NBC TV’s ‘Blacklist’ draws on animation to thwart virus shutdown

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Raymond “Red” Reddington, a man who relishes a challenge, likely would admire how TV’s “The Blacklist” took a creative gamble amid the industry’s coronavirus-forced production shutdown to end the season with a bang, not a whimper.

This image released by Sony Pictures Television shows an animated version of Raymond “Red” Reddington, portrayed by James Spader in “The Blacklist.” Taping on NBC’s drama series “The Blacklist” was brought up short in its seventh year by the coronavirus-caused production shutdown. But the producers proved as daring as the show’s hero, Red Reddington, and decided to animate part of the season finale. The combination live-action and animated episode of “The Blacklist,” which also stars Megan Boone, airs May 15. (Sony Pictures Television via AP)

The makers of the NBC drama, which stars James Spader as dashing antihero Red, decided to add animation to a partially taped episode, prompting a far-flung collaboration that stretched from Los Angeles to London and included the Spader family house as a challenging recording studio.

The idea for the May 15 episode (8 p.m. EDT) emerged from a brainstorming session with executive producers Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath in mid-March, after their New York-based series halted filming along with other movie and TV projects as part of widespread efforts to contain the virus.

“It started sort of as a joke, talking about how we should do it (the episode) as an old-school radio broadcast where we put the image of a crackling fire or a radio up on TV and the actors could voice it,” Bokenkamp said. That segued into a discussion of the comic books and a graphic novel already spun off “The Blacklist” and then — bingo! — Eisendrath broached the hybrid episode.

“It’s possible that if we knew how much work it took to do an animated half of this episode, we might well have not come up with the idea,” he said, ruefully.

Spader, who’s also an executive producer on “The Blacklist,” had planned a quick trip with his family from New York to their Massachusetts home when taping looked to be on pause. It was at a full stop when Bokenkamp and Eisendrath called about salvaging the 19th episode — shy of the seventh season’s 22-episode order, Spader said, but a potentially more satisfying ad hoc finale than the completed No. 18.

“I was intrigued,” the actor said. “I thought that it seemed like the right thing to do, to try and finish the episode in any way that we could, and not only the episode, but to end the season.”

The process began with a handful of script revisions to make the episode “feel a little more like it had a forward throw, driving us into next season,” Bokenkamp said. Animation helped with the plot tinkering, and provided something else on the side.

“A scene that had taken place with Red and Liz (series star Megan Boone) sitting in a room, because that’s what we could afford in live action, suddenly becomes a scene between Red and Liz walking on the Washington Mall with the Capitol in the background,” Eisendrath said. “You can make it somewhat more cinematic … make it feel more like a graphic novel.”