Major Crimes is one of TNT’s most popular scripted TV shows. The series has seamlessly taken over the success from its predecessor The Closer and keeps capturing the viewers with its distinguished writing and its exceptionally skilled cast who forms a perfect symbiosis and keeps the audience at the edge of their seats week after week.
I had the pleasure to talk to the brilliant mind behind the popular show: Major Crimes creator, writer and executive producer James Duff.
The season 5 finale of Major Crimes is going to be a two-parter. What can you already give away?
James Duff: We often do two part finales. As a matter of fact I think we have done a two-part finale every year except for the first season. In the finale of season 5 you sort of know who the killer is, by sight, from the very beginning. Major Crimes is trying to figure out what he is up to and it looks a lot like it might be terrorism. In this two-parter Andy Flynn ends up having to test his physical strength, his heart, his stamina.
For a long time you didn’t know whether you had to write a season finale or a series finale due to TNT taking unexpectedly long to renew the show for another season. Did you end up writing two different endings? One that ties up the season and one that ties up the show?
JD: Yes. [LAUGHS] Because TNT took so long to pick up the show I felt obligated to create a big finish and then, when we got to the end and they had picked us up, I changed the outcome and altered the story. It was very frustrating for fans and very frustrating for the cast and also for the crew since it was not sure if they were going to have jobs next season. But it wasn’t really frustrating for me because I’m just so grateful all the time for the opportunity I have been given. And even if it’s just an opportunity to end something, it’s still a great opportunity and that’s how I try to look at it.
A lot of actors guest starring on Major Crimes are very pleasantly surprised and speak very highly of the show and the cast and crew. What do you think makes their work experience on Major Crimes different than on other shows?
JD: We embrace our guest stars much more generously, I guess, than some people do. I don’t really know how it’s on other shows. I can only tell you that we have a great deal of respect for how hard it is to come through a show like Major Crimes. We want our guest stars to feel comfortable and supported. The concrete thing that we try to create for them is a safe place to do their creative best. We are collaborating with these actors and it’s important that they feel like that collaboration is returned. That they are not just there to say the words and move on, that we want them to try and do their best work.
— Hayes Hargrove (@hayeshargrove) March 1, 2017
I think it is somewhat similar when it comes to the fans. When the cast and crew are interacting with fans via social media it is always apparent that there is a lot of respect there as well.
JD: We openly consider our fans as part of the community of the show. That’s how these social platforms have affected television. We don’t just have programs anymore or series, we have a community that is connected by the series. I truly respect that and I’m so thrilled to have these various platforms on which to, for a little bit anyway, interact with the audience. This is a sea change created by technological advancement. And we are still wrapping our minds around all the different things these advancements allow us to do. But the thing they have created for us in a social way is the ability to reach out and actually converse with our audience on a regular basis. I would have loved this when I was a kid, when I was young, interacting with people from my favorite show. I would have been over the moon. Of course now I think its almost old hat in some ways but just knowing how I would have felt and how I would still feel like if I had a chance to interact with someone from Game of Thrones for example. [LAUGHS] I would be there so fast it would make your head spin.
Several people seem to be a little unhappy with Rusty at the moment. I asked some fans about it and the majority said that they feel like Rusty often ends scenes they would have liked to see play out. Is that intended from your side or is it just an effect of the lack of time you can dedicate to personal storylines?
JD: People who dislike Rusty tend to complain a lot more than the people who love him. I’ve got two different subsets of viewers to deal with. There are people who only watch the show because of Rusty and there are people who watch the show in spite of him. [LAUGHS] And I have to somehow satisfy both of them and I do the best I can. And sometimes not everyone is going to be happy. I’ve sort of learned to accept that I can only do the best I can and then I have to hope that’s enough. And a lot of times you get a window into how Sharon and even Andy think through Rusty and yet he must exist on his own. He has to have his own character. He can’t just be there for those purposes. Rusty also is a thematic resonance device. Often times the theme in the story ends up coming together in Rusty’s scenes because he is thematically connected to everything even if he is not connected to the principle mystery. It’s important to remember that in writing the show I have to be constantly aware of Mary’s time. She’s got about 11 hours a day in which to do her thing and it’s important to make sure that you don’t overwork people, that you keep the story going and to keep their story alive, their longer arcs alive, without killing the actors. So I have to really bear that in mind when I put the stories together. The audience doesn’t have to bear it in mind but I have to. Otherwise it turns into diminishing returns because the actor just gets overwhelmed by all the work and then we all don’t have what we want.
JD: We are a third of the way through of breaking the stories. The production starts in the second week of May. It looks like the show will come back in fall but nothing is set in stone yet.Can you already tell us the theme of season 6?
JD: I’m going to be writing about faith and reason.In a recent interview you talked about changes the show will undergo. One of them is that you will move away from the episodic story telling. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the show is going to change?
JD: We have done multi-parters before. They tend to be grittier and more intense. And the network is looking for grittier, more intense, more relevant. Last year we did Hindsight, a five-parter, and it was very well received by both the fans and the critics. We had a good review that popped up in the New York Times. I was so astonished because I didn’t even think the New York Times had ever noticed the show. So we were really thrilled with the reception Hindsight received and the network especially wanted us to concentrate on that. It was – I don’t want to say it was an order – but it was the network’s preference that we do the show this way. The network is changing its identity but it doesn’t want to lose our viewers in the process which is very nice. So they are doing things that they think might bring more people without alienating those that we have. And this was one example of what they thought we could accomplish.In 20 years, when you look back on your time on Major Crimes, which memory with your colleagues will probably be the first one that comes to your mind?
JD: [LAUGHS] The first memory that comes to mind? I would have to say the scene that we shot between Sharon, Rusty and Buzz in her office in the very first episode of Major Crimes. Where Rusty comes to talk to Brenda and she’s not there and he says to Sharon “I don’t know you but I don’t like you and I’d really rather talk to Brenda” and Sharon says, “well you are standing at the back of very long line“. Rusty was speaking for the audience in that moment. And then Buzz comes in and Rusty says, “what kind of name is Buzz anyway?” and Buzz says, “you mean compared to Rusty?” There are two things about that scene: It set the tone. And then also, we shot way out of order. In order to qualify for the subsidy for Major Crimes we had to start shooting in February and we weren’t ready. So we could only shoot two scenes. We shot one day. I shot the only two scenes that I felt like were finished. So we got everybody together for those two scenes and that was the first day of Major Crimes. We didn’t begin shooting the rest for another 5 weeks I think. That is a very present memory.