Drama Series: The new breed
For TNT’s “The Closer,” the recipe for success seemed predictable.
The original series ran in the summer months at a time when its fellow procedural dramas on the broadcast networks were in reruns.
The promotional wherewithal was certainly there — the runup to the series was touted during TNT’s NBA playoff coverage, and the channel’s coveted reruns of the like-minded “Law & Order” also were available for promo time.
And there certainly was nothing basic-cable about the cast, which stars Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson — a role that’s already landed her a Golden Globe nom — and drama vet J.K. Simmons as her boss.
Sure enough, audiences found it. “The Closer” was the top new original series on ad-supported cable last year, averaging 5.45 million viewers per week.
Still, the series’ creators and key talent seemed a bit dumbstruck by the outcome.
“To our surprise, we seem to have stumbled onto some popularity,” says creator James Duff, the scribe behind notable 1996 small-budget feature “The War at Home” as well as the Alphabet procedural “The D.A.” a couple of years back. Duff shares exec producing credit with Greer Shephard and Michael Robin.
“It was a happy surprise,” adds Sedgwick, who agreed to commute to the West Coast from her Gotham home to play the role because she liked the complicated crime-fighting heroine she saw in the script.
By definition, “The Closer” qualifies as a procedural. Duff and his team are sticklers for LAPD realism, putting former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti on the payroll as a consultant — he also worked with Duff on “The D.A.” — and working extensively with a detective from the police department’s robbery-homicide division.
“I asked (Garcetti) what’s the best thing the police can do to put a killer behind bars, and he said, ‘Give me an air-tight confession,’ ” says Duff, describing a conversation with the former prosecutor that helped spawn the series.
Unlike most procedural dramas, however, at least half of the formula is based on Sedgwick’s badly dressed, sugar-obsessed, sense-of-direction-challenged detective — who happens to be highly skilled at getting killers to fess up.
The nuance of this character — the complexity of her simmering relationship with Simmons’ assistant police chief Will Pope, for example — drives the series at least as much as all the “procedural” stuff.
Duff is humorously defensive about descriptions of the character that include the word “quirky.”
“I base this character very much on myself. I’ve taken to calling her ‘idiosyncratic,’ ” he says with a laugh. “I based her on me, but I made her a woman. But unlike a lot of women you see on procedurals, she’s a real woman, not a woman trying to show she can be a man. She’s unapologetic about that. She has her girl moments.”
Best episode: “Standards and Practices.” For the entire season, we watch Brenda Johnson slowly battle for the hearts and minds of her dissonant division by sheer force of her skill and professionalism. When an anonymous internal LAPD grievance is filed against her, the rallying of her colleagues behind her is satisfying proof that she has finally won the fight.
Most complex character: Sedgwick’s crime fighter has more layers than the sugary cakes she covets.
What should happen next season: With her division now firmly behind her, Brenda should battle new levels of criminal deviousness. But her chief nemesis, Capt. Taylor (played by Robert Gossett), undoubtedly will continue the political struggle to have her pushed aside. And there’s also that thing she still has for her married boss.