Quick: name the hit American TV show developed in a lab in Quebec. The show is “Bones,” and author Kathy Reichs based Temperance Brennan — the heroine of her crime novels which inspired the TV series — on her own experiences as a Montreal-based forensic anthropologist. Reichs’ 13th Temperance Brennan novel, “Spider Bones,” comes out in August but the first episode she’s ever written for the series, “The Witch and the Wardrobe,” airs Wednesday in Canada on Global and Thursday on Fox in the U.S.
The show, which stars Emily Deschanel as forensic anthropologist Temperance (Bones) Brennan and David Boreanaz as FBI special agent Seeley Booth, is a Top 20 hit in Canada, ranking 12th overall the week of April 19-26 with close to 1.7 million viewers according to preliminary audience data from BBM Canada. Many fans watch “Bones” for the opposites-attract chemistry between the two leads, but it was the forensic science setting that provided the initial, and unusual, spark.
For 20 years, Reichs has been working as a forensic anthropologist at the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de medecine legale for the province of Quebec. In a recent conference call, the Chicago native talked about how she first came to Montreal. A professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Reichs got word of a one-year exchange program offered by the Montreal universities of McGill and Concordia. Having just completed a French course, she jumped at the offer. While she was teaching in Quebec, the Laboratoire des Sciences was seeking someone who was board certified in forensic anthropology and could also speak French.
“They had a pool of one candidate,” says Reichs, “and that was me.” When her exchange year was up, Reichs went back to North Carolina and worked out a deal with UNC where she would commute one week of every six to Montreal. “I’ve been doing that ever since 1990,” she says.
Reichs is frequently called upon to be an expert witness in forensic evidence in cases on both sides of the border and beyond. She has testified before the UN Tribunal on Genocide in Rwanda and done forensic work at Ground Zero at the site of the World Trade Center in New York. When it comes to forensic evidence, there’s not much difference between Canada and the U.S., she says. “In Canada, when I give evidence, I have to stand up.”
Reichs acknowledges that forensic teams were pretty much “deep background” on TV shows when she first started writing her Temperance Brennan books in the early ’90s. There was Jack Klugman as “Quincy,” a gruff TV coroner in the ’80s, but even he operated mainly on footwork and intuition, says Reichs. “My colleagues, we don’t know how we all of a sudden became hot and sexy,” she says.
Reichs submitted her first novel — based on her forensic crime lab experiences — in 1996 and figures it was the O.J. Simpson trial that really kick started general interest in the gory details. “People listened to that stuff twenty-four/seven,” she says. “Blood spatter patterns and DNA angles, stab wounds and trajectory.” On television, it helped that the “CSI” crime lab franchise had already become a world wide hit when Fox launched the more romantically driven “Bones” in 2005.
Reichs’ episode, “The Witch in the Wardrobe,” finds Booth and Brennan investigating a cabin in the woods where two bodies — one a modern day witch and one from the days of the Salem Witch Trials — send the investigative team into the world of Wicca in order to catch a killer.
Reichs, who was born in 1950, says writing for television is a very different process than the solitary act of writing a novel. With the TV show, she had to submit an idea, wait for studio and production approval, write a long outline, get more approvals and then “break” the story in a room with staff writers. “Working in the writer’s room with that brain trust and bouncing ideas around was really fun for me,” she says. Once the script is completed, it still has to go through Canadian-raised executive producer Hart Hanson’s typewriter.
“They change a lot of it, which is also a shock to me,” says Reichs. Would she do it again? “Absolutely,” says Reich, sounding a lot like her ever-focused forensic sleuth. “I shouldn’t waste all that newly acquired skill.”
As for the whole “should they or shouldn’t they” debate about the two main characters on the show, Reichs is firmly on the “shouldn’t” side. “Once you do the deed, you’re done,” she says, referencing such past TV romantic entanglements as those on “The X-Files” and “Moonlighting.” Reich says the chemistry between the two leads was there “right from the day Emily auditioned” and the producers — of which Reichs is one — should keep that simmering. Bringing the two leads romantically together, she feels, “speaks to the beginning of the end.”
That’s not something Reichs is anxious to hasten. The Fox series recently passed the 100 episode milestone and has already been renewed for a sixth season. After that, who knows, says Reichs. “I’d like to see it go 1,000 episodes,” she jokes. The season finale airs May 19 (in Canada) and 20.
Beyond that, Reichs is already thinking ahead. She has written a “Young Tempy” novel called “Virals” which will be out in November. It will follow the adventures of Temperance’s niece, 14-year-old Tori Brennan, and her teen friends. “There is an element of fantasy. They have special abilities,” adds Reichs, “but they’re definitely not vampires.”
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.