From the very first scene in June 2005, it was evident that “The Closer” was no ordinary procedural cop show, and Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson would be an atypical lead character.
In the pilot, Kyra Sedgwick, as the unapologetic southern belle top cop, tells to a colleague: “Excuse me, lieutenant, but if I liked being called a bitch to my face, I’d still be married.”
More than six years later, the show that branded TNT as a home for original scripted programming still averages 6.6 million viewers and celebrates its 100th episode today. It’s a milestone rarely reached on the cable landscape.
So how did the skein reach that magic number? The team behind its success has identified a few key ingredients: Creator James Duff’s distinctive voice, Sedgwick’s embodiment of the character and a surrounding environment that complemented those two elements.
Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. TV, which produces the “The Closer,” calls it a “game-changing series … a perfect marriage of high-quality material and inspired execution.”
The development of “The Closer” came when TNT, at the time best known for its movies, miniseries and syndicated cop shows, was ready to explore scripted, serialized television full force.
“The strategy for us at the time was to take the audience we had and lead them to something new,” recalls TNT topper Michael Wright, who was looking for a logical companion to “Law & Order.” “It needed to be a cable procedural but a little quirkier and unexpected.”
Duff, along with exec producers Greer Shephard and Michael Robin, accepted the challenge and pitched a series about a strong female character who wasn’t just there to ask the right questions in order to move the plotline along.
“We made the entire first season about what it’s like to be a woman in a world dominated by men,” Duff says. “How you go on being who you are in an environment that doesn’t reward you for that? That’s actually something that everyone pretty much can relate to. Yes, it had a specific resonance with women, but we all can relate to being a fish out of water.”
Their approach, during a time when Shephard says, “The evidence was the star and crime procedurals has divorced themselves from character,” instantly separated the show from other cop dramas.
They cast Sedgwick as their heroine, a film actress with little interest in pursuing TV. Yet, the Gotham-based thesp, despite her own reluctance about the gig, instantly took to the role.
Sedgwick says she understood the character from the moment she read the script and lobbied hard to keep in Johnson’s quirky toughness.
“There was a scene in the pilot where she was on the phone with her mother, telling her she could no longer be a ballerina because she’s chosen to be a cop. I told them ‘If you’re going to cut that scene, I promise you I won’t play the part,’ ” says Sedgwick. “And, I was totally moved by her addiction to chocolate. If I wasn’t in love with her before, I fell madly in love with her then. She was a really unusual creature.”
The role has earned Sedgwick both an Emmy and Golden Globe.
“Sedgwick is central to the show’s success,” says Entertainment Weekly TV critic Ken Tucker. “She’s taken what is essentially a variation on Columbo and has made the character her own blend of shrewdness, toughness and vulnerability.”
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