0

Interview: James Duff

The wait is finally over for fans of the hit TNT series Major Crimes. The series returns with the final five episodes of the fourth season on Monday, February 15th at 9/8c.

What does series showrunner and executive producer James Duff have in store for the loyal Major Crimes viewers? We sit down with James to discuss the upcoming final five episodes. We also discuss his thoughts on Rusty’s journey this season, the relationship between Sharon Raydor and Andy Flynn and James also talks about the recent Season five renewal.

Pop Culture Principle – The Season Four summer cliffhanger revealed that Rusty’s mother was out of jail, living on her own, and sober. How big of an impact will this have in the second half of Season Four?

James Duff – Well, as you will see in the first episode, Rusty tries to make contact with his mother through Gus, and she pushes him away and tells him not to contact her. I don’t want to give too much away except to say that that relationship is going to get Sharon Beck back in trouble and it’s going to threaten Rusty’s safety a little bit. Also, I may be playing a little bit on your preconceived notions as to what Sharon Beck is like.

It presents Sharon Raydor with some interesting problems because she doesn’t want to make Rusty’s biological mother into a villain because it’s necessary that, someday for his own good, Rusty is able to forgive her. But, at the same time, she wishes Sharon Beck wasn’t there because she is worried about the influence she will have over Rusty, and she’s especially concerned that Sharon Beck’s long-term stability issues don’t look good.

Pop Culture Principle – Slider is found guilty and sentenced to death. Has his story closed out or will there be more with Slider and the ramifications of his verdict in the future?

James Duff – First, I have to say in no real universe should I have access to a young actor like Garret Coffey, who played Slider. That is an example of a performer who was so amazing that we literally could not let go of him. One episode where he’s featured, he doesn’t speak the entire episode and he was just awesome in that episode. He is such a chameleon and nothing at all like his character, Slider. So, where he summons up all that darkness from I don’t know, but it is fantastic.

Rusty is just one of those people who you either like or you don’t like. There is generally no middle ground on Rusty or his story, actually. I feel maybe that is to a greater degree than I would like to admit. I feel like some people really end up liking Rusty and some people really end up not liking him and, unfortunately for him, a lot of people that don’t end up liking him are dangerous. So, it does sort of feed into the long term issues he may face growing up.

Slider appeared in one of Rusty’s nightmares and, to me, that was a great scene for Rusty. I feel like Garret could take on that role, or Rusty could end up going to see him in prison. He and Slider could end up having a confrontation of some sort. The appeal process is ongoing and Rusty is dating the brother of Slider’s murder victim, so there is every chance on earth for them to reconnect in some way.

Pop Culture Principle – Over the past several episodes, we’ve seen Andy deal with his injury and his living with Sharon. Was this a way for you to further the relationship between the two characters?

James Duff - I feel like it was a natural way to throw them together faster than Sharon would like. She’s a slow-moving person and I think, if I had to describe Sharon’s idea of falling in love with a guy at this point in her life, it would be wrapping her arms around someone and holding on to them until she couldn’t even think about letting go.

I think that is her process but, on the other hand, Andy’s process at this point in his life is what have you got to lose. Her process is more about how do I incorporate someone like Andy into my life without losing everything else I’ve managed to hold onto.

I feel like we are dramatizing some of the issues related to aging in this particular story as well as romance. It’s more about how differently men and women look at these issues a lot of times. Guys just don’t think things through like women do, and so she’s thinking it through and he’s trying not to rock the apple cart. Andy was also very worried about being seen as needy, so he enjoyed being there with her but realized he needed to get back there in another way, and we will see that being played out in our next season.

Pop Culture Principle – For the second part of Season Four, you’ve come up with an interesting idea for the episodes. What can you tell us about Season Four B?

James Duff – Well, I can tell you that we were asked by TNT if we could do five more episodes just as we were breaking our Fall finale. I went in to tell the writers that it was confirmed on the day that we had finished breaking our Fall finale, and it was a little bit like watching people who had just won the marathon, breaking through the tape and then telling them that the tape was in the wrong place! After a day or two of mulling it over, we decided that we wanted to tell a five-part story. People started to turn around and realized that this was interesting and a different way to tell our stories. So, because it is twenty-three episodes and not eighteen or nineteen like we have been doing, it really does put us in a year-round production mode. It actually meant dividing the work a little bit more than we usually do because it’s just too much for our leads to carry. It’s too much for GW and too much for Mary. Twenty-three episodes is a lot to ask of them and especially in the shooting schedule we have, which is a seven-and-a-half-day schedule.

It presented us with the opportunity to finish up Sanchez’s anger story. We take him on a journey in the second half of the season. He bonds with another detective whose husband was murdered, and she blends in seamlessly with Major Crimes. She takes over Sergeant Gabriel’s old desk from The Closer. She comes from Narcotics, so she brings a different skillset to the team. So, we have that relationship which serves to motivate Sanchez into completing his grief and maybe stepping out of the feedback loop in which he’s been living.

We have Amy Sykes being pushed off by a firearms analyst into seeing a retired, disgraced L.A.P.D. detective who worked a series of old murders that connect to the present day. So that relationship goes forward all the way through the five episodes until they come to the solution of the crime. We learn more and more about Mark Hickman as we go along, and he ends up becoming more and more suspicious as we draw to a close. There is something he isn’t telling us and maybe he doesn’t even know it—or maybe he does, that’s the interesting thing about him. He was an interesting character for us to write, and Jason Gedrick was the right actor for that part. Jason gave Major Crimes a chance to talk to the detectives the way they were in the earlier part of the twenty-first century and the latter part of the twentieth century.

When we were breaking this story it was before Donald Trump had become a phenomenon; he was still the summer flavor. I am not getting into politics here, but I’m saying that his rage against political correctness and his overt statements about race are outside the Major Crimes dynamic. The L.A.P.D. is honestly one of the most diversified police departments in the country right now. The whole race issue is complicated, but I love that this guy who thinks he was put upon because he’s an older white male ends up being somewhat dependent on a female, black detective. That issue goes back and forth between them a little bit.

The fact that race is not settled—and no, electing a black President does not mean that race is settled in America by a long shot—and I think this story gave us the chance to talk about that in a different way.

Pop Culture Principle – Was the approach different for you and the writers for the five-episode arc compared to writing an episode for a case that is resolved at the end of the hour?

James Duff – I had this idea before, and the core of this idea I had as the story for a pilot for another series. I’ve had this idea in my mind for quite a long time and working out the details of it. This is just not the time where people are anxious to buy procedurals. It’s funny, there is a disconnect between the world market and the American buyer right now. The most popular shows on air are procedural shows, but in the United States networks and their buyers are not really as interested in procedurals as they used to be. So I thought I would take this idea and I’m going to put it in Major Crimes because it’s a good idea and the story is good. I knew the story and had mapped it out as a ten-episode story in my head already.

So, I already had the original idea and I already knew how a lot of it broke up, so I just collapsed a lot of it. The great thing about my job in particular is that I am constantly in a learning environment, and there is never a time when I am not reaching for something new. So telling this story in five parts, it was like how do we end each part and how do we begin each part? Is there a mystery inside each part that we are tweaking? A case like this is too complicated to be solved in a single episode, and yet the case cannot be too complicated to follow for five. You need to be able to remember everything as you are going along, and you need to be able to sort of restart your story and yet keep the action going.

Major Crimes viewers know these characters already, so I needed a story that was complicated enough to tell over five episodes, but was not so complicated that people couldn’t follow it. That was a challenge, and I think we did it and I think people will be surprised at the end. I think we covered our bases and we told some emotional stories about our ensemble that we would not have been able to tell otherwise. The fans of Major Crimes will definitely let us know! One thing about the Major Crimes audience is that they are not shy. We really do reach out to our viewers via social media in a major way, so I am very anxious to hear what their reactions are to having a five-parter, because this is something we could possibly do again.

Somebody was telling me that this is a harder edge version of our show. It is Major Crimes, but it’s a harder edge version of our show. They aren’t wrong, but that’s just how this five-parter was told. I would like to see if there is another way to tell a five-parter. This one is a dark story and gets darker.

Pop Culture Principle – There seems to be a lot of on-camera subtext between the characters. Is that something that has been deliberate or is it just the actors being so familiar with their characters and each other?

James Duff – A lot of our stories are told without dialogue and a lot of our relationships are developed with people looking at each other or reacting. We’ve always done that and it’s part of our storytelling process. The looks between our actors carry a lot of the characters’ stories forward, and I think you need the story to be moving and you need to have reactions to it at the same time. Not everybody agrees, but everybody moves forward and you sort of need to see how different people are coming to terms with every element of the story. The actors love it, by the way. They love their chance to add to the plot and add to their own characters through reactions and not dialogue.

Pop Culture Principle – In December, TNT officially renewed Major Crimes for a fifth but shortened season of thirteen episodes. What were your thoughts on the late renewal and shortened episode order?

James Duff – The late renewal has more to do with the internal workings of the different divisions of Time Warner than it does with our show. It also had to do with contracts made long ago when different people were working at TNT. This show is owned by Warner Brothers and is licensed by TNT. Most of their other shows on the network are owned by TNT. That makes TNT in some ways a renter, and what networks are saying all over the place is that we don’t want to rent; we want to own. We don’t even want to rent from other parts of our own company; we want to own inside our own company to create long-term value for their product.

So, it doesn’t really have anything to do obviously with Major Crimes because Major Crimes delivers in terms of ratings. While it may have an older audience, the cable companies are agnostic when it comes to how old you are when you are paying their bill. We average ten million unique viewers per episode, which is a lot of eyeballs. It was just a matter of deciding who paid for what and how to keep the show going in a positive way. I know a lot of people have said to me that they only ordered thirteen episodes, but every year they only order a certain amount at the beginning and sometimes they order more in the back end. Like this year, they only ordered fifteen to being with, then they ordered eighteen, and then they ordered twenty-three.

We will see what their needs are as they come around the bend. They have a lot of shows in development and those shows cost money. They have to develop new shows, so we will see what they need or if they need anything more in the winter. We are prepared to deliver more and we are set up to deliver more if they need us.

Pop Culture Principle – Now that the series will be coming back for a fifth season, have you already started to map out what you want to do and can the show continue after Season Five?

James Duff – Certainly the series can continue past Season Five. There are always going to be murders in Los Angeles. I think there were three hundred plus murders in L.A. last year, down from six to nine hundred murders that they use to have. It’s still plenty of murders and still plenty of reason to have Major Crimes on the scene. The justice system is endlessly fascinating to me, and I find the process of applying the law to individual cases sort of thrilling in a way that maybe other people wouldn’t.

The business is changing so much today. Cable is challenged by streaming platforms, normal television viewing has been disrupted, and ratings don’t matter in the way that they use to and yet they matter more then they use to. The Nielsens are having terrible problems actually accurately measuring the audience. I always say that the Nielsens are the lie we’ve all agreed to tell each other. We use that lie as a handy reference point, but we all know it’s sort-of not true.

Now it’s become very problematic, and we need a better metric by which to judge the reach of a given show. Like I said, the issues facing television will probably decide the fate of Major Crimes, not the Major Crimes audience. We are holding on to our audience, and I feel like we are a point of stability in a changing television landscape. We will see what happens. There are a lot of good pluses into keeping us on the air and we’ll see how cable does as a whole. Cable is actually under great pressure right now, and we will see how cable reacts to that pressure and what they need to counteract that pressure.

Don't forget, the final five episodes of the fourth season of Major Crimes return on Monday, February 15th at 9/8c only on TNT!

**Photos courtesy of TNT**

6.0/61vote
Voting statistics:
RatePercentageVotes
6100%1
50%0
40%0
30%0
20%0
10%0
Click to share thisClick to share this