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'Californication': Tom Kapinos talks about the green light for Season 4

October 5, 2009 |  4:18 pm
Californication_302_0045 As Hank Moody would say, “It’s all good.” A week after opening its third season to big ratings, Showtime renewed “Californication” for a fourth season Monday. The announcement came on the heels of a season premiere that drew 821,000 viewers, up 57 percent from last season’s premiere.

Tom Kapinos, who created the series about the boozing L.A. novelist (David Duchovny) who pretty much lives by the creed, “A morning of awkwardness is far better than a night of loneliness,” talked to Show Tracker by phone after learning the news that his longtime passion project -- which was once a feature-length screenplay that he could never quite get a handle on before changing it into a TV show -- was given another season to breathe.

The ratings, the renewal -- what’s your reaction to all this good news?

What’s really nice about it is I feel like people are finally catching up with the show. We’d gotten so much love and enthusiasm from people we met who were fans of the show, but that never seemed to be reflected in the ratings. We were more of a cult show based on ratings, and now I feel like [people are] finally watching it, talking about it, getting the DVDs, passing them around, and getting to do this for another year is great. We feel like we’re getting away with something. 

You’ve said in the past that you tend to write season finales that have a certain amount of finality to them but could also be open-ended enough for the story to continue -- largely the byproduct of not knowing if you’ll get picked up for another season when you’re in the writers' room. Was that again the case with this current season?
Very much so. The season finale this time around is a real mind bender and it very much accomplished what I always talk about -- I think every season of television, as far as I’m concerned, should function as a satisfying end if you don’t get that chance to do more. I feel like I accomplished that this year more so than ever before.

Larry David once said that every time “Seinfeld” got picked up for another season, this paralyzing fear would always come over him because he didn’t know if he could continue to come up with good ideas. Can you relate to that, the fear of things getting stale after awhile?
You know, maybe it’s just stupidity on my part but I don’t have the fear that things are going to get stale because I write to amuse myself, and if I’m still laughing at the situation and interested in Hank, I feel like the people who started the journey with me are going to enjoy it as well. I feel where Larry David is coming from, but at the same time, he also had to do 22, 23, 24 episodes in a year.

When you initially thought of this concept, you imagined it as a film, correct?
That’s correct. It started out as a screenplay but the only thing that remained from the screenplay was the first 60 pages, which essentially got condensed and became the pilot. After that, there’s no resemblance [to what the story has become].

And I’m guessing you’re happy with the way things have turned out, with being able to flesh this story out over several TV seasons rather than as a film?
Exactly. The good thing about the screenplay was it was about this character, Hank Moody, who was at the center of it. I always liked the character and had a feel for him, but I was never satisfied the way it ended and I couldn’t figure out what story I was telling. And to tell it in 120 pages or so, I was always frustrated with it and left it on my computer and occasionally I’d go back to it. My wife re-read it one day and she said, “The first 60 pages are great, this is a great character.” I said, “Hell, I’ll just make it for television.” I had a complete draft of it [at the time] but it took a weird turn. The first 60 pages were almost a dark comedy, but then it almost veered into thriller territory. I was happy to chop that part off and [instead write the pilot]. Someone read it at Showtime, loved the character and they said, “Go make a television show.” Now, every year I try to figure out where [Hank Moody] is going to go this year, but there’s never a master plan. It’s kind of a fun process -- every year they say, “Go do it again,” and then I sit down with the writers and we figure it out. There are episodes here and there that I’m not 100 percent about, but overall I’m very happy with how the story’s turned out.
I know it’s terribly premature, given that the third season just began, but do you already have a fourth-season story line in your back pocket? Do you think that far ahead?
I didn’t really have it in my back pocket, but then when we got to the end of [writing and shooting] Season 3, I had an idea of where things could go after. Like I said a few minutes ago, the finale this season is really a big, bold … I wouldn’t say a twist, but it’s big and somewhat shocking and it’s more emotional than comedic and sets up for Season 4 in a way that we never had before. So I do think I know where I want to go. We’re getting closer to the end. Like, this show can’t go on forever, I can’t see us doing 10, 11 seasons. This is probably a four- or five-season kind of show with its limited premise. I always had an end point in mind, however vague, and I might begin to write more toward that.

So I guess that answers what was going to be my last question -- how many seasons you envisioned this story going. Four, five seasons tops, then? 
I think so. We’d be really lucky to do five seasons. You could tell a pretty satisfying story and wouldn’t overstay your welcome, necessarily.

-- Josh Gajewski

Photo: David Duchovny as Hank Moody in "Californication." Credit: Showtime.