jill Flint) left the show in Season 4, she was sorely missed. But we knew that if we brought her back, we had to do it in a way that felt earned, and honored the intervening seasons with her gone. So we decided to bring her back before the finale, to properly set it up. The episode we brought her back for happened to be our 100th, which only reinforced the fated quality of her return.
Was the series always going to end with Hank’s signature move putting on the sunglasses? (Here’s the end of the finale script: “As Evan smiles and walks away, we stay with Hank. Taking in the image of his full, thriving family. He smiles, throws on his shades, and looks up to find…a bright sun, in an impossibly blue sky, smiling back at him.”)
It was meant as a bookend to the final moment of the pilot, when he does the exact same thing. But Mark made the moment truly magical. Because he showed up on set, and showed us that he had kept that exact pair of prop glasses from the pilot, and thought it would be a nice little reward for those who had watched from the beginning. Visually, poetically, and emotionally, it became the perfect grace note to end the series on.
HankMed folded with the original gang of Hank, Evan and Divya all leaving, but in the final scene of the finale set three years later, the concierge practice was up and running again. Is that just for the summer season or the company was launched with now-Dr.Divya Katdare and Jeremiah?
We imagine that Dr. Katdare and Dr. Sacani are running the medical side of HankMed throughout the year, while Hank returns for the busy season, the summers. Of course the business side continues to be controlled by Evan R. Lawson, CEO, though he needs help as he’s also running Hamptons Heritage, so Evan gives his children an early at-home MBA in business management and revenues.
What’s the future for Hank and Jill – work in Africa and spend the summer in the Hamptons?
Hank and Jill will travel the world together helping to establish and provide medical attention to those in need. And, yes, they will return home to the Hamptons, and their families, in the summer time. Their future children will accrue serious future frequent flyer miles.
Will Hank ever return to the ER?
When Hank is needed in the ER he will always help out, but he’s happiest when operating outside the bureaucracy of a hospital.
Where do you see the characters 5 years from now? Will Boris rule over Russia?
Hank and Jill globetrotting, saving lives and raising their own kids. Evan successfully making Hamptons Heritage a profitable hospital, while also catering to those who cannot afford hospital care. Paige running the Hamptons’ most successful antique store, ‘Lawson and Berger – Past and Present’. After finally getting legally married, Evan and Paige will install a full court basketball court inside Shadow Pond, so their five children can one day form a team. Divya will be professionally satisfied as a physician, and a mother, realizing, and embracing the fact that no one can do everything. Jeremiah will win a Lasker Award, and just miss out on a Nobel Prize for his work with decoding genetic disorders. And Boris, well, he will be doing some very under-the-radar important work, in a very volatile country, but if we tell you any more Dieter will have to kill you.
How did the musical episode come about?
First of all, USA network said “Yes.” We are always looking for new ways to tell Royal Pains‘ stories, and since we are blessed with an incredibly talented cast of actors who can also sing, dance, and are brave enough to do it all on camera, it felt like a musical episode could both capture the tone of our world, and challenge us to try out another way of storytelling. Also, one of the innumerable benefits of making television in New York City is that the reservoir of guest stars is filled with Broadway performers who often do musical theater. The opportunity to combine New York’s bevy of great talent along with our own incredibly gifted cast was too much to pass up. And once we tricked Tom Kitt into writing the music, we knew it was a risk worth taking.
Musical episodes are always risky. Why did you decide to have it as the show’s penultimate installment?
Using a musical to set up our series finale felt like a fun way to platform the end of Royal Pains, in that we’d be giving the audience something different, and unexpected, both as a penultimate episode, but also as cliffhangers into our finale. It also felt like it would allow the series finale to breathe a little on its own, and not feel like a ‘to be continued’ from the prior week. Then, practically speaking, a musical requires months of ramp-up, to find a songwriter, to let that songwriter write the songs, then have our actors learn and record them…we quickly realized to do this right we’d need as much time as possible to prepare, so we pushed it as late into the season as we could, without infringing on the series finale.
How does it feel to be the last of USA’s brand of blue sky comedic dramas?
We feel so lucky that we got to be on the right network, at the right time. And so grateful, to have had such enormous and consistent support, from both USA and UCP, starting with the marketing blitz that launched Season One, and ending with the massive P.R. campaign they’ve waged this season for our sendoff. (#RoyalFarewell) Obviously, the network is evolving, as is the entire TV landscape. But for 8 years, the tone of our show and the tone of the network were one and the same. So we had the amazing fortune to be on a network that just let us be us. For writers, that’s a very rare gift.