CDL Exclusive: Interview with ‘Burn Notice’ Creator Matt Nix

CDL Exclusive: Interview with 'Burn Notice' Creator Matt Nix

Matt Nix serves as executive producer, writer, and creator of the Burn Notice, an original USA Network series that launched its sixth season earlier this summer. Nix has written scripts for all the major movie production houses and he is also an acclaimed director. In addition to his work directing episodes of Burn Notice, he has written and directed several short films, which have been featured on SyFy, FX Movies Channel, PBS, and in numerous film festivals around the world. Nix made a startling move and opted to kill off a very familiar character this summer in order to breathe new life into the show he loves. He spoke with Celeb Dirty Laundry recently about the creative changes now playing out on Burn Notice.

CDL:  Let’s just jump right into it.  Mid season you decided to kill off a key character.  Was it necessary for Nate to die in order to have Michael move forward?

Matt Nix: I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but I mean answering that question, it’s — there’s sort of like a story version of answering that question and then a kind of a more behind the scenes version of that. I mean, one answer is, that one of the things I wanted to do this season is I just really wanted to shake up the show and do some really new stuff. So, part of that was just really putting the people that burned Michael to bed. Anson was the last of them and he’s gone and so then the question becomes what is something that keeps that sense of Michael’s mission, a propulsive sense for Michael, something that’s personal to him. And, you know, so in thinking about what to do with this season that was part of it. Just this idea that over the course of these five seasons or 5-1/2 season, Michael has, like, really grown closer to his family. He’s developed friends. All of these things that he didn’t have at the beginning of the series, he now has and that means, you know, good things for him as a human being in some ways, but it also means that there’s a lot more that can be taken away. And so, in taking that away, it sort of launches him with a new sort of personal mission that leads to all sorts of complications going forward, vis-a-vis, the intelligence community and that kind of thing as he’s trying to figure out what happened with his brother.  So, it was a combination of a lot of different things. Then also just the desire to do something different, we just sort of had fallen into a bit of a pattern of like the big things happen in episode one and then the half season finally, and then in the second half season premiere and then in the second half of the season finale. Doing something really big and exciting in the middle of the season, in the middle of by far our most serialized season ever, was also a priority. Shaking up Michael as a character, shaking up the show, all of it.

CDL:  How is it for you this season to be allowed to take a more serialized approach to Burn Notice?

Matt Nix:   It’s great. I mean, I love this kind of storytelling. It was kind of a discussion withUSA and they were down with it for reasons, you know, for sort of network priority reasons. But for us, one of the things we said was that, if you just look at what are people’s favorite episodes of Burn Notice over the years . . .They tend to be the most serialized episodes. They’re the first couple of the year and the last couple of the year and actually, you know, people do watch those episodes in reruns.

When I started on the show six seasons ago, one of the things that I talked about with my wife actually, because we had always watched shows together and she made the point about The Sopranos. That part of what made it compelling to watch was the sense that things could happen on the show that really mattered to you, and that things could actually change. And, you know, as part of that conversation she basically said if you ever kill a character off and then say we didn’t mean it, he’s not really dead, you don’t get to sleep in our bed anymore. And so, partially just as a storytelling priority and partially to preserve my marriage, I realized, if we’re going to take it seriously — this kind of storytelling seriously — then we have to do things with real consequences.  And so, that was why, for me, if we wanted to do something big on the show it couldn’t be hey remember Michael’s old neighbor Sugar the drug dealer who lived downstairs, he’s dead now. Isn’t that crazy?  It had to be big.

CDL:  How will this affect Michael’s relationship with Madeline?

Matt Nix: Woo hoo, a lot.  She’s in this very difficult position of kind of blaming Michael for putting his brother in harm’s way but also realizing that, you know, her remaining son is still in danger and in a difficult situation and his situation only gets more difficult over the course of the season. And so, to what extent can she forgive, to what extent was she responsible. I mean, all of those questions come up over the course of the season. And not just in one episode, it really carries forward.  I mean, it’s a little bit similar to putting Fiona in jail. We were like, okay if we’re going to put Fiona in jail, she’s got to be there for a while. And similarly, if we’re going to play the card of Michael’s brother dying, then it’s got to have a real impact on everybody.

CDL: Will Fiona’s not listening to Michael have a lasting impact on their relationship?

Matt Nix:        Well, I think that her being in prison sort of allowed Michael to acknowledge her, like, in a way it brought them closer. The fact that she sort of makes this sacrifice to kind of save his soul at the end of season five, and then, you know, the lengths that he goes to save her — to get her out of prison. In a way, they’re as close as they’ve ever been when she’s getting out of prison.  I think this magical moment that they both anticipated of coming together and, you know, the fact that it coincides with Michael finally resolving, finally wrapping up the last guy associated with his being burned.  In that same moment having that torn away by Nate’s death, it does have a really lasting effect. And, in a general sense, you know, the big thing at the end of last season was Fiona basically saying, Michael is really dedicated to his quest, you know, getting done the thing that he needs to get done. But, that can be costly and if he’s giving up all of his principles for the sake of doing what he needs — what he wants to do — or for the sake of take care of the people he loves — is that acceptable and her answer was no.

And going forward, that central issue becomes a greater and greater issue over the course of the season as Michael is now trying to deal with his brother’s death.  Dealing with that and his investigation into that and his, you know, thirst for vengeance and all of those things. It pushes Michael really to the brink in a lot of ways — personally, morally. You know, all of those things come into play and so, I guess it’s sort of like the  question that she imagined was resolved only gets more central and worse, and the answers get more challenging as the season goes on. So, there’s a big impact and her yearning for, like, the resolution to all of this.  The possibility that they might be able to be together in a less complicated way, you know, is snatched away at exactly the point where she imaged it could’ve been hers.

CDL:  Will Burn Notice be darker now that Nate is gone?

Matt Nix: It’s not that going forward everybody mopes around a lot. At the same time, I think the serialized storytelling is always more kind of serous and emotionally impactful than the self-contained aspects of the show.  So, I wouldn’t say so — it’s not like I, you know, sort of woke up in the morning and was like okay, now this is going dark. But, you know, to the extent that emotional consequences continue, it’s sort of unavoidable. Like, if you have an ongoing storyline called, “Madeline Does Not Forgive Michael for the Death of Her Son”, that’s not really a laugh riot of a storyline. It’s important to preserve the fun of the show and so it’s not like we — it’s not like that just gets abandoned or anything. But, I think the maturing of the show has been in a direction of . . . more like characters with ongoing emotional lives and things that tend toward the darker.

CDL:  Will we see more of Fiona’s jailhouse friend?

Matt Nix: Yes, you do see Ayn again, yes.  It’s been really fun this season because, again, in being able to do this, really, I mean, I feel like with this season a door has been unlocked and we get to run outside play. So with regard to a lot of the storytelling, even the client storytelling, whereas, once upon a time we would – we kind of had to think about it like okay, how do we meet this person who’s unrelated to the team, right.  Now, a lot of times it’s okay, how are these people coming back, how is this person closely related to the team. It’s kind of the opposite of what we used to do, and that’s been really fun.

CDL: How does Nate’s death affect Fiona’s relationship with Madeline?

Matt Nix:  Oh, wow. It’s – I think the main impact there is between Madeline and Michael. I mean, it’s such a deep impact that it has – Madeline’s upset with everybody, as becomes clear over the course of the next episodes. It’s not just that she feels like Michael shouldn’t have put his brother in harm’s way, it’s also that whole team, you know, they’re all sort of trained. They were working with Michael and, so there’s plenty of blame to go around.  So, it’s not that she, you know, really takes Fiona to task specifically, but that comes into it. But moving forward  Madeline sort of mourns the life she imagined Fiona and Michael could’ve had together inMiami with her. And, so I think that Fiona becomes one of the things that draws Madeline back. That keeps Madeline from just writing it all off, you know, writing her family off and really slipping into despair. It’s not like Madeline is particularly close to Fiona in the upcoming episodes, because she’s mad at everybody. But ultimately, you know, one of the things that we’re exploring is just the ideas that this whole group has become a bit of a family now and this is a real challenge to that family.

CDL:  If Burn Notice gets picked up for a seventh season, would you be looking for it to be the end?

Matt Nix: Looking for it would be a strong term. If you’d asked me that last season, I would’ve said, you know, how many more of these can we do.  But, now, this season I think has breathed some new creative life into the show for all of us – for the actors, for the writers, for me. And so the fact that we’ve been able to do this new kind of storytelling that we haven’t done a lot of before has been really exciting.

I think that ultimately, with any of these kinds of shows, there is the need to aim towards some sort of resolution. So I could definitely see a seventh season being the last season. But, if the actors are willing and the network wants it and the studio wants it and everything, like, I could also imagine a circumstance keeping us around. I wouldn’t guarantee it, but I could imagine a circumstance where we might say, hey there is some creative life here and there are things we want to do.  I guess I would ultimately make the decision on that basis. Like, is there cool stuff to say because, you know, you occasionally see shows that just sort of phone in a last season, and I wouldn’t want to do that.

Burn Notice airs on Thursdays at 9pm on USA.  Check out the sneak peek of tomorrow’s episode of Burn Notice below!

Thursday, August 2 – BURN NOTICE – “Reunion” – 9/8c  – Sam (Bruce Campbell) agrees to help his girlfriend’s delinquent son, who’s in over his head with a ruthless loan shark. Meanwhile, Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) reconnect as they search for the person who sabotaged his last mission. But in order to see the truth, Michael will need to look past his emotions first.

Guest stars: Kristanna Loken, Seth Peterson, Richard Burgi

Image Credit to USA Network