The Blacklist: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The NBC Series

James Spader on The Blacklist

Since debuting on NBC in 2013, the crime thriller The Blacklist has become one of the most successful and popular shows on the Peacock Network. With a stellar cast that includes James Spader, Megan Boone, and the late Brian Dennehy, the series has been a proven hit with audiences and critics alike. But fans of the series might want to know some of the best behind the scenes facts about one of their favorite shows. Luckily, that's why I am here.

From the show's formation to the thrilling and unique Season 7 finale, The Blacklist has a pretty crazy history. Without wasting any more time, let's take a look at the most fascinating behind the scenes facts about the hit NBC crime series.

James Spader on The Blacklist

The Original Concept Was Inspired By Criminal-Turned-Informant Whitey Bulger

Back when The Blacklist was still in the conceptual stages, showrunner and executive producer John Eisendrath was trying to find ways to create a crime show that didn't fit into the typical mold of having a hero cop track down bad guys. Instead, he wanted to find a way to make a show where a criminal was the one that was bringing the baddies to justice. That sounds a lot like Whitey Bulger, the Boston crime lord who served as an informant for a number of years before later being becoming one of the FBI's most wanted criminals, right?

During a 2013 interview with Collider, John Eisendrath explained that he was putting the show together around the time Bulger was apprehended in Santa Monica in 2011 and the thought came to him, stating:

So, the idea was, 'Well, what would happen if a man like Whitey Bulger turned himself in and said, 'I am here. I have some rules that I want you to follow, but if you follow them I will give you the names of people that I have worked with, during the 20 years that I have been a fugitive.

James Spader on The Blacklist

James Spader Wasn't Cast Until Three Days Before The Pilot Was Filmed

It is hard to imagine a world in which James Spader doesn't Raymond "Red" Reddington, but that was very much a possibility as the actor didn't sign on for the role until right before the show went into production. Before the future star of Avengers: The Age Of Ultron was cast, showrunner John Eisendrath told Variety that he offered the role to the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Gere, Bryan Cranston, and Pierce Brosnan.

And then just three days before the pilot was scheduled to enter production, James Spader agreed to join the cast. One of the craziest parts of all of this is the fact that Spader never met the show's executive producers face to face prior to showing up for the pilot. Sure, they had a series of phone calls to discuss the character and his motivations prior to shooting, but they didn't meet the actor until the first day of production.

James Spader On The Blacklist

Spader Came Up With The Idea Of Red Wearing His Iconic Fedora

There's no doubt about it, Red Reddington is one of the most iconic characters on television right now, and a lot of that has to do with the character's look, specifically his signature fedora. But this wasn't something that was drawn up before James Spader was cast in the leading role way back when. No, the idea of having the character don the classic hat was Spader's own idea.

When sitting down with TODAY in 2014, James Spader was asked if it was true that had came up with the idea that Red was to wear a fedora throughout the series, to which he replied:

Yeah, it was. It seemed eminently practical, but of course now it's ruined fedoras for my life. I've always worn hats, but I've had to put my fedoras on the shelf and pull out my homburgs and caps.

James Spader on The Blacklist

The Actor Even Came Up With The Idea That Raymond Should Have A Shaved Head

The decision to have Red Reddington don a fedora wasn't the only decision James Spader made in regards to his Blacklist character, as he came up with the idea that the one-time criminal should have a shaved head.

During a conference call with different media outlets (including The Oklahoman) in 2013, James Spader had this to say about the decision to have his character take on a more clean-shaven look:

I'd had my hair long for, I think, the last few projects that I'd done. And it just felt — it felt like the right thing for him, so I — it was an idea that I instigated, and I think it was the right choice. It just seemed to fit his lifestyle, and he's someone who has to move — travel lightly and more swiftly — and it seemed eminently practical for him.

Megan Boone on The Blacklist

Megan Boone Spent A Week Preparing For What She Considered Her Best Audition

Megan Boone has played FBI special agent Elizabeth "Liz" Keen in all but a few episodes of The Blacklist, but before getting the job ahead of the show's pilot, the actress put everything she had into her audition, which she considers one of the best of her career. This meant taking extraordinary steps to ensure that she was the best candidate for the role, as she told TV Addict in 2013:

Once I got a hold of The Blacklist and I read it, I was immediately kind of drawn to the character Elizabeth Keen and I worked really hard on it for about a week before I met with [John] Eisendrath and [Jon] Bokenkamp and Joe Carnahan, who directed it. In that meeting, I just kind of put it all out on the table. I probably gave one of the better auditions of my career because it was one of the more important ones to me.

Following her first audition for the role, Megan Boone had to go back in a few more times for further readings, during which time she grew closer and closer with the character of Liz and the show itself.

James Spader on The Blacklist

At One Point, Netflix Was Paying $2 Million Per Episode To Stream The Series

One month before Season 2 of The Blacklist premiered in September 2014, it was reported that Netflix paid an impressive sum for the streaming rights of NBC's popular crime drama. According to a Deadline report, the streaming giant acquired the rights to stream the show at $2 million per episode.

In the days before Netflix had a long list of shows, movies, and other programming, the platform had to find ways to keep its customers happy, even if that meant shelling out $44 million per season of the hit show. At the time, the $2 million per one-hour episode was believed to be the largest fee the platform had paid at the time. But that's nothing for the same company that later paid $100 million to keep Friends for an extra year back in 2018.

Famke Janssen in The Blacklist: Redemption

There Was A Short-Lived Spinoff That Only Lasted One Season Before Being Cancelled

Like any successful show on NBC, The Blacklist was even given its own spinoff at one point. First announced in the spring of 2016, Blacklist: Redemption premiered a year later. The spinoff was short-lived, however, as it was cancelled after only one (eight-episode) season.

The series starred Famke Janssen and Ryan Eggold, who reprised his role of Tom Keen from the main Blacklist series. Following the cancellation Eggold returned to The Blacklist until his character was killed off in Season 5.

The Blacklist Season 7 Finale

The Season 7 Finale Combined Live-Action And Animation

The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 brought the world to its knees, and that was very much the case for television and film productions around the world. The producers of The Blacklist and NBC, however, came up with a rather unique solution to the problem when it was announced the Season 7 finale would come a few weeks early and be animated.

By combining some of the live-action footage already filmed before production was shut down in the spring of 2020 with a form of animation that looks strikingly similar to something you'd see in either an early 21st Century video game or graphic novel, the season was able to come to a close and satisfy fans in the process.

In an interview with ET, the show's creator Jon Bokenkamp had this to say about the ambitious project:

We only shot three or four days of our episode, so we were about halfway through filming the episode [when things shut down]. [Executive producer] John [Eisendrath] and I were kicking around ridiculous things like, 'Why don't we play an old-time radio show? We thought, maybe we can use some of those images from the comics that are the likenesses of the characters and cut to them while they're still talking. Eventually, that evolved into finding a company that could actually pull it off.

The Blacklist Season 7 Finale

The Show's Producers Were Able To Pull Off A Stunt That Wouldn't Have Been Possible Without Animation

The use of animation not only allows The Blacklist to conclude its seventh season as the technology gave Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath the ability to pull off one of the largest action sequences that wouldn't have been possible otherwise, telling ET:

We had a big helicopter sequence that we could never have done. Someone was supposed to open up a suitcase filled with paper and it was supposed to fly through the rotors of the helicopter but there were a million legitimate safety rules, which in the real world, would've prevented that from happening. Well, there are no rules in animation so that briefcase opens and everything goes up in a way that it never otherwise would have.

Brian Dennehy on The Blacklist

The Animated Episode Allowed For The Return Of The Late Brian Dennehy's Dom

When the tragic news of critically acclaimed actor and Blacklist star Brian Dennehy passed away at the age of 81 in April 2020, fans of the series were worried that they wouldn't see a conclusion to the late actor's character Dominic "Dom" Rostova's story. But when Season 7 was forced to draw to a close earlier than expected, the show's producers assured fans that they hadn't seen the last of Dom as Jon Bokenkamp told Deadline:

Fans will get to see Brian again. We're working with existing and previously filmed footage to complete the season finale.

And that was very much the case when Liz was seen talking to her grandfather in the final moments of Season 7. Whether or not this means Dom's character will continue on (if the show remains animated) remains to be seen.

Those are just 10 behind the scenes facts about The Blacklist. As more details begin to surface about the filming of the Season 7 finale and where the show goes from here, I'm sure there will be tidbits of information about the hit series. And for more our thoughts on how things shook out on The Blacklist, make sure to go on over and check the Season 7 finale review on CinemaBlend.

Philip Sledge
Content Writer

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or chatting about professional wrestling to his wife. Writing gigs with school newspapers, multiple daily newspapers, and other varied job experiences led him to this point where he actually gets to write about movies, shows, wrestling, and documentaries (which is a huge win in his eyes). If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.