Dule Hill, James Roday
To call Psych creator and executive producer Steve Franks an optimist would be a bit of an understatement.
When asked when he first thought of doing a musical episode of the USA cult favorite, Franks readily admits that it was during production on the pilot — before the project had even been picked up to series.
"We did a lot of driving shots where [stars James Roday and Dulé Hill are] being towed by a trailer and then the cameras are mounted on the car so when that happens, these two guys are stuck in the car," Franks tells TVGuide.com. "You can hear everything they're saying the whole time and between every single take as we're turning around, they started singing. They were singing nonsense stuff and making up bits and singing songs. I was like, 'Wow, these guys can really sing and they're just fantastic performers. We could do a musical episode.'"
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It may have sounded like a long-shot at the time, but lo and behold, seven years later, Psych: The Musical premieres Sunday at 9/8c on USA. So what took so long? "Of course I insisted, like, I want to write these songs and I want to direct it. I kind of wanted to do everything so I think I was the big impediment with this thing going off," Franks says with a laugh. After trying to tackle the project in Season 3 to no avail — "at that point I was still figuring out how to run a television show" — plans for the musical were finally announced in 2011. "I thought, I'm going to announce it at Comic-Con to force myself to do it," he recalls.
Sadly for eager Psych-os, it would be another year before the musical truly started to take shape. "I give him lots of credit for waiting until he had a concept that he knew we had a real shot at executing. I think it's a fair question for any show that does a musical at this point, especially in the culture of shows that are just musicals every week," Roday says. "It was definitely something that was sort of ever present in our heads: If we're going to do this, we've got to have a pretty good reason for why and we've got to blow it out of the box."
Fortunately, Psych's creator was not only very ambitious, but also very well-versed in songwriting. The only issue Franks had was switching gears from writing rock songs for his band of 20-plus years, The Friendly Indians, to writing showtunes. All in all, Franks penned 12 original songs for the musical, in addition to the script. "It was like a vacation for me, oddly enough, but I've never worked harder on anything in my life," he says.
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The same holds true for the cast. After seven years in the holding stage, the cast and crew only had 14 days to shoot the entire two-hour musical once things kicked into high gear. "We literally had half a day with a choreographer on a Saturday to go through all the choreography for all the numbers in the whole show. It was like, 'OK, a lot of this isn't going to stick," Roday says. "We're always ready to look silly if it helps make the show work, so I don't think any of us were that concerned about dancing badly."
Other than letting a few dance moves slide by the wayside, however, Franks, Roday & Co. knew the pressure was on to create a musical episode that was both worthy of the fans who had waited so long, and a satisfying response to its naysayers. "We've taken pretty big swings on this show so far. Some of them have been successes and some of them have been hot messes, and one of the cool things about Psych is that we're not afraid to fall on our face," says Roday, who shares a memorable tango with Timothy Omundson. "Sure, I think there were some people that probably, rightfully, voiced the concerns that go along with doing a musical episode, but we didn't really listen. We rarely listen."
Although musical TV series like Glee, Smash and Nashville have become a big part of the zeitgeist in the last few years, so have single all-musical episodes of shows, some of which have been more well-received (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer) than others (see: Grey's Anatomy). "There were always a handful of people who were like, 'Oh man, don't do the musical thing. I never liked those episodes of television shows,' and I can understand where it would feel wrong," Franks says. "This episode, if you take the songs out of it, it's still one of the most entertaining [episodes] and just my favorite in terms of story."
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And just as Psych has done so many times before with pop culture landmarks like Twin Peaks and the film Clue, the special also pokes fun at the musical genre, since it centers on an ill-fated musical playing in Santa Barbara. "It takes all the conventions of a musical and comments on them and puts them through the Psych machine in such a way, that even if you don't like the songs, all the things that happen in our show are still happening," Franks says. "It's a regular Psych episode that just happens to have songs in there."
Even those who are a fan of musicals, but not a fan of Psych (yet) will be able to get in on the fun. "I designed it not only for people who hate musicals or like musicals, but I also designed it for people who have never seen Psych before because every character is introduced, who they are, what their relationship is," Franks says. "So it's basically ready to go to Broadway."
Psych: The Musical airs Sunday at 9/8c on USA.
Watch the opening number, "Santa Barbara Skies," now: