Mary McDonnell Talks ‘Major Crimes’

It’s the end of a southern-twanged era. Tonight is the season finale of The Closer, and while you may be sniffling at the thought of not seeing Brenda Leigh Johnson again, the baton is being passed to another leading lady!

That’s right, Mary McDonnell is continuing her role as Sharon Raydor in the Closer spinoff, Major Crimes, which premieres tonight directly following the Closer finale. I was able to take part in a conference call with Mary, where she talked all about Raydor, what’s new with the new series, and even working with real LAPD officers — well, as much as she could without spoiling any of the juicy details!

Check out some of the highlights of the call below, and don’t forget to watch the series finale of The Closer tonight at 9/8c, followed by the series premiere of Major Crimes at 10/9c.

Now obviously you’ve been a part of this group for a while, and Major Crimes has a built-in audience. But I still — Kyra [Sedgwick] was such a huge part of The Closer. How will the new show sort of differentiate itself from the old show, and in what ways will it try to stay similar for the fans? —

Well, I think inherently it will change because Brenda Leigh Johnson is gone. So that was the center of the show, it was called The Closer. So right there, that is the biggest difference. The Major Crimes division continues as it would in life with almost all of the same people, so there is the sameness.

We’ve got these really wonderful rich characters that we’ve been attached to and exploring life with for many, you know, seven years. And they are still there, most of them trying to solve crime in Los Angeles. So there is the sameness. How this particular division goes about solving crime now has to change inherently because they no longer have Chief Johnson…

And therein lies the reality of the new show. That’s where it begins.


So I wanted to know if you could talk about how the character is going to be evolving and has changed since she first appeared on The Closer. —

Well, I think evolving is the key. You know what I’m saying in that what we’re doing is we’re seeing a woman who was in a very specific professional role; through a very specific lens and as a character, she had a very limited functionality within the ensemble of The Closer. And she was clearly brought in to be the antagonist.

And as we evolve into Major Crimes this character is evolved into — she professionally changes, she shifts. And we begin to view her through a different job, a different set of circumstances, and different things are asked of her. And one of the beautiful things about the writing is that it very organically allows her to grow in front of us because we’re watching her in a different situation from a different point of view.

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Are the networks devoid of smart?

It’s not really a new question. In fact, people have asked it a lot. And in the void of new episodes of TV, I was thinking about it.

I remember when The Sopranos started on HBO. Now, I’ve never had HBO, so I never saw this series or Sex and the City until they were syndicated many years later. So it would bug the crap out of me to watch the Emmys or the Golden Globes and find all the awards going to shows I’ve never seen. And it still happens with HBO series and Showtime, too!

But now it’s spread a little further. If you look at the most recent list of Golden Globe nominees, you’ll see that the four basic networks–ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX–aren’t nearly as represented as HBO, Showtime, and even TNT.

And why is that the case? Well, it seems to me that the four basic networks just don’t really have the time or money to spend on “smart” TV.

But let’s backtrack. What do I mean by “smart”? Well, I don’t mean “creative,” though there have been a number of cancellations for creative shows. I never watched Pushing Daisies, but you can’t disagree that it had a creative background and premise. Eli Stone, too. So it’s not necessarily creativity that I’m looking at.

Take a look at Studio 60. It was a very “smart” show. You really had to tune in and pay attention to really enjoy the show because there were a lot of storylines that fell below an episode’s plot–like Danny’s past addictions or Tom’s brother at war. It provoked thought.

Now, we take a look at shows like 90210 and The Office, which are basically spin-off/remakes of older, fresher favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Office, but we’ve moved away from subtle humor in past seasons, and we’re now to the slapstick variety and cardboard characters.

And yes, there are exceptions. Lost is clearly a smart concept, though again, I haven’t seen it (sorry, I missed the first season and never caught up). But other shows have tried to keep mysteries throughout a series and they’ve fallen flat with few viewers: Hidden Palms and Reunion are just two.

Other shows have brought about the smart in the viewers; Numb3rs is  a huge example, where the show is actually bringing about mathematical ideas into a show that would otherwise be just a basic crime show.

But overall, there seems to be a lack of smart. When The West Wing, ER, and Gilmore Girls started, there were random quips and stronger storylines. However, people followed them. I know it seems odd that I included Gilmore Girls in there, but honestly, the fast-talking pop-culture basis really carried a smart feel–a feel that really declined in later seasons.

So what’s bringing this about? I’m afraid to say it (though I already have), but time and money. But whose?

Without viewers, shows can’t last. So if viewers won’t give a show like Studio 60 a chance because they don’t want to put that much attention to an hour-long program, then what can the networks really do? But then again, Pushing Daisies did have viewers. So what happened there?

Clearly, some of the fault lies in the networks. How long is long enough to decide? Four episodes (Drive)? Nine episodes (Reunion)? Fourteen (Firefly)? Twenty-five (Tru Calling)?

[Ok, I wasn’t trying to only pick FOX shows there, but hey, look what happened. You get a prize if you can figure out what else all of those shows have in common.]

And you have to admit, the networks do have more problems with money. Unlike HBO, they don’t have a subscription basis, which means they can’t put all their money into one show. Cable series have had this advantage. They have much tighter budgets, and if something doesn’t make money AND QUICK, it can’t be on TV.

So true, they are at a disadvantage, but why do they have to go to reality TV before putting together something quality? Raising the Bar could have easily been shown on any network other than TNT, but it wasn’t. Possibly The Closer, too. Instead, we have too many competition shows and game shows–and Jay Leno’s getting his own nightly talk show at 10:00 pm!

What’s disappointing is that now I watch TV, and I’m bored. I want the smart back. I’d like to know that our basic networks aren’t free due to bad programming.

But anyway, what do you think? Viewers’ faults for not watching? Networks for not giving shows a chance? Or cable for being bullies? All opinions welcome.

The Newest Bar

RAISING THE BAR: 1.01 “The Pilot”

With the new season of television comes new things to Raked. The first, watching a TNT series. I haven’t caught The Closer or Saving Grace, but I thought I’d tune into Steven Bochco’s new series. Always with a fanfare, TNT hit off the premiere with no commercial interruption.

Little would I have thought that commercials would help a series, but we really needed the commercial breaks that were missing in tonight’s premiere of Raising the Bar. It looks like a good premise for the show, and it is enough to bring me back to another episode, but without the breaks, I felt that a lot of the tension was missing in the show. We didn’t have any angst drawing us to what the jury would say or what the judge would say (or what the judge would say or what the judge would say, as it went). The transitions were interesting, though a little distracting without anything for them to transition from, so maybe this wasn’t the number one show to take out commercial interruption.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and I’ll tune in next week. I’m curious to see more of Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s character. His eyes and anxious hands made me wonder about any possible dark secrets he might be hiding. I was a little put off because I felt that they could have spent a little more time building up characters–not necessarily stories and backgrounds, but job titles and names. They’re a lot to keep up with, and it was about the time that the show was ending that I thought I had them sorted out. But it’s nice to see some familiar faces again, like Gloria Reuben and J. August Richard. Plus, it’s always nice to see J. August Richards in his lawyery duds again, even if they didn’t suit in Angel (pardon the pun).