One of the greatest things about this column and this website is the incredible chances we get to talk to the brilliant minds that make our favorite shows more terrific than we think possible. Case in point, I recently had the opportunity to spend some time on the phone with the very charming creator, executive producer, and writer of the TNT original series, The Closer, Mr. James Duff. James was well spoken, smart, friendly, and he truly cares about every single aspect of his baby, his show.
James talked about what’s in store for the season, starting with the season premiere. “I think we reintroduce all of the characters in an up front and unusual way,” James said. “Crime scenes are being video taped now and this is going on across the country. You get a video-graph of the crime scenes. This is a great way to start watching the show.” James went on to add, “You get stand-ups with every single member of the squad, while you’re being introduced to one of our most heinous grimes. You see how police procedure works via our characters.”
“You get a feeling for whom each one of these characters is. They’re all introduced up front. It’s a very easy way to meet everyone again. It’s also authentic.”
As we continued chatting, he added, “There is one other thing. We have 2 of our most amazing guest stars, [and] an interview unlike any we’ve ever had before. She’s [Brenda] either got to get a confession from this boy or have him put on suicide watch and he’s not suicidal. Or she’s going to have to let him go. That’s a pretty severe dilemma. It’s at the second act, you can tell we’re not anywhere near through. That particular challenge is a difficult nut for her to crack.”
He summarized again, “[It’s] the best way to meet our characters and one of the best interviews ever.”
When asked to expand on what to expect this season for our various characters, James continued to talk about the season premiere. “The season starts with budget cuts for the LAPD. Provenza is being pressured to retire. They are being told there’s no overtime.” In another one of his informative asides, James went on to mention that “the LAPD just announced no overtime [for real]. We felt like that was coming. It was life imitating art.”
But back to the characters we know and love (or love to hate in some cases)! “Gabriel is stepping up. He wants to be more of a force on the squad. For the last two years, Taylor has been [Brenda’s] nemesis. Brenda has had to confront him on several occasions. Taylor is either getting with the program, or playing a much, much deeper game. [We see something] instead of protagonist/antagonist going at each other. Though it doesn’t look like it at first, Brenda and Gabriel are going to have a lot of issues with each other as they go along. It creates a lot of conflict. In the 4th episode, Ruby, the best episode we’ve ever done [editor’s note – keep reading for more info about that ‘sode], it creates a huge problem in both solving the crime, and getting a confession and keeping the squad together. Brenda faces the worst and most awful person she’s ever sat across. It looks like Sergeant Gabriel might lose his job. He does something that’s pretty shocking.”
The ever important question of relationships was brought up and James had this to say about what we can expect. “[Gabriel and Daniels] have been very under the radar. They’ve been trying to not let anyone in the squad know. They’ve been very successful. Eventually, that information may come out. They may have to deal with the fact that everyone knows that they’re dating and what that means to the squad and how the squad will function.”
As for what we can expect when Brenda’s parents come to town (played by the wonderful Barry Corbin and Frances Sternhagen), Brenda “finds herself in a different situation because she has a security detail that she didn’t anticipate. She’s also not on active duty at the time they arrive. The bungalow [she’s started sharing with her boyfriend Fritz] is very small. [Her parents] were going to be staying in a hotel, but they find out that she’s got a security detail and her father refuses to leave her.”
Things get a little rough for Fritz and Brenda, if only for the fact that Brenda’s parents “are very interested in the Fritz and Brenda relationship. Fritz is worried about how the father is going to take them.” James goes on to add, “Not without reason, I would say!”
Have you every wondered about the idea of Brenda having a baby? Well, so have James and the writers. “That’s a discussion we’ve had and it’s an interesting questions. She’s going to go through a health crisis this year, and that issue will come up…it’s definitely something we’ve discussed. Her biological clock is ticking. Some people might say it’s about to explode….I think she’s afraid of pregnancy.”
James went on to detail what we can expect from this season’s 4th episode, the episode that he calls their best ever. The episode is called Ruby and it’s about an 8 year old African American girl that is abducted. “That’s how it starts,” James begins, “child abductions are very serious. If you don’t the child in the first hour, I think there’s a 75% likelihood that the child is dead. She’s trying to get her admission. The guy is a racist. It creates some pretty explosive tension. It involves Provenza, it involves Buzz, it involves Daniels, and the whole squad.” The question becomes “how do you get a confession twice? I don’t want to say anymore because I’ll give it all away. This would be an interesting episode of television, no matter who was involved in it. It’s actually a super-sized episode, too; it runs over the hour.”
Throughout the interview, James threw out so many random facts that the casual observer would never know. To satisfy my curiosity, I asked him where he gets his information and where he gets his ideas for the amazing stories that they tell each week.
He had so much to say on the subject! “The more authentic the world is, the more authentic our characters appear. There’s not a lot of Science Fiction. DNA doesn’t solve a lot of crimes because it doesn’t in real life. DNA is great when you’ve got the criminal and you can tie them to a place. It doesn’t generally lead you to anyone.”
As for his technical advisors, whom he thinks are “fabulous?” “Detective Mike Birchum. He’s a member of robbery homicide at LAPD. Their elite detective team. He’s worked on several high profile cases. We also have Former DA Gil Garcetti. He worked in the district attorney’s office for almost 30 years. We have it from both sides. What’s legal and what’s real, and what would really happen. Gil and Detective Mike don’t always agree. Gil’s looking at it from the legal way, and Detective Mike is about how do we actually catch these guys. We split the difference a lot of times.
As for where he gets his story ideas? “Most of them come from stories that allow us to explore a theme. The theme of the first episode signals our overarching theme. How do you keep a family together? That’s sort of the struggle that we’re going to face all the way through the year. The theme of the third season is family.”
James took a minute to reflect on some other show’s choices. “Other shows say ‘ripped from the headlines’. We like to say our stories are ‘ripped from the heart’. We try to find crimes where a lot of time, though you don’t want to, you sometimes find yourself identifying with the murderer. It’s sometimes easier to do than you think. Murderers look at themselves as victims.”
James was filled with great information, and he went on to explain what he experienced growing up. “I also have a lifelong interest in the intelligence community. My uncle was part of the military intelligence. He was Chief of the Internal Security in the US Air Force for two years in Vietnam. I sort of grew up with it in my family. He told me chilling stories. There were some things I heard as a twelve year old that I shouldn’t have heard!”
James was incredibly likeable, and seemed genuinely thrilled to be discussing his show. He wanted to summarize what to expect for the upcoming season of The Closer. “For starters, I hope I was okay,” he said. “The only thing that I would say is that we have our first five episodes all cut together and put together. We’ve done something a little odd. Last year we did protect and serve. Things just don’t go as you would like. We’re concentrating much more on the characters this year. I hope that this pays off. We’re going to be doing that.” Hey, I think it worked for Without a Trace when they hit the 3 year mark and started exploring characters. It can only help an awesome show get that much better!
You can catch the season 3 premiere of The Closer, presented without commercials, at 9PM. You don’t want to miss it – it sounds like it’s going to be one great season!