Southern accents, like the Georgia twang that New York-raised Kyra Sedgwick drawls on “The Closer,” are rare for lead characters on TV. Critics and fans have been vocal about their love-it-or-hate-it relationship with Sedgwick’s thick delivery, but series creator James Duff says neither he nor TNT execs ever considered losing the accent.
“There was never any question at all, because the character of Brenda Johnson was complete with that accent,” Duff says. “TNT was interested in a complete character, and I think the accent was the finishing touch. I always felt like, ‘If people hear her authenticity, they’ll hang out more with the show.'”
Hang out they have, with improved ratings, according to Nielsen, over the course of four seasons. Not that Duff doesn’t still read accent bashing online.
“Most of the people who say it’s not quite right are definitely from the North,” says Duff, who sports his own distinctive Texas twang. “I’m like, ‘Really?’ Listen to Kyra now: You hear Texas and Georgia. You hear the actual mix — she’s gotten that specific. It’s hard!”
It’s the official ratings, of course, and not online gossip, that put ad money where Brenda’s mouth is. And a quick ratings review by region of the first four seasons reveals that Northerners are almost as supportive as Southerners, despite any misgivings about speech.
Auds in the Southeastern and East-Central U.S. screen “The Closer” most consistently.
In season four, 3.2 million East-Central and 3.2 million Southeastern viewers on average tuned in, while the Northeastern region came in third with 2.9 million. Average viewers in the Southwest: 2.5 million.
Sedgwick, who works regularly with a dialect coach, knows her accent so well, she sometimes dreams in Southern. She’s proud of her mastery of the accent. Furthermore, she considers it a vital part of her character’s power persona.
“Brenda’s accent is part of what she does to throw people off guard. You hear a Southern accent, and sometimes you underestimate somebody,” Sedgwick says. “She uses it and clings to it on purpose.”
Duff admires the accent for similar story-value reasons and personal ones as well.
“I grew up in the South with really smart people who had that accent, and every time I saw them on television, they seemed like the stupidest people on the face of the earth. Like the accent was a badge of inferiority,” he explains. “I thought, as long as we’re doing something different, how about if the woman lead with the Southern accent is the smartest person in the room instead of the most ignorant?”