Manifest creator on the show surviving its death date and what to expect from the final 20 episodes
"We're going to keep making the show that everyone fell in love with," Jeff Rake says of the supernatural drama's future at Netflix.
It's been a turbulent journey, to say the least, but Manifest is returning to our screens for a fourth and final season via Netflix — and EW has the scoop on what to expect from series creator and showrunner Jeff Rake.
The streaming giant announced over the weekend that it was rescuing Rake's supernatural drama, which follows the passengers of Montego Air Flight 828 after they disappear for five and a half years, only to return having no concept of how long they've been gone or where they've been. They also start experiencing mysterious "callings."
NBC initially canceled the show after three seasons, despite many cliffhangers and Rake's plans for a six-season series. But not unlike the passengers of Flight 828, Manifest has come back from oblivion. After a few months of fans campaigning on social media and the show performing well on Netflix, Rake is headed back into the writers' room to figure out how to condense his remaining three seasons' worth of material into 20 episodes. But first, he talks us through the bumpy ride from cancellation to resurgence to finally getting the go-ahead for one last season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations, Jeff!! What was your reaction when you found out all your efforts to save the show had paid off?
JEFF RAKE: Oh my goodness. It's such a combination of emotions, from gratitude to humility to shock and awe and incredible excitement. It's been a spectrum of emotions from June, when we got the bad news, to July, when we started sniffing the possibility of a future for us. Then there was a month of uncertainty where it looked like something might come together, but there were many hurdles to jump and so you manage your expectations. You're hoping for the best but don't want to go through a second round of disappointment. Thankfully I've had colleagues and family to accompany me along this journey, but the result is so incredible.
We see these fan campaigns on social media all the time after show cancellations, and so few of them are successful. Why do you think it worked this time around? It must feel good to know the fans are so invested.
It was incredibly cool. It was also a really big challenge. It was important to me to stay in communication with the fans. I was enjoying this incredible wave of new love and support for the show as we blew up on Netflix in June and July. All of a sudden my social numbers are going up and the cast's social numbers are going up and there's all these new fans. They want to know more, they want to understand what's what's happening. It was actually really tricky because I wanted to keep everyone engaged to keep people watching. There were a lot of people on social who were asking the very understandable question "Why should I be watching this show if you're telling me there's no ending?" That was a really fair question. By the time we got to mid-to-late-July, it became clear that we might find our way out of this and be able to keep making more episodes, but that certainly wasn't something that I could talk about on social because it was just a kernel of a negotiation and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to be sharing that information, and yet I needed to figure out a way to keep optimism alive out there because I wanted people to keep watching. If you go back and look at my tweets and Instagram and Facebook posts over the past two months, I —probably in a way that really frustrated fans — coyly continue to offer up these quasi-positive aphorisms to keep the faith.
Having faith was a big theme on the show last season too.
You're right, it was a theme of last season. It's an underlying theme of the entire series. My fellow producers and I had been talking about it, there is something very meta about the show's death and rebirth, given that that's the story of the series itself.
To quote the show, "It's all connected!"
It is all connected! Not to get overly spiritual on you, but we have really been feeling that the universe is looking out for us.
So back in June when you spoke with EW, Netflix had passed on picking up the show. What changed over the last couple of months? Was it just the consistently high viewing numbers?
I think so. I guess that's really a question for Netflix, and I wasn't a direct part of those conversations. The only thing that I know is that unlike most shows that drop on Netflix and have eight episodes at a time or 10 episodes at a time, we dropped 29 episodes all at once. So my suspicion is that it took the viewers a while to dig in to all of those episodes. It's possible that it took a longer than a typical show to binge the entirety of the series. After 28 days in that No. 1 slot, the world was obviously taking notice, and apparently we matched Tiger King in terms of longest streak in the No. 1 spot. My guess is some heads were turning behind the scenes by that point as well. Sometimes the unlikely happy ending comes up right away, but more typically we have to wait for a good result, and that was the case here and I couldn't be more delighted. Truly worth the wait.
So you have 20 episodes for your fourth and final season. You initially planned to have six seasons. Are you condensing story lines? Do you have to make any changes to the endgame?
The endgame won't change at all. For those who've been tracking this story through June and July, they'll remember that I was hopeful in the early weeks after cancellation that someone would step up and allow us to make something as modest as a two-hour movie.
That would've been so stressful! To tie up all the loose ends in two hours…
It would have been stressful and would not have been ideal, but I would have figured out my way through it. Given that I've had to go through the thought exercise this summer of how to get to the original endgame in two episodes, six episodes, or nine episodes, I feel like it's an embarrassment of riches to have to have 20 episodes to tell the rest of the story. So yes, I have always talked about three more seasons — and part of that was chronological, because it's always been my goal get to the series finale in real time in accordance with the five and a half years that the passengers had back — and that might have to adjust somewhat depending on how these episodes roll out. The good news is I am absolutely confident that 20 episodes gives me enough time to tell the entirety of the story as I always intended to. When I've talked in the past about having a roadmap all the way to the end of series, that didn't mean that I had a roadmap for literally every single episode. I have a roadmap with a series of twists and turns and flags in the sand that we would ultimately hit in order to tell the the core stories within our mythology and within our relationship drama. So it will not be a particularly difficult exercise to overlay that same exact roadmap onto 20 episodes. It will be quite organic.
Are you still figuring out how many episodes will be released at one time?
I don't think that's been decided. I don't think that's ultimately my decision. I'll certainly have those conversations with Netflix. I'll offer my opinion. I'm sure we will come together and come up with a game plan that makes the most sense for the show. The good news for the fans is that they can absolutely expect the same show that they've been watching. Netflix has been so lovely in my conversations with them so far. They've made it quite clear that they want us to keep making the same show that we've been making. The audience shouldn't be concerned that the tone of the show is going to shift, or the method of storytelling is going to shift. We're going to keep making the show that everyone fell in love with.
Are all the core cast members going to be returning?
We haven't finished those conversations yet. I am hopeful that everybody is back. As you and I are talking right now, negotiations continue. I'm cautiously optimistic that all of our favorite characters will be returning to the story.
When do you all head back into the writers' room?
The writers' room is opening up this week. I'm already having preliminary conversations with my deputies, and we'll all be officially getting in the room together — or the Zoom room together — by the end of the week. We couldn't be more excited.
Do you have any rough timeline for when production will start and when we'll have new episodes to watch?
We certainly expect to be in production this calendar year. I'm hopeful that cameras are rolling in November or December latest. We're going to work as fast as we can while still keeping an eye on quality control, because we want to get episodes to everyone as soon as possible. We also want them to be excellent. It might take a minute for a brand-new batch of episodes to show up in people's homes, but it's going to be worth the wait.