Fall TV First Look: Five Burning Questions for ‘The Blacklist’

James Spader in "The Blacklist" (Photo: NBC)

The Blacklist” is making its Comic-Con panel debut Thursday — before premiering this fall on NBC (Monday, September 23 at 10/9c) — and executive producer/showrunner John Eisendrath gave xfinityTV a sneak peek at what we can expect from the thriller.

The Blacklist” begins when Red Reddington (James Spader), a former government agent who has been on the Most Wanted list for years, walks into FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. and turns himself in with one condition. He will help the Feds catch a terrorist if, and only if, he is allowed to speak to Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), a brand-new profiler starting her first day on the job.

No. 1: How important to the story is the reason that Red turns himself in? Will we get the answer this season?

“I think it is very important,” Eisendrath tells xfinityTV. “It is one of several, I hope, big questions hanging out there. Why does he turn himself in? Why does he turn himself in now? Why did he pick Elizabeth Keen? I think those are three central questions. And we certainly will give answers for all of those in the first season. It is central to the show. He has a reason that we hope that viewers will find worthy of the No. 4 [Most Wanted criminal] on The Blacklist deciding to up and turn himself in.”

Eisendrath also points out: “There will be a period of time where some of our heroes will think, ‘We’re just doing his work for him, taking out his enemies, taking out his rivals, so he can go back into the criminal world having used us to take out a lot of people who were in his way.’ But for part of the time, I think, we’ll wonder: Did he turn himself in because he was scared? Is there someone out there who scared Ray Reddington so much that he looked for protection from the FBI? And then there’ll be other times where we may feel like he has genuine penance that he’s trying to pay.”

No. 2: Once we find out the answers to those three questions, can there be more seasons? Will there be more story?

“I think that there is a relationship that will develop between Red and Liz that I think has many years of stories to tell,” Eisendrath says. “I think a first part of it will be learning what the reason that he turned himself in is, but I think once you learn that, any good answer to that question will be one that prompts four or five other questions.

“I think the answer is: Yes, we will answer some of the questions from the pilot, but those will just spin off other questions that, I hope, will push the show and pull viewers forward into subsequent seasons should we be lucky enough to have the subsequent seasons.”

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No. 3: What was the inspiration for “The Blacklist?” Did you actually read actual blacklists for it?

“There have been many police procedural or crime shows that center around the heroes, who are trying to catch the criminals. And the idea was kicked around: What about centering a show that is about catching bad guys, but put a bad guy at the center of it? And that came about at around the same time that the real-world criminal Whitey Bulger was found. He, in fact, is now on trial.

“He was one of the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives for 20 years and he was found living in Santa Monica in an apartment. Around the same time as the idea of the show was coming up, Whitey Bulger was found. And the idea was: What would happen if a man like White Bulger turned himself in?

No. 4: Why was James Spader on your most-wanted list?

“There’s a certain amount of luck that is always a part of whether a show turns out to be good or bad,” Eisendrath says. “The script that Jon Bokenkamp wrote for the pilot was great, but there’s plenty of times where a great script does not turn out to be a great pilot. And there’s a lot of reasons why that happens. In our case, I feel like we were incredibly lucky in that James Spader as an actor fit so perfectly with the character that was written…

“He’s just he’s so this character. He understands the character so well… I’ll give you one example. He always thought that his character should wear a hat, and we were all like, ‘No. No hat. No. No hat. Nobody’s going to want to see a guy with a hat.’ And he was like, ‘I think he wears a hat.’ And he was very insistent that his character would wear a hat. And he was totally right; I love the hat now. That was an example where he just had such a great feeling for how to bring this character to life in ways that we couldn’t imagine that were really enjoyable to see.”

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No. 5: In the 20 years that Red has been missing, where has he been? Because he turned himself into the FBI, does that mean he was U.S. based? Why the FBI instead of the CIA? What’s his backstory?

“We will get glimpses of his backstory frequently,” Eisendrath tells xfinityTV. “He’s going to introduce us to people that he knows, that he’s worked with. Drawing us into the world of “The Blacklist,” he’s going to be showing us glimpses of the life that he led. He has been in America part of the time, but I think, in terms of the mystery of the show he might say, ‘It may not have escaped anybody’s notice that I turned myself into the FBI. I have been around the world. You may wonder why I chose not to turn myself into the CIA. Is it possible that there are people within that community that want me dead?’

“The question of the enemies that are out there of Ray Reddington’s, they can be in the world of crime. They can be in the world of government. The enemy within as well as the enemy without. So the very premise of your question: Did he turn himself into the FBI, does beg other questions. Doesn’t it? Why to them? He’s got people on the blacklist that are going to take our heroes all over the world, but why not then turn himself into the CIA? Is there a reason for that?

“We say explicitly in the pilot that he left his wife and daughter. And, of course, we’re going to revisit that story and find out what happened to his family in the intervening 20 years and what his relationship, if any, is with them.”

“The Blacklist” premieres Monday, September 23 at 10/9c on NBC.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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