In 2009 the Sci-Fi Channel re-branded itself to SyFy to shift emphasis from harder science fiction series like Battlestar Galactica and the Stargate franchise. Along with the re-branding, a new series began that had a science fiction edge- mixing supernatural elements with comedy and a quirky feel that explored history in an interesting and unique way. This was not time travel (although time travel would feature in the series at one point); it was a modern day set series about agents whose sole mission was to retrieve items that were imbued with powers. These artifacts were things that ranged from the irritating to a world-ending weapon of mass destruction-but even the lesser powered artifacts had downsides to using them.
The series was led by Arthur “Artie” Nielson, (played by Saul Rubinek) the curator of the most dangerous storage warehouse ever seen. The Warehouse itself was the thirteenth iteration, Warehouses had existed going back thousands of years and throughout history, agents of the Warehouse had snagged, tagged and bagged these dangerous artifacts to prevent them from falling into anyone’s hands. Artie answered to the mysterious Mrs Fredric, a woman who – among other things – appeared and disappeared more times than Batman would whilst mid conversation with Commissioner Gordon. Rubinek was actually cast after the other two leads were cast and several other actors had been considered for the role of Artie before Rubinek even auditioned. Rubinek loved the balance between the serious drama and the comedy elements and felt that the writers got the balance right.
Rounding out the team were Secret Service Agents Pete Latimer and Myka Bering, portrayed by Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly respectively. In the series opener, we are introduced to the Warehouse and artifacts with these two characters. Latimer was the more fun-loving character and Bering was the sterner rule follower; their conflicting characteristics provided the series with many notable and funny moments, and whilst they could have just as easily have been caricatures, the characters themselves were given a great deal of depth to them as the series progressed. When they were being cast, McClintock and Kelly were paired together in the final stages of the audition to see how their chemistry was. There were six other pairs in the final stages.
Eddie McClintock described Pete as the resident goof off, and whilst he is more of a goofball, there were some genuine moments of drama with the character which had even more of an impact because of his fun loving and playful nature. McClintock’s nature really set the tone for the set; the playful and fun loving nature that worked into the character was very much like McClintock himself. He made sure that the set was always a fun place to work and everyone followed his lead by making sure that people enjoyed coming to work.
Joanne Kelly spoke about the series and how they always walked a fine line between drama and comedy- how that when they really go for the drama, it has a bigger impact because of the mostly comedic nature of the series. She also enjoyed the evolution of her character, who started out as a character that was in a state of self-isolation, but throughout the course of the series she opened up more and grew as a character. Her relationship with H.G Wells in Season 2 was a particularly interesting one to play as there was a playfulness and flirtation to the relationship; Kelly enjoyed playing to the playful flirting to make the audience wonder if there was something more to their relationship or not.
Allison Scagliotti was brought on in episode 4 of the first season as a way to bring a daughter figure into Artie’s life. Her character, Claudia Donovan, was a great addition to the series because she brought a technological know-how to the series that offset the old-fashioned Artie. The chemistry between the two characters was excellent and provided some of the best moments from the series. Scagliotti got the role due to working with Jack Kenny previously- he remembered her, she was sent a copy of the pilot and watched it several times. After her successful audition she was on set within a week. She saw the relationship between Claudia and Artie as a complete mirror of her relationship with Saul Rubinek – a natural almost father/daughter-like relationship.
CCH Pounder was cast as the illusive Mrs Frederic, and whilst all the other characters got sheets that gave a breakdown of their characters, there was nothing for Mrs Frederic. They wanted to keep her a mysterious character and never wanted to see her home life ever because of the mystery that surrounded who she was and her powers.
Leena provided a lot of heart to the series; she was an empathic character who read people and artifacts auras. It was revealed later in the series that Leena was responsible for deciding where a lot of the artifacts were stored to make sure that they didn’t negatively interact with each other. In Season 4, they had some notes from SyFy asking them to make the season a little darker, which is how Artie’s arc for the first half of Season 4 came to be. Kenny wanted death to be something that could happen (they had already killed off one character and brought him back) but he wanted a character to die and stay dead. The best way to do this was for Artie to actually kill Leena and go to the dark side. They wanted a dramatic moment to really show how dangerous the Warehouse could be. Showrunner Jack Kenny sat down with Genelle Williams to explain how he was going to kill her off at the end of the first half of the season. He wasn’t happy to do it but it served the story and he promised a fantastic final scene- and he wasn’t lying. Leena’s death was an important moment because they wanted to kill a character who was important to all the characters and a character who would stay dead.
Jack Kenny came on board after the pilot was picked up as the show runner and stayed with the series for the whole run. He got the job through a mutual friend, David Simkins, who worked on the pilot. He was also good friends with Eddie McClintock, who told him about the show. He was not a Sci-Fi guy, and said to the executives in his interview that they didn’t want a Sci-Fi guy running the show. In the same interview, he pitched the idea of Claudia, as he felt that Artie needed someone to talk with in the Warehouse. His idea for how the show should work would be to get the emotional story in place first and then work the artifact into that story. Kenny described the series as a Thrilleramedy- it had thriller, drama and comedy elements wrapped up into one single show. His approach was to inject as much comedy as possible to appeal to a wider audience, because he felt that no-one had ever reviewed a show and said that it was too funny. He also felt that the relationships were incredibly important to the show and they got a lot of viewers (female viewers especially) because of the relationships between the characters- they were real and emotional and weren’t based in some insane alien world. They were based in the relationships that everyone knew and recognized.
Kenny worked the mythology of the show when he came on board, because it was the thirteenth iteration of the Warehouse he wanted to figure out where the other twelve warehouses sat. He worked his way back through history and started with Alexander the Great- as he was the first world conqueror- then moved to the Ancient Egyptians; then the Romans…. always moving to the Empire that was best placed to protect it. It was never a government agency, it was more like a Switzerland that would move from place to place dependent on who was best placed to protect it through the ages.
The writers had a lot of fun with the show because they could come up with literally anything- a black and white episode; an episode where they’re in a Telenovela where the actors have to speak in Spanish; a time travel episode; anything they wanted. It was like playing in the worlds biggest sandbox. Jack Kenny would do multiple passes over the scripts to just polish them up for each character and then when they were on set, the actors would make suggestions for adjustments to lines. For the episode that took place in a Telenovela, the actors had to actually learn Spanish to make sure they got the inflections in the language correct and didn’t just come across someone who was reading Spanish words off cue cards. There were some episodes they tried to write that just didn’t work, an episode about the Fountain of Youth and the Midas Touch were a couple of episodes they couldn’t get to work.
The character of Steve Jinks was originally written as an Asian man and they narrowed the role down to three guys but none of them really clicked. They were three days before the first read through and had nobody to play the role. Jack Kenny called Robin Cook, the casting director, and she said that she thought Aaron Ashmore was available-so he was sent down and he blended in as if he had been with the series from the beginning. Jinks was the first openly gay character on the show and he and Claudia formed a really close brother/sister relationship very quickly. Pairing the two together always made for great viewing because Jinks was quite a serious character, whilst Claudia was the opposite and it was the Odd Couple effect. Jinks had an ability to be able to tell if someone was lying to him instantly by reading their body language, which was a valuable asset and also a source of humor to the show in some episodes.
The artifacts were incredibly expensive to make, Rheticus’ Compass cost them $15,000 to make as it was engraved on a mixture on copper and brass. The detail and attention that they put into the design of the artifacts was impressive, considering a lot of the detail put into the design was not seen due to the intricacies. They were able to encapsulate a different look and style of artifact every week. One week it was something from the Roman times and then the next it was something from the 1960’s; each week could bring something from any time period in history. The set for Artie’s office was heavily inspired by the Steampunk movement and the production designer went crazy for Steampunk-they created some incredible items and furnished the set with mostly Steampunk items. When Saul Rubinek first walked onto the set for the first time he thought to himself, “Well- there’s no acting required here,” because of how beautiful the design was and how detailed it was.
The artifacts were not always objects; sometimes they were people. People too dangerous to be allowed into the world were captured and “bronzed” by Warehouse agents. Bronzed was a term used where the people were encased in bronze in a sort of suspended animation, like a prison. One of the most notable people who was bronzed was H.G Wells – who in the series was actually a woman. Jamie Murray portrayed Wells with a sense of believing that everything they did was the right thing even if her actions were not good. She brought a depth and humanity to the role and it created a very sympathetic character who would ultimately turn out to be a villain. But like all great characters, her three-dimensional nature took her away from villainy and her character was eventually redeemed.
The guest stars they had throughout the series were an eclectic mixture of actors who were popular in genre shows. Kate Mulgrew, Rene Auberjonois, Erick Avari, Lindsay Wagner, Anthony Michael Hall, Brent Spiner, Mark Sheppard, Anthony Head, James Masters, Jeri Ryan, Sean Maher, Jewel Staite and Armin Shimerman are just a handful of the guest stars who appeared throughout the run of the series. They had two episodes that crossed over with the show Eureka, which was another SyFy show-and in doing so they brought the character of Douglas Fargo from Eureka into Warehouse 13. This was an excellent character to play within the show due to Fargo’s nature in Eureka to be the guy who always pushed the button he shouldn’t.
The series always showcased the amazing and dangerous aspects of the wonders of the world that were out there. Not only did it get the balance of comedy, drama and thriller perfectly, it also managed to do something interesting and different week after week. The characters were fully fleshed out and realized people, and the female characters were just as strong and intelligent- if not more so-than their male counterparts. It appealed to all audiences, young and old, male and female and I think it was down to the sense of wonder you got from watching the series. Despite the fact that the series ended after five seasons, it is never truly over because it’s still readily available via streaming, Blu-Ray or DVD box sets. The series will endure because of the relatability of the characters, the interesting nature of the series and the laugh out loud humor of the series. As Mrs Frederic says in the series finale…this particular wonder is endless.