After three weeks of airing on Thursdays, CBS’ 13-episode murder mystery series Harper’s Island makes a move tonight to its new Saturday-at-9 p.m. timeslot. Despite the fact that Harper’s didn’t make the viewership cut in its old timeslot (it averaged 8.3 million viewers and declined with each airing), the frothy, creepy little show—which follows a group of wedding guests who discover that they’re spending the celebratory weekend with a crazed serial killer—deserves your attention.
In a Q&A below, exec producer Jon Turteltaub (who also produced the cult hit Jericho) tells EW.com why it’s not too late to get hooked on Harper’s—and having seen tonight’s episode, I can vouch for his assertion that the twisted tale is starting to get really good.
But first, enjoy an exclusive clip from tonight’s episode that finds the groom Henry (Ugly Betty’s Christopher Gorham) with his buddies on the day of his bachelor party. Of course, on Harper’s Island, the festivities include a dead body, a bloody bag of money, and a sinking boat, too.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ok, let’s hear the pitch—why is now the right time to check Harper’s out?
JON TURTELTAUB: I think episode four really sucks you into thecharacters. We committed ourselves to five episodes to really get thecharacters introduced, introducing the circumstances, and getting theaudience involved. At the end of episode five, there is a major turningpoint in the course of the show. There’s a key death that the firstcharacters in the show see. Even through episode four, no one reallyknows that there are murders taking place yet. After episode five, thecharacters realize what the audience already knows.
So far all the people getting killed have been secondary characters. Are some of the more main characters—like Henry—getting killed soon?
We had a great surprise when Harry Hamlin died in the first episode.But I can guarantee you, big players will surprisingly disappear muchsooner than you think they might.
How do you keep the story going? Wouldn’t everyonejust exit the island immediately?
They would like to, and there’s a moment at which they try to and can’t. And that’s why you set things on an island.
After the jump: “They’re not canceling it,” reveals Turteltaub. Plus, the show’s inspiration, how Turteltaub feels about the move to Saturday night, and how we shouldn’t assume we’ve met the killer yet.
It seems like everyone is a suspect and, yet, at the same time, they seem innocent. Can you promise me that there’s going to be payoff at the end of the season? Are you going to piece together how it all happened for us?
If you’re asking an audience to commit to a show like this, it’s not enough to just tell them who’s doing the murders; you’ve really got to give them the reasons why. When it all adds up, it’ll make sense. You’ll understand all the murders and why they’re happening. It doesn’t all come out at once—a lot of it will come out before the end. You’ll start getting more information. You don’t need to wait until the last episode to know everything.
Are there clues we should be watching for in each episode?
If you were to watch the show a second time, the show would have a whole new meaning. You’d suddenly be able to read into certain scenes about what was going on for the killer. For example, don’t assume you’ve met the killer yet.
As for legendary (and presumed dead) serial killer John Wakefield, is it possible he might still be alive—or is there some proxy working for him?
It’s tricky. Are you supposed to think Wakefield is still alive and the mass murderer is out there doing it again? Or are we trying to make you think that’s a mislead? All of these things could be in the cards.
Does the wedding actually happen? If we continue at this rate, we’ll go well past the wedding.
I can’t tell you. Right now every episode is a day, and soon, an episode takes up less than a day.
What’s the deal with the creepy little girl Madison? Is she there to spook us or are we supposed to consider her a suspect?
I’m glad she’s spooky, and she does, in fact, enjoy killing snails, but it’s one of those things where you wonder is that the creepy mislead and has no meaning? Is she somehow tied into the killer? Is there more than one killer? Is she helping the killer? She could just be there for mood or a kid could be a sympathetic victim if she finally goes.
How’d it feel for the show to be moved to Saturday night? Is it a good thing if the alternative was to be canceled totally?
A good thing would have been for us to be the biggest hit ever on Thursday night at 10. I think the move is CBS’ way of saying, “Okay, it’s not hitting somehow on Thursday night at 10, let’s see if we can hit on Saturday night.” They’re not canceling it. They’re never going to take it off. They’re going to show all 13 episodes. They just want to find a time where people can watch it.
Fans would be upset if they didn’t get to watch it until the end.
It’s weird, we ran into this the first time when we made Jericho. It was a little controversial because we had to shoot an ending not knowing if we’d be canceled or not. It was like handing the coffin-maker the nails for your coffin. But here, we’ve shot them all and they’re going to air them all. They’re not going to rob the audience of that experience.
What inspired this show?
What inspired the whole notion of it is the gradual elimination of characters, which you see in Friday the 13th, or on Survivor. It was really designed to be a marriage between those two genres. They both involve the trauma that comes from eliminating characters, but what narrative television gives you also is who is doing the eliminating. What Survivor and American Idol don’t have is any mystery over who’s doing it. Even if you knew who’s going to be killed next on our show, you don’t know who’s going the killing. Even when you find out who the killer is, you still have the mystery of who is going to be killed next. You will definitely know who the killer is before the final episode. The goal is to keep it exciting, but have the ending be better than the ending of a Scooby Doo episode.
Anything else you want to tell fans?
The show starts in a good place, but it gets better and better as it goes on. The more into it you get, the deeper and deeper it goes.
So, what say you, PopWatchers? Are you gonna travel to Saturday nights with Harper’s Island? You thinking of catching up now and jumping on board? Do you like the show? Loathe it?
More on ‘Harper’s Island’ from EW:
‘Harper’s Island’: You can resurrect Saturday night TV!
CBS moves ‘Harper’s Island’ to Saturday
‘Harper’s Island’: Who’s gonna die tonight?
‘Harper’s Island’: Was it seriously ‘debauch’?
‘Southland’ vs. ‘Harper’s Island’: New-show face-off!
Spring TV preview: CBS’s ‘Harper’s Island’