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'Intelligence' Boss Michael Seitzman Explains Why 'Size Matters'

Someone is killing off the top scientists in the world who are developing artificial intelligence -- and Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy (John Billingsley) is next on the list when "Intelligence" airs a brand-new episode tonight.

Meghan Ory and Josh Holloway on "Intelligence."
CBS/Michael Desmond

Death is delivered in little yellow boxes, and it isn't long before Gabriel (Josh Holloway) and Cybercom discover that microscopic robots, aka nanites, are serving as the lethal weapon.

"There is a real thing called nanotechnology," Executive Producer Michael Seitzman says in this exclusive interview. "But in the episode, Cassidy says, 'Nanites aren't this advanced yet.' Lillian's [Marg Helgenberger] answer is, 'So this is impossible? So is a microchip in the brain.' That is our nod to the audience that we are dealing with something that is a little bit past the edge of science."

You will have to watch the "Size Matters" episode to discover the mystery of how the delivery system works and who the villain is, but Seitzman did talk about the Frankenstein aspect to Gabriel, what the biggest threat to Gabriel is -- which is coming up in a few weeks, and why he chose a woman [Meghan Ory] to protect their billion-dollar man.

Last week's episode was more of an action adventure; this week it seems to be about the science. How do you decide which to do?

I think it is a good question. Where do we push the science and where do we push the action? We don't spend a lot of time separating the two. We think of the show as both a sci-fi and action show by the nature of the concept. He has a microchip in his brain and while he is able to do things, we try to keep it grounded, and we try to think of it as science fact.

It is a little bit sci-fi because the technology can be out there. Sometimes we just get turned on by an idea and we run with it, but the story tends to follow the concept, so if we start with: What if we did a show about nanites? -- which is how this week's show started -- nanites is another technology that is in the early stages but is really exciting and feels like it has practical applications but you can also imagine various things you can do with nanites. Most things start with: What if? What if we took that technology and turned it evil, then what would we do?

Then, the story seems to grow out of it. We spend a lot of time figuring out how to fool the audience. How do we surprise the audience? What is the big twist at the end of the act? We think of it as fans: What would blow our minds right now? What would we not be expecting? Sometimes that turns into an action sequence, but sometimes it could be a relationship beat, and other times, it could be a sci-fi beat.

So the nanites are real. The question is how far are you fictionalizing the technology?

We try to think of the show as five minutes into the future. Nanites are the same way. Cells that you can swallow that will photograph your intestines already exist. They have things that you can swallow that will do various things. By the way, what is a pacemaker other than a form of nanotechnology? With all of the technology on our show, we just take it one step further. That is what we do with nanites?

I was trying to remember what your inspiration for "Intelligence"was, and I don't remember it being Frankenstein, but Gabriel gets called that on tonight's episode. Does he see himself as a monster?

If I remember correctly, when you were on the set, we did say something about we are always measuring the difference between man and machine. That is how I always articulate internally to the writing staff, the cast and the crew. What I mean by that is if we add technology to someone's biology, the next step is to ask: Am I a man or a machine? At what point do we start to lose ourselves to technology? Sometimes we draw a fine line and we underline it in the story.

Sometimes we just mention it casually. But there is an idea here if we fuse technology and man, man should always be asking the question because man would be asking the question: How much of me is real?

The classic story of that is Mary Shelley's story, Frankenstein. Is he a man? Is he a machine? What is he? We reference these things throughout the season, in other episodes, too. In at least half of our episodes, we reference this in some form or another. It all comes to a head -- there are a couple of episodes coming up where we really get to the heart of that question. In this episode, we are just beginning to touch on it, which is Gabriel wondering: How much of me remains me? Who am I at the end of this?

You have two strong women -- Riley and Lillian -- and they aren't there for window dressing. They are an active part of the investigation. How did you come by the decision to have a woman protect Gabriel?

Very often, as you pointed out, the female characters in stories -- in television and film -- tend to be an appendage or a drag-along character, so they always end up being the girlfriend or the wife of the lead. I didn't want it to be that. I wanted to have a character in Riley, whose decisions were advancing the narrative.

When you are developing a character, that is what it is. It's not better dialogue or screen time. What it is is you make the character make a decision that changes the narrative. If their decisions change the narrative, or move the narrative forward, then they become vital characters. If their decisions don't move the narrative forward, then they become, what I call, drag-along characters.

I didn't want that, so I needed both female characters to have some sort of authority. So Lillian is the boss, who is mysterious, who is strong, who is unbending, but who bends the rules for humanity's sake. So she is a human being, but she is still this boss, who still rules with a bit of an iron fist.

Then with Riley, I needed her to be in a position that what she says to some degree goes. Because you have a character in Gabriel who is a little bit adventurous, a little bit reckless sometimes. I looked at it as, I needed a character in Gabriel, who was 90 percent about saving the world and 10 percent about saving himself; I wanted the character next to him to be essentially 90 percent toward saving Gabriel and 10 percent toward saving the world. Right in there was a conflict, which would help me make a more robust character out of her.

Do you have women on the writing staff?

We have a couple of them. Pam Davis is one and Heidi McAdams is another. We don't have a large staff, but those are the two women on our writing staff.

Two people died getting the chip implanted in their brains , one is paralyzed and Gabriel survived. So it isn't as if an army of Gabriel-types can be created. What do you consider the biggest danger to him?

There are a couple of episodes coming up that we go right to the heart of what the biggest danger to Gabriel is. In three weeks -- I don't have a schedule in front of me -- Gabriel's chip gets hacked in a new way, and he ends up not remembering who he is. He and his chip are being manipulated. It is an episode that sees the return of Jin Kong [Will Yun Lee] from the pilot. Then we hit this issue again in the two-part finale.

My favorite thing -- and as someone who lives in L.A., I am sure it is why you thought of it -- is when he chipped the traffic light. You also made the word chip into a verb.

That started in the writers rooms. When we would talk about these stories, we would refer to it as chipping: So in this scene, Gabriel will chip the traffic light. So, we started saying it and it leaked into the scripts. We were differentiating between chipping something and cyber-rendering, because you get confused when you talk about it. You go, "No this isn't a cyber-rendering, this is just a chipping." It became a verb for us, so it became a verb for the characters.

Do you understand what these scientists are saying? You have to write it, but some of it gets complicated.

We do a lot of research and we have a research assistant and a writer's assistant, who helps us with the research. Then, we have various people that we bring in. I brought in one expert in nanites in this episode who helped us out, and a lot of times we might bring in a Secret Service agent to help us with some of the stuff for Riley. We like to remind the audience where she comes from and it kind of informs her character. You will notice that she says, "In the Secret Service, we used to do ____." And she will apply that to a situation. And we've had a bunch of military guys that talk to us about Gabriel and Gabriel's past. So we do a lot of research. By the time we are done with these scripts, we have a better understanding of these things than we ever thought we would. That's for sure. We don't want Cassidy to say anything and get a call from a scientist saying, "What the hell was that?" We want people to call and say, "I can't believe how much you knew."

"Intelligence" airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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