Back to Frank Black interviews Kay Reindl

Kay Reindl and partner Erin Maher are talented writing partners who work in TV. They have a unique, consistent and strong voice which they have used since 1997 on shows like the dark paranormal dramas “Millennium” and “Haunted”. They have also been involved in the “Twilight Zone” revival of 2002, “The Dead Zone”, the critically acclaimed “Moonlight” and the syndicated series “Legend of the Seeker”. As one half of that team, Kay Reindl co-wrote some of Millennium’s most widely celebrated episodes such as Anamesis, A Single Blade of Grass, Matroyshka and the episode we are celebrating all week, Midnight of The Century. I was delighted that Kay took time from her busy schedule to speak to BackToFrankBlack and share with us her recollections of being part of the creative team that brought us Millennium.

BACK TO FRANK BLACK: Could you tell us how yourself and Erin became involved in Millennium and what you think it is about the combination of ‘Reindl’ and Maher’ that makes for such a successful writing team and how the process of your collaboration works?

KAY REINDL: I met Glen Morgan through mutual friends. He knew Erin and I were writers and asked to read something because they were shooting a pilot for Fox (The Notorious). The pilot (sadly) didn’t go, but they went to run Millennium and asked us to come in and meet. We were completely on the same page with them, with regards to where they were going to take the show.

We’d started writing when we were working in the feature story department at Universal Pictures. The great thing about working in a story department is that you learn about the process of development: How scripts are submitted, covered, passed on or bought. And you read a lot of coverage and scripts, which is imperative if you’re going to write. So we just started writing. And we had a lot of the same interests and developed a similar voice, so that made it easier. I think it was easier since we hadn’t written scripts on our own. So we hadn’t developed individual habits. That’s a problem a lot of writing teams have and why most writers just shudder at the thought of writing with someone else.

BTFB: When ‘Season Two’ of Millennium went into development do you recall the thinking that necessitated the various changes to the shows’ thematic? Was this a collaborative process with the writers privy to the new direction the series would take that year? I believe the restoration of Frank’s visions was a particular suggestion of yours for example?

KAY REINDL: We weren’t privy to those discussions but when we met with Glen and Jim, they told us where they wanted the show to go, with more of a focus on the Millennium Group and its history. When I saw the pilot I remember thinking how cool the Millennium Group was. And my favorite episodes of the first season were the more genre episodes, like the Lucy Butler episode, which is one of the scariest episodes of TV I’ve ever seen. So it was easy for us to talk about exploring more of that in season two. We weren’t responsible for Frank’s visions coming back. It’s just that A Single Blade Of Grass had so many of them because the episode came in short, so we played twenty-one with his visions. I think if you count his visions, there are actually twenty-one.

BTFB: Anamnesis is particularly well received by fans of the franchise which is no mean feat considering it is the only episode of the canon not to feature ‘Frank Black’. Could you tell us about the evolution of the story from the concept to the screen?

KAY REINDL: Initially, we wanted to do an episode about girls having visions of the Virgin Mary, sort of a modern-day Fatima. But when we started doing research, we came across Holy Blood Holy Grail and Ean Begg’s Cult Of The Black Virgin, and decided on that direction. Glen and Jim approved it and we basically went nuts with it! It was supposed to feature Catherine but what became obvious after awhile was that it would be a stronger episode without Frank. Lance worked almost every minute on the show and I think he appreciated the break. Anytime you can still tell a good story and give your lead actor time off is nice! We’re very proud of that episode, especially in light of all the Dan Brown hoo-ha. The teaser, for example, was shot exactly how we wrote it. There’s nothing more thrilling than that.

BTFB: I recall reading an interview with Glen Morgan in respect of ‘A Single Blade of Grass.’ In it he stated that the original vision for the episode was originally very different but that he allowed himself to be influenced by the network and shape the episode a little differently. Do you recall the mechanics that influenced the episode’s development and what the original vision was?

KAY REINDL: Well, it wasn’t quite as procedural at first. And I think there were other production factors involved that kind of screwed the episode up, too. The biggest issue was that we were making changes quite deep into prep, which usually causes a bit of chaos. Our idea with that episode was to do a Ghost Dance episode, to deal with that mythology. Even though there were problems with the episode that includes the 21 visions, it was a terrific learning experience, too. And it was our first time in the editing room. We had the opportunity to see how an episode can be fixed in post-production. And believe me, the episode turned out as well as it possibly could have, given the circumstances.

BTFB: Matryoshka marked a return to the mythology of the Second Season and whilst it attempted to reconcile some of the difference in tone between the first and second season’s depiction of the ‘Millennium Group’ some fans feel the third season was lacking by not returning to the threads created by the Second Season finale, would you agree with this at all?

KAY REINDL: I’m always drawn to mythology and I loved what we got to do in season two. Season three was a different direction, which was another good learning experience for us. The most important job of a writer on staff of a TV show is to fulfill the vision of the showrunner and/or creator. And we lost our showrunner fairly early in the season, so there was a lot of adjustment that had to go on. I don’t know what the network or studio wanted of the show and that’s always something you have to take into consideration.

Of course, we wanted to do mythology anytime we could, but I think we were able to do it in a way that kept with what the third season was about. I love the guys who ran season three and have worked for one of them since. I’m proud of that episode and of course I’d love to do a whole season with Hoover and Tolson and the modern Millennium Group, but I love that we basically did Cold Case before Cold Case!

BTFB: We’ve been in the process of tracking down a number of un-produced episodes of Millennium, for example Michael R Perry’s ‘Dirty Snowball.’ We believe that during the Third Season of Millennium yourself and Erin spent a significant portion of the season working on drafts of another script, an episode with the working title “Fallen Angel,” concerning Frank Black’s attempts to arrange an FBI sanctioned exorcism. Could you tell us if there is any truth in this and what became of the episode?

KAY REINDL: One of the things we wanted to do right at the start of season three was a Millennium version of the Paul and Karla Homolka case, but we couldn’t crack it. It wasn’t Millenniumistic enough! So we took some of the elements we liked and added the Garden of Eden and Lilith. There’s an awesome hedge maze in Vancouver (you’ve seen it dozens of times on other shows) that Chris Carter would up using in his return of Lucy Butler episode. We had our Garden of Eden idea tied up with the hedge maze, so the script ended up getting tossed out. But that happens on every show. More now than it did then, certainly, but it happens.

BTFB: As we are celebrating “Midnight of the Century” with a week focussed upon that episode, I recall reading an interview that proclaimed one of the more enjoyable aspects of that episode was watching the growing friendship between Frank Black and Lara Means. Some fans have viewed some of those scenes as indication that there was a romantic fondness growing between the two, what’s your take on that?

KAY REINDL: Regarding any perceived romantic leanings, there were none. Lara’s function was to add an element of danger to Frank’s visions, to show how they could adversely affect him if he hadn’t been as grounded as he was. Their affection for each other war borne out of what they had in common and not any romantic interest.

BTFB: It’s been over a decade since Millennium’s cancellation, with hindsight how would you describe your experience of being part of that show?

KAY REINDL: Best experience ever. Even at the time we knew we were lucky to get to work on such a quality show. It’s still the high water mark for us, both for the types of stories we got to tell, and the people we got to work with. The only other show we’ve been on that came close to that was Haunted. We learned a lot on Millennium and I would love nothing better than to get a chance to explore those themes and stories again. Like Twin Peaks, the show was obviously ahead of its time. I think it would be much more popular and appreciated now.

BTFB: I wondered with regards to your work if it’s becoming easier now to get work/interviews than when you started or is the recession squeezing out people other than well-knowns?

KAY REINDL: It’s not, actually. The shows that are hot now are the straight procedurals, like CSI, and shows with humor in them. Millennium was a hybrid type of show, neither genre nor procedural, so that experience is hard to pigeonhole. And the industry has to pigeonhole writers because there are so many of them! Basically what’s happened in this business is that the middle has been totally squeezed out. Sort of like what’s happening with the middle class in this country. So anyone at midlevel is finding it harder to even get meetings.

BTFB: What can fans of yours keep their eyes open for with regards to the continuing career of Kay Reindl?

KAY REINDL: Good question! We just signed with new agents and feel like we’re getting some good traction out there. I wrote a novel during the strike and just finished another, so I’m going to be delving into the publishing world and trying to get familiar with it. Mostly, we want to work with great people on great shows, whether they’re ours or someone else’s.

A distressingly high number of writers have a lousy first experience. We were very lucky and we know what TV’s like when it’s good and when a show’s well-run. So everything we do is about getting back to that, and also letting our writer friends know that things don’t have to be awful. Showrunners don’t have to be mean and restrictive. The ultimate goal, of course, is to get our own show on the air. And just to put added pressure on us actually writing the thing, we’re working on a spec pilot that has a lot of the Millennium elements we love. So hopefully we’ll get that written soon.