By Daryl Paranada
In the action-adventure CBS show Blood & Treasure, an antiquities expert and art thief team up to catch a terrorist who funds his attacks using stolen artifacts. The escapist drama, created by alumnus Stephen Scaia ’98 and screenwriter Matthew Federman, takes viewers around the world as actors Matt Barr and Sofia Pernas hunt for their target.
Recently renewed for a second season, Blood & Treasure has been a hit with viewers, but it looked a lot different in its initial stages.
“It started as a CBS procedural with treasure instead of crime,” said Scaia, who began developing the show with Federman in 2016. “When it became a summer series [instead of for the fall], we were able to build it as one big summer novel.”
Scaia describes each episode as a chapter in a book that takes viewers on a journey through places such as Italy and Morocco, among others. According to Scaia, shooting the show was as much an adventure as watching it.
“The traveling made the show special. It just looks so much better for it,” said Scaia. “Each place had its own realities of production problems, but every location was full of extremely talented and creative people who made it work.”
Being on set to execute ideas and problem solve is something that excites Scaia. In Tangiers, Morocco, for instance, rain washed out production for a couple of days. With time winding down, the production team found AstroTurf to create a scene where characters land at the Vatican by parachute—though it all really took place in a Tangiers marketplace.
Scaia says he’s always dreamed of being Indiana Jones or James Bond, but he found his calling after realizing he could live vicariously through these adventurers via storytelling. Both Scaia and Federman share writing credits on the series, along with Emersonians Kevin Chesley ’97 and Bryan Shukoff ’97.
“The writer’s room was really awesome,” said Shukoff. “The most difficult thing was making sure we were tracking everything so that no threads were unspooled. To do that, you have to work backward a lot.”
Writing partners Chesley and Shukoff bonded during their time at Emerson and got a feel for their writing styles after graduating while performing sketch comedy with the group TROOP!, which included fellow alumni Britt Erickson ’98, Steve Sabellico ’97, Brent Simons ’97, and Jay Dugre ’96.
“Bryan and I finish each other’s sentences,” said Chesley, who wrote with Shukoff on the show The Hard Times of RJ Berger, created by alumnus Seth Grahame-Smith ’98. “We’ve done a lot of comedy writing together, so being able to get into stuff like fighting and explosions, and coming up with action sequences on a show that has such a big international flavor, was really fun.”
At Emerson, Chesley and Shukoff worked on film projects with Scaia. Over the last 20 years, they’ve traded scripts, offered critiques on each other’s work, and formed a close bond. As Scaia prepared to fill the writer’s room for Blood & Treasure, Chesley and Shukoff were natural fits, having written an adventure pilot based around a World War II program. That script was the perfect sample to help them get into the writer’s room.
While writing for the show, Shukoff says he learned many weird, historical facts about treasure hunting and looting. Knowing Chesley and Scaia so well helped when throwing around ideas.
“We know what each other likes creatively and there’s a shorthand that comes with that, which can speed things up,” said Shukoff. “I remember we were pitching one of our episodes and Scaia was in the room. I think I didn’t even finish a sentence and Scaia was the only person in the room who was like ‘yes’ and I hadn’t even finished what I was going to say.”
All three alumni say the best part of their Emerson experience was the people. Having a supportive community of Emersonians helped Scaia as he made the move to LA.
“We still use the same lessons we learned from Emerson as we make TV shows and movies,” said Scaia. “Having a core group of friends is really important in LA. With them, the lows aren’t as bad and the highs are really exciting.”
With a second season on the horizon, Chesley says he is looking forward to exploring other parts of the world.
“We were already thinking about stuff for the second season while writing the first,” said Chesley. “I’m really excited for audiences to see what’s in store.”
Blood & Treasure airs on CBS on Tuesday nights at 10:00 pm and can also be streamed on Amazon Prime.