Going To Church — An Exclusive Interview With “Saints & Sinners” Showrunner Nigel Campbell


After five twist-filled seasons and an explosive movie, Bounce’s Saints and Sinners is coming to a dramatic close with its sixth and final season premiering this weekend. In anticipation of the finale, we sat down with showrunner Nigel Campbell to discuss all of the nitty gritty details on what we can expect as this groundbreaking series comes to a close.

Saints & Sinners became a BREAKOUT hit for Bounce, making it one of its most watched shows. What is it about this series that you think audiences across the nation are connecting with?

I think that initially people found their way into it because it was, and is still to a degree, centered around a Southern Baptist Black church. So people identify with, at least a lot of Black viewers identify with, church drama, and they know that there’s generally something behind the scenes of that. It’s not all pious and happy and holy. Sometimes there are some really shady or unholy things happening, and so people can identify with that drama.

But I think that over time, over the course of the last six seasons, it’s really been them identifying with these characters and our actors that portray them. And they’re really invested just in their journeys. And they want to know what’s going to happen next to these people, how are they going to deal with it? I think that they really are just along for the ride with them. I feel like the world of the show continues to grow. So what started out as a sort of a small church drama became a show that had corporate intrigue and gangster mob intrigue. I describe the show as Scandal with bibles and guns. It’s a show with those sort of twists and turns.

But again, I feel like the world of the show has grown as our characters have grown and deepened.

You joined the show after it began, were you a fan of the series when you joined? If not, what was that on-boarding process like?

I hadn’t seen the show. I joined the show in season three as a writer and binged seasons one and two in the lead up to me joining the writers’ room. So I became a fan very quickly, but it was like through that sort of immersive binge process and then just got thrown right into the fire, as it were, of developing these characters. But they built such a strong foundation in season one and two that it really allowed for things to sort of take off from there. I was a writer on the show for seasons three and four and then took over as showrunner for seasons five and six. So, you know, my journey on the show felt sort of intensified in the same way that our sort of quick, eight episode seasons feel intense and with no filler.

Production value has always been core to Saints & Sinners aesthetics, with the series having a very stylistic view, production values growing year over year. Was this a focus for you and your team?

We are always trying to elevate every season. We’re trying to top ourselves in terms of story, in terms of production value, wardrobe and make up, all of it. We just want to show it all and always feel like it’s just getting bigger and better because I think that when it comes to a primetime soap, there can be diminishing returns over time. You’re telling so many crazy, sometimes outlandish stories that it can feel like, “Oh, we sort of like jumped the shark here” or what have you.

But we really dig in and invest every season to just make it feel more and more rich. We shoot the show at such a fast pace. I don’t even know how we do it. it’s a heroic effort by our amazing crew who just make it happen every season. And I’m always kind of awestruck by what they managed to do. But we shot a lot of location in season five and for season six we’re doing more stuff on set. So it’ll be interesting to see how that plays for the audience, if there’s any sort of difference or distinction. I think the stories are still just as strong, if not stronger. So I think that they’re going to enjoy it either way.

The show from the start was big on sexual diversity. Was telling an authentic story for the LGBTQ community important for you?

You know, I never truly, consciously thought about it. I mean, as someone that identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, I’m always conscious of wanting our portrayals to feel, at the very least, realistic. I don’t need everything to be. Quote unquote, positive. You know, everyone doesn’t need to like the gay character, doesn’t have to be a saint by any means. But I do want to feel like this isn’t just thrown in for the sake of throwing it in. I want it to feel like it’s true to character or are motivated in some way. It was important to me that it felt organic to these characters and authentic. I hope that we accomplish that. I think that a lot of people have the capacity for or a curiosity for exploration, for understanding. If you’re open to it and feel like It makes sense for certain characters of ours to explore those sides of themselves.

In between season 4 and 5, Bounce greenlit the spinoff movie “Saints & Sinners: Judgment Day.” What was that experience like and how did working on that project differ from the show?

That was wild only because I took over the show for season five, so we’d already written the season.  It wasn’t shot yet. But for all intents and purposes, this was the show for season five. Then they greenlit the movie, which was to kind of serve as a bridge between season four and season five. They wanted it to exist in the world of our show, but in the interim, between season four and season five.

So I kind of had to retroactively go back and engineer what could take place in this sort of finite period of time that wouldn’t derail everything we’ve written for season five. I still wanted to create a story that had a beginning, a middle and an end, but also something that felt like, okay, this is a movie. It’s not just another episode of the show. It needed to warrant being this sort of special Saints & Sinners event. So I wanted to have like a really strong arc within it, but again, something that could still play with what we had like meticulously laid out for season five. So that was its own challenge, but it was really fun and I feel like the movie’s kind of heightened things in a way that the rest of the series isn’t. But I think that that works because it’s a movie, it’s a different thing, but it still can exist in the world of our Saints & Sinners universe.

So how was production for the movie handled? Was that done in correlation with the fifth season or did you shoot that separately?

We wrapped season five and then jumped into the movie, I want to say two weeks later. We took a quick break to go into a sort of pre-production and then just jumped right into the movie and knocked that out in a few weeks.

Our readers are very big on the behind the scenes aspect of television creation. Specifically, revolving around the writing process. Can you walk us through how the final season was plotted out, did you come into the writers’ room with an ending in mind?

Well, you know, within our writers’ room for season six, specifically, we allowed for a lot more discovery. I would say with season five, we came in with a more finite vision. I had a plan for what I’d like to do for the fifth season. With this one, it was more like, okay, we’re going to land the plane. Where we have the opportunity to plan where things are going and these characters in a way that we want to and sort of set the stage for where are they going for the rest of their lives that we’re not going to see. That’s its own sort of unique challenge, but one that I hadn’t had the experience of taking on before. So that was exciting.

But we went into it with an open mind, like, let’s discover who’s going to win, who’s going to lose? What does a win look like? Our characters live a lot in the gray as opposed to black and white. Sometimes you have to ask yourself who’s deserving of a win? And again, what does that look like? That should probably be tempered in some way, right? Because you can’t just give them the complete pot of gold after they’ve probably killed a few people. So it was a really interesting process of discussion. But I think that we landed somewhere really satisfying for, I’d like to say, all of our characters. I think that everyone has an interesting journey and my goal this season is, as always, to give you a fresh look at everyone and let’s peel the layers back even more and show you something new about these people. And I think six seasons in, that we’re still doing that.

So you knew going into it that it was going to be your final season, so you were able to actually craft that with in mind.

It’s bittersweet, of course, to find out that the show is ending. But I was thankful for letting me know when we can plan that accordingly.

For six seasons, we watched Vanessa Bell Calloway drive story as the manipulative Lady Ella Johnson. What went into the decision for moving Ella away from the mayor’s office into the role of special prosecutor and what stories did that open the door for?

Well what’s so great about that character and her portrayer is that I feel like with Ella, nothing is off limits.

Like, she is just so driven and so ambitious and she knows what she wants and she goes after it. I feel like that’s common about a lot of our characters and that they’re all going for things at 100 miles per hour. They all want things so deeply, and I feel like that’s the best world to play in because it just means the stakes are so, so high for everyone, everything feels like life and death, even if it isn’t life and death.

For that character, we wanted to put her very much in the driver’s seat in season six. You know, she’s always driven story, but going out on season six, like Vanessa has said to me personally, that this is the most fun she’s had on the show, which I thought was a huge compliment. And the work she does this season is phenomenal. But she doesn’t take her foot off the pedal. She goes for it. She really, really, really goes for it. And so does Ella.

What would you describe as the “theme” of the sixth season?

That’s a great question. I would say there is a lot of reflection. I would say that there are consequences, and I would argue that there’s some redemption. So yeah, I would say that those three words along with being really bold. Really. Unapologetic and really unexpected.

Who was your favorite character to write for when you were just starting out in season three? What was the character that you just really enjoyed getting your hands on?

Oh, you know who I love and still adore Leona? Lady Bird. I think that she is that classic grand dame soap diva, soap villainess. It’s just so juicy to watch, and to write someone that you know pulls strings and you never know quite what she’s up to or what she’s planning.

Then again, over the course of the seasons that I was writing for her, we got to peel back the layers and we got to understand why she’s doing all the crazy things that she’s doing and what’s motivating her. Because I feel like even the best, quote unquote villains are the ones that you understand their motivation, you understand their perspective, you understand why they are the way they are, how they got to where they are. I really enjoyed getting to explore her and her portrayer. Donna Biscoe is truly top tier. Like, I don’t know that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a better actress work and that that goes for Vanessa Calloway as well. But just a true artist.

What can you tease for our audience that is coming up in the final season?

Oh, goodness. What can I tease?

You will see… You’ll see some familiar faces that may have taken a bit of a break. How about that? You’ll see some familiar faces I have described this season as like kind of muscular, kind of gritty. I really wanted to take the men on our show and make sure that they were all kind of playing from the top of their intelligence. Not to say that the women are taking a backseat because I love a soap diva, I think that women drive story in this genre, frankly. I think that women in soaps are meant to be the protagonists. They’re meant to be active and driving stories. So that’s never going to take a backseat on a show that I’m writing.

But I really wanted to kind of toughen up our men, for lack of a better word. And I think the balance is really, really interesting. We’ve got a great new villain this season. It’s emotional, it’s twisty and it’s going to be really surprising. But we’re not taking the foot off the pedal, we’re going like 100 miles per hour.

So as a soap fan yourself, what was it like to get to join the writers’ room of a primetime soap and to have made your mark now on the genre?

It’s crazy, right? I grew up watching these shows, daytime and primetime. I’ve always felt so connected to that genre, but I don’t know that I saw myself going in and writing for it. I certainly didn’t imagine myself getting to run a show.

So to be able to do so and frankly, to be able to do so for a primarily Black cast of just dynamic, juicy characters, it’s a dream. It’s truly been a dream come true. I have to give credit to our network Bounce. They really gave me the opportunity to craft the show that I wanted to write. There wasn’t a lot of interference and no sort of, “You should take a story this way” or “that way.” What you’re seeing in season five or seeing in season six — that’s the vision. That’s what we wanted to do. It’s what we wanted to execute.

How can you ask for more than that? Hopefully people love it. But if they don’t, at least they had a really fun, creative experience.

Your followers on Twitter will know that you’re a very vocal fan of Daytime television, what are you enjoying in Daytime right now? 

You know what I’m loving right now? General Hospital.

I don’t usually gravitate to teen stories or the young stories, but I’m loving everything happening with Trina — seamless recast by the way, Tabyana Ali is wonderful. Avery Pole as Esmé. Amazing. I’m loving Spencer. The young set is really gelling for me. I’m just really enjoying that story on that show. I need more Maura West always. I always need more Ava, because I think that she’s just like the best thing we have in daytime.

I’m watching The Bold and the Beautiful because they were bringing back Taylor Hayes. She’s like one of my favorite characters, and I’m really enjoying Krista Allen in the role, which I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t so sure about initially. I wasn’t so sure that was going to work but I think she is really killing it. I’m just really loving that. I want to see more of her, you know? I’ve been vocal about how I feel I want my Taylor at the forefront driving things.

Oh, can I also just add, I loved the Marlaina re-possession on Days of Our Lives. I loved it. I thought that was so well executed, such a fun revisit of that story. And Deidre Hall’s an icon. Just really, really wonderful stuff.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, what do you think is the biggest opportunity in Daytime? 

Oh, the biggest opportunity in Daytime. I would love to see bigger swings being taken by some of the shows. I think that they really have an opportunity because Daytime is so unique and that you can really see the beats of everything being played day to day, week to week. I have an eight episode season. There are like 260 episodes of Daytime drama every year.

For you to kind of be able to get into and dig into the minutia of a story and the emotional beats, I love that. I think it’s really unique to this genre. So I would love see that played into more. When The Bold and the Beautiful told its transgender story with Maya, I thought it was so beautifully done and I thought like it was so fresh and something that we hadn’t seen. It felt brave. Not brave because we’re seeing a trans character, but just brave because, okay, here we are, like taking the time to tell this story and play the emotional beats and all the ramifications of it. I want to see more of that. I just feel like every show probably has an opportunity to do that on some level and in different ways. All of these shows are very different and their tone and the way they deliver things, but I’d like to see that across the board.

I mean, I think back to Robin, Stone, and the HIV story in the 90s and just how beautifully that played out. That was… I want to say that that might have been my entry into General Hospital. That era with Robin, Stone, Sonny and Brenda. Just getting to see that story play out in just such a raw, beautiful, emotional way. That is what I come to Daytime for. It can apply to romance too. You know, I got to see Sonny and Brenda and their pride and all of the ups and downs. No one does it like them. What’s funny about Sonny and Brenda, they’re best when they’re apart because no one does longing better than those two. The ins and outs of that story, whether it was with Lily or like once Jax entered into it. That’s it. That’s the stuff for me.

Do you have any other projects in the works that you can tease for us? 

It is probably too early to tell. I do have some things that I am actively developing a few at different stages. I’ll leave it at that. We’re working on some stuff, some that actually kind of outside the drama. Some of it soapy, some of it more comedy. But hopefully you’ll have some fun things to hear about it.

You can check out the premiere of Season 6 of Saints & Sinners on Bounce at 8PM EST on Sunday, April 3rd and the following day on Brown Sugar.

Catch up on all of the drama from season 1-5 (including Saints & Sinners: Judgement Day) on Brown Sugar.

Johnathon K.
Johnathon K. is a staff writer for TV Source Magazine. With a love of soaps, the Super Sentai Series and gaming, John's passion comes through in his writing and as a featured host of the TV Source Podcast, where he also serves as producer. In 2019, John launched his own podcast series "Our Take Media" which gives his take on various things in TV from soaps to reality television.

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