Psych 10th anniversary: Creator, stars share memories from pilot
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the series premiere of Psych on USA Network. Created by Steve Franks, the comedy-drama followed one of TV’s most memorable bromances between fake psychic detective Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his best friend Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), who helped the Santa Barbara Police Department solve murders for eight seasons. Even though it’s been a decade since the pilot aired, the show’s creator and stars still have fond memories of working on the episode.
“The pilot was just sort of like a pencil sketch that we had to knock out of the park so that we would have the opportunity to do more,” Roday tells EW. “When I look back at the pilot, obviously I look back at it fondly because it was the beginning of everything and it was a seed that had to be planted, but when I look at the stuff that we were doing later, even as early as season two, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, we sort of turned a corner.'”
In honor of the premiere’s 10th anniversary, EW spoke to Franks, Roday, and Hill about what they remembered most about filming the pilot.
The terrible Vancouver weather made filming the Santa Barbara-set show even more exciting.
FRANKS: When we landed [in Vancouver], it rained for 11 days straight. It was like Blade Runner. We shot in October and by the end of the episode, there was snow on the ground. We had people with hair dryers melting the snow on the ground. We did the entire scene where Lassiter [Timothy Omundson] is wrestling Shawn to the ground out in front of the mansion of the bad guy and the ground was frozen solid. It was just an exciting and fun time. We were just trying to create Santa Barbara out of the Pacific Northwest and our very famous plastic palm trees were being carted around and flown behind each shot.
RODAY: I think the scene that was the most challenging was a scene way up in the mountains at this place called Buntzen Lake and it was, probably with the chill coming off the water, like 15 or 20 degrees and we were wearing these thin, Santa Barbara wind breaker-y type jackets. And Dulé is especially sensitive to the cold because he’s an islandsman at heart. The jumping around and screaming and childlike behavior that was happening between takes would become sort of a runner through the whole series — things we would do to stay warm in between takes because we were supposed to be in sunny, beautiful Santa Barbara and we just weren’t, man.
The alleyway car chase scene was one of several defining moments for the show.
FRANKS: All the car does is peel out and go down the alleyway, and that was the second I said, “This show needs to be an action show.” They budgeted completely wrong because we’re going to have action scenes because I love any time those guys are running or having to face people with real danger, it was just so fun. I liked all the outside stuff, all the challenges.
HILL: I remember that alleyway scene from the pilot too. I’d not done too many stunts before then and I had to run into Roday and I remember I came in pretty hot. I kind of felt like I was on a football field for a second there. Then, it’s like, “Oh right, we are on TV. I guess I don’t necessarily need to hit him with all of that impact.”
RODAY: [Hill] pretty much flattened me. That was also the one where I ran and dove into a driving car. These are things we just weren’t doing from like the midpoint on. It’s funny when you’re first starting the job: You’re so gung-ho and you’re a team player and you want everybody to be impressed and you’re just going for it. Four or five seasons later and it’s like, “Oh, that’ll be a fun scene for me to watch and not do.”… I think the more ridiculous, precarious situations you can put two Peter Pan-y, dips— guys in the better. You sort of want them to constantly be facing impossible odds and constantly be overcoming them. So, I think the addition of action was important for the show.
The first “we solved it dance” and the first Gus scream solidified Roday and Hill’s faith in the show.
HILL: Those two moments really solidified to me that okay, this is what this is; the sky’s the limit with this show and anything is bound to happen. You can have a serious moment and then, next thing you know, you’re running away screaming at the top of your lungs.
RODAY: The high-pitched, girly scream was cemented into the fabric of the show from jump street. I think that was an important moment.
Roday’s improvisation with a pineapple led to the show’s recurring gag.
FRANKS: So, there was just a prop pineapple on top of the fridge and it was just tickling James to pick up the pineapple and say, “You want me to cut this up for the road?” He loved it so much that I, off of his enthusiasm, grew to love it as well because we’d done this scene 15 times in all of the different pieces of coverage and every time he got to that pineapple part, he sold it in such a way that it was the most acting he did the entire day. So, I felt the need to really put it in and it was so funny.
HILL: The simple thing of the pineapple, “You want me to cut this up for the road?” started from the brilliance of Roday where he would just take what’s around him and go with it and having the freedom to do that, because that line wasn’t in the script. From there, we had this whole runner about pineapples. It was little things like that and getting happy when we thought that we solved the case. They stayed throughout the show and we were able to grow from there.
Roday and Hill’s discovery that they shared a love for ’80s music led to the first Psych-Out.
HILL: Roday and I really connected on our love of ’80s music and we would just go back and forth singing Michael Jackson tunes, Tears for Fears… Anything we could come up with from the ’80s, we would be singing them off camera. Somehow in the midst of that we formed our own ’80s group where we started coming up with our own songs and then from there, it evolved to the real smooth singer and the real hype singer. It’s stuff we just kept doing and cracking ourselves up. Then, from there, we somehow got to “Man in the Mirror,” which was me singing “Man in the Mirror” while he was doing his first wrap-up and that’s actually in the pilot. From there, we started to refine a little dynamic because they ended up filming what we were doing off camera and putting it as the first Psych-Out that’s in the pilot.
RODAY: Nobody could say anything without us turning it into the song. I think by the end of it, people might’ve been a little bit annoyed by us. We just couldn’t let it go.
The pilot is missing Detective Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson).
FRANKS: They do this testing thing on the thing and all of the characters tested off the charts. It wasn’t that Anne [Dudek, who only appeared in the pilot] tested bad. It was the reflection that people didn’t understand Lassiter was separated from his wife. They thought he was married and having an affair with her. You had to listen very carefully to know that. So, it was a reflection that through her, they were turned off to Lassiter. I knew that Lassiter was going to be the antagonist for a part of the show, but I also knew exactly where I wanted to go with [the] character and if people didn’t give him a chance we were dead in the water… We ended up moving on and we found Maggie and that was obviously the magic of what made everything work.
RODAY: It’s always been a little strange to me that Juliet wasn’t in the pilot. So when I go back and watch the pilot, there’s always a little bit of a disconnect because she obviously became such an instrumental piece of the show and a huge part of the ensemble. So that’s always a little jarring.