Poppy Montgomery will never forget when Unforgettable was un-canceled.
"I got the call and I was like, 'Where's Ashton Kutcher? This is Punk'd!'" she tells TVGuide.com. "I was like, 'This is not real, c'mon, people!' It was really fast. I really thought it was a practical joke. I trust that the networks and studio know what they're doing and what they need and want. If it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be, and I really thought it wasn't last year. So many shows get canceled. It's so rare to bring a show back."
Get the scoop on Unforgettable and more of your favorite returning summer shows
The CBS drama — which stars Montgomery as Carrie Wells, a detective who can remember literally everything except the night her sister Rachel was murdered — will return for its second season Sunday (9/8c, CBS), 14 months after the network initially canceled it despite a worldwide following and numbers that would make any competitor green with envy. The show averaged 12.1 million viewers and a 2.5 in the adults 18-49 demographic, but fell victim to the network's own success. CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler at the time called its demise a "difficult" decision.
"I won't say we were surprised [to be canceled] because we knew all along," Dylan Walsh, who plays Carrie's partner and ex-boyfriend Al, says. "We weren't competing against shows on other networks; we were competing against CBS. They had so many hits and they had so little room. They're the No. 1 network for a reason. They develop 10 one-hour drama pilots and they have to decide if any of them would do better than [Unforgettable]. It's tough."
Six weeks later in June 2012, however, while production company Sony was shopping the show to other networks, CBS renewed Unforgettable for a summer 2013 return. "It was an absolute, complete surprise," co-creator and executive producer John Bellucci says. "It wasn't even one of those things like, 'Oh, this could happen.' We knew CBS liked the show creatively, but we just got the call one day and it was, 'CBS wants you back for the summer.' It was just about the biggest surprise in my career."
A second life means a chance to reboot the series. The Season 2 premiere, which Bellucci dubs a "re-pilot," finds Carrie and Al moving from Queens to New York City after new character Eliot (Dallas Roberts) recruits them to join his high-tech, Best Buy-decked-out Major Crimes Unit. Out are Kevin Rankin, Michael Gaston and Daya Vaidya, and in are Tawny Cypress and James Liao, who play Murray, a decorated former FBI agent, and Jay, a detective who specializes in technical subjects, respectively. Jane Curtin's medical examiner Jo and her acerbic tongue are still around, much to the chagrin of Eliot, who has a history with her.
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It's not just the people and the places and the faces that are different though. The whole look and tone of the show are lighter and playful — a nice fit for summer and a stark contrast to the dark grittiness of the Queens-based Season 1. Bellucci and co-creator and executive producer Ed Redlich had actually pitched the tweaks to CBS before the show was canceled. "Strangely, our ideas of where we wanted to go in Season 2 turned out to be ideal for the summer," Redlich says. "It's essentially what we wanted to do no matter where we ended up if we got a second season. It has a brighter feel in terms of the environment and the characters. We polished it up. John and I did not want to come back and make any lesser a show. We didn't want a smaller budget. It's going to be in summer, it's going to be fun, action-packed and expensive. And everyone at CBS supported it."
To that end, Season 2 will primarily feature standalone cases and less focus on the "Who killed Rachel?" mystery. The plot point is touched upon slightly in the premiere, in which Eliot assigns Carrie and Al to solve the kidnapping of a young girl, but it will largely be on the backburner for the majority of the 13-episode season, which will include such cases as an assassination attempt and a Die Hard homage.
"We're playing Rachel at a lower level. By our finale of this group, we'll get back into it," Redlich says. "We want to have big and fun episodes. It was a creative question. We are making a show for new viewers who were not familiar with it the first time, but we don't want to alienate people who originally watched it. How do you handle the Rachel of it all? I think if you've never seen the show before, you will have questions after you watch the first episode and will hopefully be intrigued."
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Montgomery and Walsh love the less-serialized approach, which also applies to the sexual tension between Carrie and Al. "People always ask if they will get together and I think the show now wants you to wonder," Walsh says. "We're not going to go into it that much. Now it's in the air and it's more fun that way. I think [in the first season] we started to feel the weight of that and the Rachel thing, and it bogged us down. I like that we kind of let it go and we'll see where it leads us."
Everyone is also waiting to see when Season 2 will wrap up. The first eight episodes will air in the summer before the fall season starts up, and it's unclear what CBS' plans are for the remaining five. "Honestly, we don't know what our future holds," Bellucci says. "We'd obviously be delighted if we're midseason or if we somehow found our way back [to the regular season] or if we return next summer."
Once again, it'll come down to CBS and its embarrassment of riches. The cast and crew are, however, emboldened by the network's commitment to summer programming, which kick-started last month with Under the Dome.
"I've never seen summer programming done before like this on broadcast, but I think it's a great idea. Under the Dome has done fantastically well. They've set the bar really high. If we even do half as well, I'd be happy," Montgomery says. "Hopefully everyone will tune in again and we'll come back next year and go to Paris. Then Fiji. How about that? Every summer, we'll go to a new locale. It's like summer vacation!"
Unforgettable returns Sunday at 9/8c on CBS. Check out an exclusive sneak peek below.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
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