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EXCLUSIVE TV Goodness Q&A: Creator/EP Kyle Killen Talks ABC’s Mind Games [VIDEO and PHOTOS + INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: ABC/Bob D'Amico
Photo Credit: ABC/Bob D’Amico

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

If you’re a fan of great TV you’re a fan of Kyle Killen. He created Lone Star and Awake and while I was sad when those shows ended, I like that the networks see something in his writing and his characterizations that make them keep wanting to work with him. TV Goodness talked exclusively to Kyle about how he got his start in the industry, how he brought Mind Games to life, and where he draws his creative inspiration from.

Photo Credit: ABC/Rick Rowell
Photo Credit: ABC/Rick Rowell

TV GOODNESS: Before we start talking about Mind Games, I wanted to know when you knew you wanted to be a writer and how you started to pursue it.

Kyle Killen: “I think I always knew. I remember watching Back to the Future and the way that every time I got into the car for the next few weeks I wanted to hit 88 miles an hour and see what would happen. The ability to do that to somebody, to tell a story and do so in such a way that it stayed with them and affected what they thought for weeks afterward – that was just fascinating to me. I went to film school and did all the things you’re supposed to do and none of those worked. I quit and tried other jobs and I just had trouble letting this go when I wasn’t successful at it. Then my wife got pregnant so I decided to try one last time. Essentially I ended up writing something called The Beaver and turned that in right as I was having twins and that happened to be the one that kind of cracked the door open for me.”

TV GOODNESS: Did you only want to write for film? How did you start writing for TV?

Kyle: “I did want to write for film. TV sort of presented itself in an unexpected opportunity right after The Beaver. There was a producer who wanted to do something about the oil business and I think literally thought, ‘Hey I heard that Kyle guy is from Texas,’ and that’s how and why I got the call. When I thought about the oil business it seemed a little… I couldn’t find a fresh, interesting way in that would make me want to watch the show, but the personalities in it led to what Lone Star became. There was a sort of realization at that time – and I think it’s hitting the rest of the country more and more now – of just how much TV wasn’t something that I was passively interested in. It was becoming the place I turned for the incredibly compelling and rewarding drama[tic] stories. It was doing to me on a weekly basis what Back to the Future did way back when. Those stories were really sticking with me, but then resonating. We’re in an era where there’s a lot of incredible TV out there and I’m working in it.”

TV GOODNESS: How did Awake come about?

Kyle: “That’s sort of where Mind Games came from. People ask you those questions about how does your brain work and you don’t know. If I had to guess it was a lot of duality and duel lives and things going on in Lone Star and the fact that that was cut short. There was an itch there somewhere, buried psychologically, that hadn’t fully been scratched. Awake, I think, grew out of the same place, that question of being in two places at the same time and wanting to commit to both of them and yet realizing that they are completely incompatible and somebody who tries to stand in the middle and hold on to both was just something I was really fascinated by.”

TV GOODNESS: How did you choose ABC for this project? Do you just go with whoever is most excited?

Kyle: “Yeah, the latter. It’s not just who’s most excited. It’s who’s most excited for the show itself. Does it make sense for the audience or the brand that they’re working on, is that the right home? ABC just felt like a really good fit for what Mind Games is.”

TV GOODNESS: Tell me a little about the show and why you decided on two protagonists instead of one, like in your previous shows.

Kyle: “It’s about brothers who are starting an agency that uses psychological tools to solve people’s problems and part of their issue and their dilemma is that no one else is doing anything like that. It’s a theoretical construct. The one brother, Clark, has all of these tools and has applied everything and understands how people work in laboratory conditions. But the idea of taking it into the real world and making it work on people in their natural environment, that’s the part that comes from his brother Ross, who’s much more of a schemer and dreamer at heart. It really takes the combination of Ross’s belief that they can pull off anything and Clark’s know-how to make all of these things work. They end up completing each other. There wouldn’t be a business with one or the other of them. They require the talents of each and the trick there is like most siblings they’ve got a lot of history and a lot going on – best friend and best enemy at any given minute. So on top of trying to do something nobody else is doing, they’re trying to do it with the person they love and hate the most.”

TV GOODNESS: Jaime Ray Newman isn’t in the pilot, but she’s in the show. What can you tell me about her?

Kyle: “Jaime Ray Newman plays someone from Ross’s past. She’s also a former con woman trying to straighten her life out. Her skills – that idea of playing characters, playing people – it turns out you can use them in a very legitimate way in this business. She and Ross form the half of the business that their initial take on things is usually more results-oriented and less concerned with how they get there.”

TV GOODNESS: If they bend or break the rules that ok.

Kyle: “That’s right. I don’t understand. Why is that a problem when you’ve got someone to do what you want them to do?”

TV GOODNESS: How many episodes can we expect?

Kyle: “It’s a 13 episode season. We are finishing up our finale as we speak.”

TV GOODNESS: Is there anything you can tease without giving too much away? What’s coming up that’s exciting?

Kyle: “Without spoiling the pilot, you can see really clearly by the end of the pilot that while there is a case of the week element to the show – and we have some really great, fun and very different cases – there’s also a fairly high-stakes serialized story going on between these brothers. Our season weaves that throughout. It may just be because we’re working on it, but it builds and the climax that results is a really satisfying marriage of that – weekly stories and then that overall, overarching story.”

TV GOODNESS: The end of the pilot was surprising. I didn’t see it coming and I’m excited to see how that plays out over the season.

Kyle: “Good. My hope is that it will live up to your expectations. We certainly tried. That was a thread that we were very interested in and nursed along and it took us to a really great place.”

TV GOODNESS: You live in Austin, right?

Kyle: “I did. I moved six months ago to Portland. It hasn’t made my commute any easier.”

TV GOODNESS:  I love that you live outside LA and Hollywood. Is there any particular reason for that? 

Kyle: “It helps my creative process. It doesn’t help anything else, all the actual doings of things. When I finished film school and was trying to make a go of it, it just didn’t work for me to open at laptop in Starbucks and realize that every other person was also writing the next great screenplay. The numbers of it was overwhelming and depressing. We can’t all be winners. Some of us are delusional, so in Starbucks in Austin and Starbucks in- I don’t know why I’m plugging Starbucks. I don’t even drink coffee. Anywhere I go, it feels like I’m not only the only person doing that but when you mention it to someone they could care less. So it helps to get out of the bubble here for me just because it helps me focus on doing what I’m interested in and not get caught up in,’Shouldn’t I be doing this or that? Everybody else is doing this or that.'”

TV GOODNESS:  What are you working on next? Or are you going to take a break and spend time with your family?

Kyle: “Both of those things. There are things on the horizon, some of which depend on what happens with Mind Games, but at the end of a 13 episode season I’m very eager to take a break here for a few minutes and enjoy the kids and family.”

Edited for space and content.

Mind Games “Pilot” synopsis, from ABC: 

Steve Zahn‘s Clark, an expert in human behavior, and his brother Christian Slater‘s Ross, a former con-artist recently out of prison, open a unique agency where they use psychological manipulation to help solve their client’s problems. In their first case, they attempt to help a mother whose young son is suffering from a heart condition by convincing the health insurance company’s head of claims to approve a previously denied experimental treatment.

Mind Games premieres Tuesday, February 25th at 10/9c on ABC.



All photos courtesy of ABC/Matt Dinerstein.


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