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Interview - Shawn Ryan

Just think, a year ago the third season of the hit CBS series S.W.A.T. had premiered and the series was off to a hot start. Flash forward one year and the fourth season premiere was delayed, new safety protocols were put in place due to the pandemic and the country is on the brink of civil unrest.

S.W.A.T. was one of the first major television network series to start production during the pandemic and now several episodes in, the show is not backing down from the current situations happening in this country.

I had the chance to sit down with series co-creator Shawn Ryan to talk about the series tackling these issues head on in the fourth season and what fans can look forward to as the season progresses.

Pop Culture Principle – Right out of the gate for the Season 4 premiere, the show looks at racial injustice and the death of George Floyd. How important was it for this show to start out tackling those issues?

Shawn Ryan – It was very important. Not only do we have an African American lead, but we also have an African American co-creator, Aaron Rahsaan Thomas. We had already been talking about doing a flashback episode that would show Hondo as a teenager during the 1992 unrest. As we were preparing the show and everything was happening in this country again in many ways, we felt we had to do something to acknowledge it.

In addition, Shemar Moore was very adamant that because of the nature of this show, he felt that we had an obligation to address these issues and not just in one episode. There are a lot of perspectives that could be covered, and we just did not want to cover one aspect for one episode, we wanted to make this something that we tackled head on. It’s not in every episode this season, but there are aspects and some of these things we already had planned before that, but some we added afterwards.

There is an episode that just aired that I was very proud of. It had an interesting conversation between Hondo and Deacon as It related to Deacon’s feelings as a white office with public opinion turning against the police and it feeling very personal to him. The whole idea of defunding the police didn’t make sense to him and having these two cops talk through that was a very interesting conversation to have and I thought our writers did a great job.

So, we had planned to do it and Shemar challenged us. He felt that this was the time and place in the show to try to address these issues and that we had to be as true as we could be creatively and not worry about the audience and consequences. I think we are very proud of the work, so it was important to us and it was something we were already going to do and it’s something I think our show has done in three plus seasons, but it took on added importance with the events of this past summer.

Pop Culture Principle – You mentioned the flashback to the Rodney King incident in 1992. Many of today’s youth have no idea about that incident. How important was it to not only flashback to that incident, but also let today’s youth know that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time?

Shawn Ryan – I have a daughter who is now in college, but when she was in high school, the documentary O.J. Made in America came out. I thought it was a spectacular docuseries and I had my daughter watch it with me. I thought for sure she would have a little more knowledge of recent events in terms of race relations and I was surprised that she was completely unaware of the Watts riots and the Rodney King incident.

She was watching all of this and realizing that these incidents began way before the Black Lives Matter movement. I think it is important to revisit our past and learn from it so that the future generations can work to make sure that it does not happen again.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you feel Hondo is sort of in the middle when it comes to being an officer of the law, but at the same time, being an African American male seeing what is going on in the world?

Shawn Ryan – Absolutely. I think one thing that we’ve embraced this year is the difficulty of Hondo’s challenge. The first few years, we were embracing the optimism of someone like Hondo being able to bridge the gap between these two worlds. He can show that there is value on both sides.

This year, I think we are showing the flipside of that coin which is the answers aren’t always so easy. We have an episode coming up where Hondo really does confront what it means to be a black police officer. The different pressures you feel on the job versus the different pressures you feel at home and in the community. Are you the friend or are you the enemy? I think anytime there is an incident like what happened to George Floyd, there is a feeling of guilt and he feels that he must defend all police officers to his friends and to the cops you have to let them know that everyone isn’t a gangbanger that deserves to be rousted.

Pop Culture Principle – S.W.A.T. was one of the first network series to go back into production during the pandemic. How have you and the cast and crew handled the new safety protocols and the situation as a whole?

Shawn Ryan – I have to be honest, for myself, I was never really on set in previous years, but with the pandemic, I am hardly there at all. So, it’s not so much me or the writers, we’ve been working remotely via Zoom. I give a lot of credit to our production team led by Paul Bernard who oversees production. We try and make things extraordinarily safe. We have tried to make it easier for production and I hope it’s the kind of things that you wouldn’t be able to notice.

For instance, we intentionally have fewer extras in the background. Scenes that we had written with four or five people, we try to write them with two or three people. We have fewer hours to film. The actors have to be masked up right before the cameras roll and have to mask back up immediately when the cameras stop rolling. It’s been hard, but there have been some good aspects. For safety purposes, we’ve shortened our workday which the actors and crew really like. 😊 The cast and crew have done a remarkable job of staying healthy and living responsibly away from the job and living up to the safety protocols on the job.

Pop Culture Principle – We also learn that Chris is focused on winning the TLI competition but finds out that both Street and Tan are entering as well. It seems to have caused some tension between the three of them, although Chris says there isn’t. Will we see this continue to be a problem as the season progresses?

Shawn Ryan – Yes, it will be a problem. 😊 In the beginning of the show, it was important to me to show the team as a team and in many ways, the kind of police force that we are showing is aspirational. If you had these kinds of cops, you wouldn’t have the kind of problems you see across the country.

Having established those bonds, I think we as a writing staff looked at the season as an opportunity to test those bonds. I don’t want to give too much away as to what is coming up, but we are going to see the team tested as we’ve never seen before.

Pop Culture Principle – Speaking of Chris and Street, there still seems to be something between the two of them, even though Street is now dating the commander’s daughter. What can you tell us about that situation?

Shawn Ryan – We will see progressions on that storyline this season.

Pop Culture Principle – Another big storyline that is beginning to develop is Daryl’s father starting to become part of his life again and Hondo worrying about what that could mean. It seems his father wants to push him towards the streets and Hondo wants to stop that. What can you tell us about that situation and the struggle between Hondo and Daryl’s father Leroy?

Shawn Ryan – I can’t remember which writer on the staff had the idea, but I thought it was a great one to get him out of prison. Also, there is a reality to that with COVID and incarceration reforms, a lot of people are getting out earlier. So, the idea of introducing Leroy back into Hondo and Daryl’s life just as the Hondo\Daryl relationship is solidifying and they are on really solid ground and Daryl doing so well. That storyline will carry on throughout the fourth season.

Pop Culture Principle – Once again we find Hondo in a tough situation with him helping out and mentoring Daryl, but also his loyalty to Leroy and how far that goes. Would you agree?

Shawn Ryan – Well, when you are building a television show, you are trying to find positions to put your character in that will test two rights or two wrongs against each other. So, in this case, what he is doing for Daryl is noble and trying to give Leroy a second chance is noble. What happens when those two things collide? That is when the drama gets really good and juicy and that’s something that Shemar Moore really likes to play, and we look for opportunities and scenes like that.

I can honestly say, Michael Beach has been with us on and off for four seasons and I have never been disappointed by a Shemar Moore and Michael Beach scene. Every time they are on screen, they are great together and Michael has a way of standing up to Shemar that very few people do. He holds his own with Shemar in a really magical way.

Pop Culture Principle – The series has a unique way of blending action, drama and a little bit of humor which isn’t easy. Would you agree with that?

Shawn Ryan – All we try to do is try to be true to life and a lot of times life can be funny. It’s weird to me when I see a show that has no humor because that doesn’t seem true to life. It seems like even serious situations, there are moments of humor. We try to find those, but we never try to be cartoonish or a sitcom. We just try to be grounded and real even in those comedy moments.

BONUS QUESTION

Pop Culture Principle – So, there is still a push from fans of the series Timeless to get a third season. Is there any movement on this or anything you can tell the fans of the series?

Shawn Ryan – I think it took a while when Star Trek was canceled for it to proceed to a movie. So, I consider Timeless to be in hibernation and I don’t consider it to be dead. Now, that could totally be naïve on my part. When people experience the show and not everyone, but a lot of them seem to love it. I think in this streaming and digital age, I think there are a lot more opportunities for people to discover these shows and for word of mouth to get around, so who knows.

As people discover the show online, maybe the audience gets big enough to warrant some kind of reinvention or resumption or something along those lines. I know that all the actors love doing it. I know that we as writers and crew loved making it and I know that the fans loved watching it. Maybe one day we will be able to pick up the mantle and carry on with it. I would love it if that happens.

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A huge thank you to Shawn Ryan for taking the time to talk with us. You can catch new episodes of S.W.A.T. every Wednesday night at 10/9c on CBS.

**S.W.A.T. photos courtesy of Best Possible Screengrab/Bill Inoshita/CBS**

**Timeless photo courtesy of Darren Michaels/Sony/NBC**

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