Posted Saturday, October 28, 2017 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
TNT in the mid-2000s was seeking a big drama hit and found one with “The Closer,” a crime series revolving around a Southern gal with amazing skills to get criminals to confess. Ultimately, the show became an ensemble cast full of quirky, yet realistic characters with a distinct style and feel. It also became TNT’s most successful show to date.
After seven seasons, Sedgwick bowed out but creator James Duff wanted to keep the rest of the team together. So he created spin-off “Major Crimes,” which was basically the same show minus Brenda Leigh Johnson. And it has lasted another six seasons.
The way the show is structured and given its fan base, it could have lasted longer. But TNT has changed management and its desire nowadays is for edgier fare such as “Animal Kingdom,” “Good Behavior” and “Claws.” “Major Crimes” is more like comfort food, the type of show that Duff said would fit comfortable on CBS. (Steve Koonin helped shepherd the series but left in 2014 and became CEO of the Atlanta Hawks. ‘The Closer,’ Koonin wrote me, “was part of the cable television creative renaissance. ‘The Closer’ won Emmy’s, Golden Globes and proved that cable could create originals that were on par with the traditional broadcasting networks.”)
Duff has been bracing for this – even if he doesn’t necessarily agree. “They may be right” in their strategy shift, he said. “I am not advocating that I am right. I feel an obligation to defend my show. I’m not responsible for Turner’s future. People who are responsible have to make decisions the best they know how.”
The final season, which debuts Tuesday at 9 p.m., will run 13 episodes. And at the request of Kevin Reilly, who runs TNT and TBS, Duff created two multi-episode serialized arcs instead of traditional single procedural episodes.
While putting together season six, he wasn’t 100 percent sure this was the end but he “retrofitted” the series finale to ensure it felt that way. “We shot the entire last episode knowing it was our last,” he said.
And it ends appropriately with resolution regarding Stroh, the serial killer who has haunted “Major Crimes” for years. “The finale is anything if not defiant,” he said.
“Since ‘The Closer’ came on the air,” Duff said, “television has changed dramatically. ‘Major Crimes’ has been able to stay relevant in a highly saturated TV environment. For me, it’s emotionally gratifying to do these multi-part episodes. Our series has great flexibility and it also gave us the chance to dive deeper into the characters’ personal lives.”
Duff gives special kudos to Mary McDonnell, who has played Sharon Raydor, now commander of the unit. “She’s fantastic this season,” he said. “She takes it up a notch. We talked about it as we were going along. If this is going to be the last season, we need some ins and outs. We created some ins and outs for ourselves. She just played them to the nth degree. We sort of took our fate into our own hands. I have no power to end the show. I didn’t want to end it either. Neither did she. But we knew what was going on. It was clear.”
He would love to find a new home for “Major Crimes” but Warner Brothers owns the property and most networks and streaming platforms like to own their own shows. “Warner Brothers has no incentive to give up ownership,” he said. Duff has not heard from Peter Roth, CEO of Warner Brothers, about going to another place.
Duff was only a little surprised TNT chose to end the series before the new season had debuted. “But it looks like [Reilly] was just allowing us to go one more season while he got his ducks in a row again. That’s a business decision, not a personal decision.”
Still, for Duff, this is personal. He has worked with many of the crew and actors for 12 years. He has developed a rapport with many of the fans on a first-name basis. “I am very attached not only to whom I worked with but our viewers… It’s been an amazing experience honestly. Losing my connection with the audience will be painful.”
He and the actors do chats with fans regularly and he imagines he’d “be thrilled beyond belief” if he had this opportunity to do so with “Star Trek” when he was a child.
“I always loved hearing about it when they didn’t like something or were mad about something,” Duff said. “I tried very hard not to be defensive about the things they didn’t like and not let my head get swollen over things they did like. They were overall very respectful.”
One sign Duff was not totally prepared for the end: he blew up the Major Crimes office at the end of season five and had it rebuilt for season six, which would end up only being used for 13 episodes. “I spent a lot of money I didn’t intend to,” he said. “I would have caught the guy some other way. Unfortunately, there was a limit to what I could change by that time.”
Duff was a little surprised by how some people reacted negatively to Gus and Rusty kissing. He was also shocked that his neo-Nazi storyline last year – months before the Charlottesville protest – actually generated defenders of Nazis.
And while there was always talk of bringing Johnson back one more time, Duff and Sedgwick could never get their schedules on track to get it done. “We couldn’t get to the right place,” he said.
I gave Duff a chance to provide kudos to each of the major actors on the show:
Mary McDonnell (Raydor): “She made me think about how there is more than one right way to do things.”
G.W. Bailey (Louie Provenza): “Provenza was a joy to write. G.W. was my acting teacher in high school. I always admired him.”
Tony Denison (Andy Flynn): “He carries an element of rage and irritation inside him even when he’s calm. Even though it’s not who he is, it’s his persona on screen. All he has to do is walk in front of the camera. You have a presence there.”
Michael Paul Chan (Michael Tao): “Hes’ the most inventive and adult person. He’s who we call the adult on the show.”
Raymond Cruz (Julio Sanchez): “He’s a great actor. To have access to him this whole time was a joy.”
Phillip P. Keene (Buzz Watson): “I don’t know how I would have done the series without Phillip. He wasn’t meant to be just someone in the electronics room. I only hired him because I know no other actor who would have let me do that. He just came in and held on.” (He and Duff, by the way, are married.)
Graham Patrick Martin (Rusty): “He gave me a chance to revisit my youth. He was a startling good actor and I adored him as a person. He wasn’t even supposed to be on the show. He came to do the finale of ‘The Closer.’ Holy cow! This kid! I don’t want to lose this kid! We made him an entry point to Sharon’s life. And that worked out really well for both the show and Sharon. It showed her skills were not limited to the workplace.”
Jonathan Del Arco (Dr. Fernando Morales): “He calls himself the Paul Lynde of ‘The Closer.’ He is a force of nature, too, and a delight to be around.”
“Major Crimes,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, starting October 31, TNT