After Tracker Added Jensen Ackles, Justin Hartley Shares Story Behind Recruiting The Supernatural Star: 'Give The People What They Want'

 Jensen Ackles and Justin Hartley for Tracker Season 1x12.
Jensen Ackles and Justin Hartley for Tracker Season 1x12.

Tracker debuted on CBS in the 2024 TV schedule not only as Justin Hartley's return to primetime as a series regular after This Is Us, but the show that would land the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot. The series rose to become television's #1 show for the 2023-2024 TV season and guaranteed that Hartley could continue playing Colter Shaw at least into a second season. The star was also able to recruit some standout guest stars, and he spoke with CinemaBlend about arguably the most highly-anticipated of Season 1: Jensen Ackles.

Jensen Ackles starred on Supernatural for fifteen seasons before moving onto roles on shows including The Boys and Big Sky. Justin Hartley and Ackles are both veterans of The CW and longtime friends, so it only seemed natural that he would play Russell Shaw, Colter's brother. The episode that reunited the Shaw brothers also included some fun Supernatural Easter eggs. When I spoke with Hartley ahead of his This Is Us reunion with Jennifer Morrison, he also reflected on recruiting Ackles to the show:

I try to give the people what they want. You know what I mean? And Jensen and I have been friends for so long, and we never got a chance to work together because the man is so damn busy. And then we're always working in different places. That was perfect, too. I thought 'What a great opportunity to work with that dude.' He's so great. So talented and fun to work, funny. And a great role that we can bring back and I thought, 'Man, that's that's kind of a special role. I think maybe I'll make a phone call.'

The episode introducing Russell Shaw in present day didn't exactly end with the promise that he'd appear on a weekly basis, but just like with Melissa Roxburgh as Dory Shaw, the door feels very much open for another sibling reunion. With Hartley describing Russel as "a great role that we can bring back," it's possible that Jensen Ackles' one episode of Season 1 is just the first of many. As it turns out, though, Ackles landed the role in a pretty unconventional way, as Hartley explained:

Actually how that happened was he was watching football. And he said, 'Hey, man, I'm trying to watch the football game. Can you get your ugly mug off my screen, please?' Because they kept promoting the show. [laughs] And then I just texted him. I said, 'You should come play my brother.' And he texts me back. He goes, 'When and where?' And I was like, 'All right, it's on!' So it's been fun.

Well before Tracker debuted in that post-Super Bowl slot (and quickly earned a Season 2 renewal), CBS was going all-out on promoting Justin Hartley's new show during NFL games. Apparently, through a few degrees of separation, that resulted in Hartley effectively recruiting Jensen Ackles to come on board Tracker. Based on some behind-the-scenes pics of their episode, it's easy to believe the star when he said it was a fun time!

Not all shows are able to recruit fairly big TV names early on, but the last few episodes of Tracker Season 1 alone featured Manifest's Melissa Roxburgh, This Is Us' Jennifer Morrison (also of House and Once Upon a Time), and of course Jensen Ackles. Justin Hartley reflected on the show's guest stars so far, saying:

It's unbelievable. It's really incredible. And now we can go to these big TV stars and go ‘Hey, do you want to come to a few of these?' And these guys aren't doing guest stars. This is not happening, but it's the number one show and I'm kind of a fun guy to work with, I think, and we have a good show and we treat you well and we'll give you a good story. It’s fun, and people like to play, so I think we have more coming next season as well. It'll be fun.

Unfortunately, CBS is out of Tracker episodes for the foreseeable future, but you can always revisit the full first season streaming with a Paramount+ subscription. When the show does return for Season 2 in the fall, it will switch time slots slightly to air at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.