SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details and an exclusive clip from tonight’s The Exorcist Season 1 finale.
“We always designed this show as less a collection of 10 individual episodes and more as a 10-hour story broken down into installments,” says The Exorcist creator/executive producer Jeremy Slater, whose Fox series is concluding its first season tonight with some evil integration, struggling priests and a Papal visit to Chicago that could go fatally wrong if old foes get their way. (Check out the exclusive clip we have from the finale below)
With no word on whether Fox is bringing back the faith-drenched series toplined by Geena Davis, Ben Daniels and Alfonso Herrera, tonight’s Slater-penned and Jason Ensler-directed episode “Chapter Ten” could be the last gasp of the small-screen adaptation. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 45 years, you know that the series derives from William Peter Blatty’s bestseller and the blockbuster 1973 William Friedkin film.
Having just fully wrapped tonight’s finale Wednesday, Slater spoke with me about how the demonic terrorizing of the Rance family will end the first season, plus his plans and hopes for a second season if Fox gives the show another shot. The EP also discussed the decisions behind the very distinctly non-Big 4 look and tone of The Exorcist the TV series, its relationship with the 1973 movie, the challenges of keeping those big twists a secret, and the show’s passionate fan base.
DEADLINE: With the finale now done and about to air, what is your perspective on The Exorcist the TV show?
SLATER: We told the story we set out to tell and I think we did it without ever compromising our vision or our ideals. Hopefully at the end of the day, we took audiences on a really fun, emotional and surprising ride. I’m incredibly proud of the season as a whole. It came together better than I ever dreamed possible, and so much of that is a testament to our showrunner Rolin Jones, to the writing room and to the amazing cast and crew.
DEADLINE: There’s been nothing official said either way, but tell me, is The Exorcist coming back?
SLATER: I don’t know if this is the end of The Exorcist story, I definitely hope it’s not because I love these characters and this world and I have a lot more story to tell. But if this is all we get, then I feel we went out swinging and on a real high note.
DEADLINE: So, is the finale constructed as stand-alone conclusion or set to lead on to more?
SLATER: I knew going into the show, before our first show ever debuted, I knew that I didn’t want to end the season on a cliffhanger, if that answers your question? Because I’m personally not a fan of cliffhangers in serialized storytelling, I feel it cheats the audience and it’s a last way to create suspense. My goal was then that this first season needed to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end and that story was the possession of the Rance family. So by the conclusion of this episode, you will get a satisfying ending to that story, as was my plan.
DEADLINE: Which sounds like Geena Davis’ Angela or Regan, depending on your perspective, won’t be a part of a Season 2?
SLATER: (Laughs) My general response is that the characters that survive tonight’s finale and still have interesting stories to tell — you will absolutely see them again in the future if we have one. Partially because I think we’ve create a big and exciting world with a mythology that we barely begun to scratch the surface of, and I think there are stories to be told in this world to be told for years to come.
DEADLINE: That sounds very general…
SLATER: Well, every season of The Exorcist has to wrap up the emotional storyline you’ve been following – otherwise you are just spinning plates. Cause if you now have Season 3 and come back for demonic Alan Ruck, I just think audiences roll their eyes and lose interest in that show very quickly – I know I would. I think you have to always be evolving and changing and finding new stories to tell as opposed to figuring out ways to keep the status quo alive?
DEADLINE: By that logic, would a further season mean we wouldn’t see Ben Daniels’ Marcus and Alfonso Herrera’s Tomas, as well as Geena and the rest of the Rance family?
SLATER: I don’t think The Exorcist would ever become an anthology series like American Horror Story where you are basically starting over fresh with a brand new batch of characters every year, because audiences have an emotional investment in Marcus and Tomas and their journey at this point.
I think Tomas and Marcus are the heart of the show and I think that maybe as long as they are both alive they would always be the central focus of the series. But I also think each season would have its own case, its possessed family or individual that needs their priestly help. I think it would cheat our audience to bring in a new set of priests. The show would not exist if we didn’t have Ben and Alfonso — they embody those characters even more that I could have possibly dreamed, they brought so much from their own lives and their own personalities to make the characters come alive. And for our lead priests, Rolin and I felt those actors had to be discoveries for American audiences, that you can’t just turn around and grab a bunch of actors from CSI or Brothers And Sisters and stick them in a priest collars. We needed our Marcus and Tomas to feel like they sprung into the world.
So Season 1 was all about the Rance family and the visit of the Pope to Chicago and a Season 2 would mean our challenge would be to come up with a new storyline that was just as exciting and emotionally gripping – but that doesn’t mean we won’t see the Rance family again.
DEADLINE: Sounds like a second season is more of sequel, no?
SLATER: We always designed this show as less a collection of 10 individual episodes and more as a 10-hour story broken down into installments. Approaching it from that angle means that if you haven’t seen the whole season before the finale, it really works as a great show for binge-watching – because there are a lot of big propulsive twists and cliffhangers that carry you from episode to episode. Whether we get a second season or not, with what we’ve done, I think viewers will get 10 hours of entertaining TV.
A single ratings point could mean the difference between cancellation or renewal, so tell your friends and family to tune in. We need you.
— Jeremy Slater (@jerslater) December 16, 2016
DEADLINE: How far have you planned and plotted a Season 2 in anticipation of a possible renewal?
SLATER: I definitely know where I want to go in Season 2 and what characters I want to take with me. I have a lot of plans, but one lesson that I learned in the course of this season is that it’s great to have big ideas but you have to also have the flexibility to pivot on a dime. I probably had the first half of this season planned out in my mind before we started shooting, but we had no idea what the back half of the season was or how we were going to wrap things up. That was a process of discovery of trusting the writers’ room, trusting the writers, it’s the most gratifying part of a television process for me. I have a 1000 ideas for another season of The Exorcist but I’ve learned to keep my options open so we can really craft it.
DEADLINE: Speaking of watching, I spoke to fans at New York Comic-Con when you guy were there who said they felt the aesthetics of The Exorcist didn’t look like it belonged on broadcast but premium cable. Did that approach make it harder for you with your debut TV series?
SLATER: We had this mandate to every department that every episode had to look and feel like a 43-minute movie so we can emulate and honor the cinematic style of the original William Friedkin-directed film. So it definitely made it harder production-wise because the tough reality is quality takes time and we were racing to meet deadlines to finish this.
Still, at the end of the day, people will not tune in week after week for just shock value and seeing the gore and bloodshed, you have to care about the characters and the people that you follow for 10 or 13 or 20 hours. So we knew the show was going to live or die on who we had and we had a great cast with Geena, Ben, Alfonso, Kurt, Hannah, Brianne and Alan.
DEADLINE: Looking back, wasn’t adapting a classic film and book like The Exorcist to the small screen a bridge too far — even in this age of adaptations?
SLATER: (Laughs) Everyone likely approached the idea of an Exorcist adaptation on television with the same skepticism that I know I would as a fan if I was on the outside looking in. You can’t take the scariest movie of all time and do it justice on network TV was the attitude. So, we knew the deck was stacked against us. So, if you looked at this show and it had the slick glossy aesthetic that people associate with network TV, no one would ever give it a fair shake.
We had to give it that cinematic quality in order to even get that fair shake – which we achieved I think. A lot of that credit has to go to Rupert Wyatt, who directed our pilot, and our DP Alex Disenhof, who shot every episode this season and really fought to maintain that consistent tone and grit and texture that a lot of people probably don’t associate with network TV.
DEADLINE: And you of course paid homage to the 1973 film and picked up from it when halfway through the season you revealed that Geena Davis’ character was actually Regan, the character played by Linda Blair in the movie. Was that always part of the plan or something that evolved after the pilot got picked up?
SLATER: It was always an idea that I had in my back pocket and I was terrified to share it with anyone. Even when we took out the show as a pitch, I never told anyone about the twist. Even when we were shooting the pilot, I believe that there were only four people who actually knew the twist – myself, our showrunner Rolin Jones, Rupert and then of course Geena herself.
Obviously that knowledge of who she really is informs a lot of the character decisions Geena’s making our first couple of episodes. We didn’t tell Fox, we didn’t tell the crew or the other actors because I knew it was such an explosive element that the second that cat was let out of the bag we would never be able to stuff it back in there. I was probably ridiculously annoying about keeping that twist secret and we all lied to the press and other actors quite a bit for about six months – especially Geena when she was asked if there was a connection with the original movie or if Linda Blair was going to show up on the show.
DEADLINE: Even parked on Friday nights, you guys held steady for the most part in your ratings and saw some strong delayed viewing upticks in Live + 3 and Live + 7 numbers…
SLATER: We don’t have the biggest fan base but the ones we have are incredibly passionate one, I’ve discovered. They are tweeting, voting for People’s Choice Awards and sending us fan art and poetry, really evangelizing and spreading the word for the show. Hopefully, if the stars align, we’ll get to tell then and others more Exorcist.
DEADLINE: Did you ever hear from Billy Friedkin about the show?
SLATER: No, I never heard from Friedkin but I spoke with William Peter Blatty in the beginning when I was writing the pilot. We had a couple of very nice phone calls but I haven’t spoken to him since so I have no idea if he was following the show or enjoying it. I hope that they are both aware that the people making this show are enormous fans of the original movie and fighting so hard to live up to that giant achievement.
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