From Script to Screen: How 'The Blacklist' Turned to a Fan Favorite to Ramp Up the Funny (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
The scenes you remember from your favorite television shows don’t often start out that way. From conception to the page to the small screen, changes are made for creative, budgetary and/or time constraints that you’re often not aware of. In the From Script to Screen series, we break down a pivotal scene from the current TV season with the people who put pen to paper, to give us an exclusive inside look at how an original idea transforms into a memorable TV moment.
Five seasons in, The Blacklist is leaning into the comedy.
In Wednesday’s episode, titled “Miss Rebecca Thrall,” NBC’s crime thriller returns to form with a traditional case of the week featuring a new blacklister for Raymond Reddington (James Spader), his criminal empire in ruins, to track down. Strapped for cash and resources, Red is forced to turn to the person he despises seeking help from the most: his go-to tracker Glen (guest star Clark Middleton), whose dayside cover as a lowly employee at the Department of Motor Vehicles boosts his otherwise mediocre stock.
Creator Jon Bokenkamp broke down the moment Red reluctantly asks Glen for money to complete his latest con, telling ET that the scene sheds light on the characters’ complex relationship. “It’s a nice balance of a traditional blacklister, which we haven’t really had yet this season, and the fun [that] comes through a great con that Red is working with Glen,” he tells ET. Bokenkamp also reveals that he didn’t intend for Glen to appear in the episode at all, sharing that he had originally conceived for Red to turn to a real-life celebrity (an opportunity to stunt cast, mainly) to ask for funds. Willie Nelson and famous sports figures were bandied about as pie-in-the-sky wishes.
“We realized we had the perfect character on the show already and then the scene took shape in a really great way,” Bokenkamp says, adding that it reveals nuggets about Glen’s life outside of work. “We learned that Glen actually has money and wants nothing more than to be friends with Red. [The scene] put him in a great position of power, which he usually is not. At the end of the day, it dramatized the situation Red is in this season, where it’s not the same old, same old.”
Bokenkamp notes that the opening of the scene, which sees Red sitting uncomfortably between an older woman eating leftover chicken from a Tupperware container and an elderly man coughing loudly, are the ones he tends to gravitate towards. (Side note: Bokenkamp confesses he’s “not a big leftovers [person]”: “It makes my toes curl,” he says with a laugh.) “Everyone can relate to sitting next to that person at the DMV. Those moments are so much more important to me than how a car chase looks like or an explosion,” he explains.
Red’s quip about Glen’s living situation -- that he’s a millionaire still living with his mother -- came from conversations Bokenkamp and Spader, also an executive producer, had over the years. “The more I started thinking about it, the more it made sense. It is a little bit of a dig to the character of Glen. That’s how Red feels about him,” Bokenkamp says. “They don’t get along, but there is an affinity for the other. And at the end of the day, Glen is one of the people in Red’s inner circle who didn’t abandon him. I think Reddington is deeply grateful for that.”
Bokenkamp dug into the constraints that often come with having a show on a broadcast network, crediting the “limitations” as making The Blacklist “a better show.” “What surprises me is what we can show versus what we can say. We can’t show the top two inches of the rear of a man’s buttcrack, but we can show people being murdered straight up every week, which blows my mind,” he admits, referencing Glen’s PG-13 version of swearing, as noted in the script below. “I’m sure, in the cable version, he’d say, ‘Are you f***ing with me?’ But it’s almost more fun that he says, ‘Are you dickin’ with me?’ Who talks like that?”
One major piece of the episode that Bokenkamp was ultimately forced to let go of was the use of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ classic 1975 tune, “Who Loves You,” which he says is “Glen’s anthem.” They ultimately could not afford the song, and where it fell in the scene didn’t make it worthwhile. “I have an iPhone full of strange, old and eclectic songs that will hopefully, one day, make it into the show and that one definitely feels like it would fit,” he says.
See Bokenkamp’s notes from the script below, detailing the changes and cuts that were made for TV.
Though the early plan for the episode didn’t initially include Glen, Bokenkamp calls the fan favorite a key cog in the Blacklist machine: “If there was a Blacklist Thanksgiving dinner, I’m sure he would be sitting at the head of the table carving the turkey.” The producer also promises that Red and Glen’s unique partnership will come to a surprisingly resonant end in Wednesday’s episode.
“A favorite moment of mine that comes out of trying to have Red beg for money from Glen ultimately ends up becoming a very warm, unusual [and] very emotional moment,” he hints. “It’s not a big revelation, it’s actually a very, very small moment. Like the lady pulling the chicken apart at the DMV, it’s one of those small moments that has very big meaning on the show.”
Watch the final version of the scene between Red and Glen below.
The Blacklist airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.