The USA Network drama “Psych” has been off the air for a few years, but the love that its fans (AKA “Psych-os”) have for the show is still intense. “We sort of had this contract with our fans,” star James Roday told IndieWire, “that we’re pretty sure we know what you like, and we promise to give you that 85 percent of the time, if you let us have 15 percent to let us do things that make us giggle, too. And that became what ‘Psych’ was.”
It’s an attitude that still forms the foundation of the series, which returns to television Thursday for a feature-length adventure (timed to the holidays) featuring the beloved characters. The series, which premiered in 2006, followed fake psychic detective Shawn Spencer (Roday) and his best friend Gus (Dulé Hill) as they solved all manner of crimes. Roday and Hill’s natural chemistry, as well as creator Steve Franks’ clever and fun writing, helped make the show a major win for USA, which lasted eight seasons and created an intensely dedicated fanbase.
“We didn’t know what it was in the first season,” Roday admitted. “We were in Vancouver, we were in a weird little bubble. We made 16 episodes of a show that we didn’t know if anybody knew existed, and we were on a fledgling network that was still searching for its identity.
“Then a whole bunch of people watched the first episode,” Roday continued. “And I think that was probably the first indication for us that we might get to make a lot of these. ‘Holy cow, we actually have a platform and we should try really, really hard to make something cool.'”
Franks pinpointed the show’s breakthrough moment, in terms of popularity, as the second season. “We’ve gotten this adventure with John Landis [‘American Duos’] and we’ve done a really scary episode that was completely outside of the box that we, quite frankly, thought terrified our executives. And it not only worked but it worked beyond everything. We were mixing dark moments with romance and high drama with the most ridiculous bits we’ve ever done–“
“–And our fans ate it up. And we were like, ‘oh,'” Roday added.
“We sort of settled into our number that was our ratings,” Franks said. “We had this weird thing happen where kids were watching the show at 13, 14, 15, and were aging into the demographics, so our demographics never changed. As people aged up and out and numbers were sinking across the board on television, our numbers were staying the same. They’d move us to Wednesday and they’d put us on this night and we’d be up against ‘High School Musical’ and we’d still deliver the same thing. It emboldened us and it made us sure of what we wanted to do and it locked us in for all the things we knew we wanted.”
Roday noted that “we never set out to make a show that becomes a cult show. You can’t purposefully do that. We just said, ‘hey, let’s try to make a funny thing.’ You can’t control what people are going to latch onto, so for us it was always crazy. Every year that we went to Comic Con it was like, ‘this is not possible.'”
Franks credited the fans, particularly on social media, for the show’s longevity. “We were early adopters of message boards and all of those things, because we felt that there was something real connected to the people who support it,” he said.
In the years since its finale, “Psych” still finds new fans. “We’ve managed to take on a new generation of ‘Psych’ fans without knowing how or why,” Roday said. “In the time that we’ve left the air, whether it be streaming or however kids are watching stuff these days, I have 12-year-olds running up to me saying ‘oh my god, ‘Psych’ is my favorite show.’ It’s like, that can’t actually be possible because you were a baby when we shot that pilot!”
In making “Psych: The Movie,” that meant Franks and Roday didn’t worry about introducing newcomers to the franchise. Instead, their approach was, according to Roday, “We know what our fans love, we know what our fans want, this is for them, let’s give them two hours of classic ‘Psych’ and let the rest take care of itself.”
There was a bit of groundwork established at the beginning, just in case a few newbies tuned in. “All the characters are reintroduced — their names are even written across the screen,” Franks said. “And it reunites you with all the things that happen and it picks up those arcs. If you’ve never seen the show and watch the movie, I think you’ll like it. And if you’ve seen the show and watch the movie, I think you’ll like it.”
One of the movie’s most notable achievements was luring WWE legend and blossoming movie star John Cena back for an appearance as Ewan, the brother of Shawn’s love interest Juliet.
“We gave John one of his earliest acting roles and he’s never forgotten that. He’s a real stand-up dude and he also loves to do comedy,” Roday said. “It was actually easier than you can possibly image — I just reached out to him and he was like, ‘I’d love to be there bro.’ It was really that easy because he’s that good of a dude.”
Roday might say it was easy, but there were some complications: “He was making two other movies during the time we were doing this,” Frank said. “But he was determined to make this work, and to his credit, he moved mountains to come up and be part of this. He told much larger movies with much larger budgets, ‘hey, I want to do this — figure out how to make it work.'”
The movie has a Christmas theme to it, something which Franks said came about because USA “felt very strongly” that it should be a holiday special.
While it wasn’t their idea, they weren’t opposed to it. “Christmas is a holiday that traditionally brings people together and we like to think that’s what our show did too,” Roday said. “We’re certainly not anti-Christmas or anti-holidays. The more reasons for people to be willing to put their differences aside, the better. Especially now.”
At San Diego Comic-Con this summer, Franks said that they’d like to do a series of these films — but if the next one is also holiday-themed, they’re hoping for Halloween. “For years we were trying to do a Halloween episode and we were never airing on Halloween,” he said.
“We would always do our horror episodes but we never actually got to air them close to Halloween,” Roday added. “We feel like we’re due for a Halloween special.”
Roday and Franks wrote “Psych: The Movie” together, with Franks directing — however, Roday has plenty of directing experience himself, most recently on the gruesome grindhouse series “Blood Drive.”
“If we do a Halloween special, James and I are going to have to do a mud wrestling match for the director’s chair,” Franks said. “Because James is an expert at it and it’s something I’ve always wanted to get my giant toe into.”
Roday, however, said he’d defer: “It’s not a mud wrestling match. He always gets first dibs. He made the show. Without him there’d be no ‘Psych,’ there’d be no Shawn Spencer.”
Franks shrugged it off, pointing at Roday. “Without him, there wouldn’t be Shawn Spencer.”
“Psych: The Movie” premieres Thursday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. on USA Network.