The showrunner spoke with EW about leaving behind a world he created more than a decade ago
Major Crimes is ending this season, and creator James Duff is hoping to leave fans feeling satisfied.
Many viewers have been on the same journey as Duff for the last 12 years. The Closer premiered way back in 2005, and before it ended, Duff spun that popular cop procedural starring Kyra Sedgwick off into another successful drama in Major Crimes, keeping the action at the LAPD but with a new protagonist: Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell).
The upcoming sixth season, premiering Oct. 31, will run at a slightly reduced 13 episodes; news that it would be the series’ last on TNT only officially came down earlier this month. But as Duff tells EW, he and the show’s team weren’t surprised by the network’s decision and had the foresight to steer the procedural to a fitting conclusion. Among other things, you can expect a big sendoff for Raydor and a final showdown with Phillip Stroh (Billy Burke), the wily antagonist who goes back to The Closer‘s early days.
Duff spoke with EW about what we can expect from the new season, why McDonnell does what he calls some of the finest acting he’s ever seen in the show’s special hundredth episode, and what he hopes fans take away from 13 cumulative seasons of dramatic television.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: News broke that this was the final season not too long ago. How were you able to adjust to give fans a proper sendoff?
JAMES DUFF: Officially, we did not find out this was the final season until right before we began shooting the very last episode. But we could tell that we were basically being shoved off and let go. When your network premieres you on Halloween and you’re up against This Is Us and Bull, and it’s a timeslot in which you’ve never appeared and time of year we’ve never, ever premiered in — October — and we saw we weren’t coming out in the summer, everybody just looked at each other. We realized, like, “Oh God. This is it.” So we didn’t want to be canceled, of course, and we were not writing to be canceled, but there were lots of contracts that were up and there was no move for anybody to renew them. And finally, a couple of people decided they didn’t want to renew them, and we needed to put a peg to some of these stories.
Will there be a special sendoff for Commander Raydor?
You have a two-time Oscar nominee in your cast, the first among equals, and I don’t feel like we ever gave — just because of the construct of our genre — Mary [McDonnell] as much as she could do. So we decided to write a big, emotional story for her, and we put a big surprise in it — a couple of big surprises. And to give her some challenges, I guess you would say. She’s up for anything you give her. Whatever you wanted her to do, she would try to do. But we gave her a great challenge. Mary and I collaborated on this all the way to the end of that story, and she just was amazing.
To those surprises with her character that you mentioned, is there anything related to the hundredth episode there?
I can say two things. One is that she tries to stop her wedding with Andy Flynn. And that’s a big surprise because she’s not the kind of person to do something like that. But she does it for the very best of reasons. And then she has a big choice to make, and she makes that choice after talking to her priest. That scene — the scene that she has with her priest — I think may be one of the best scenes [McDonnell’s] ever shot in the show. She just is amazing in that scene. I don’t want to say more than that except to say that I am not myself a particularly religious person. Although I was when I was young — I grew up in a very, very religious background — as an adult, I’m not hyper-religious. So the writing of these scenes was very difficult in some way. I don’t know that I actually agree.
Good writing can come out of that.
Yes, it can. I think you have to let go of yourself and you have to let the character take over. Almost everyone in my family is pretty religious, so I have that to fall back on.
Going back to The Closer, you’ve been in this world now for hundreds of episodes, and the audience has too. If this is the end, what do you hope audiences take away from the end of it all?
I hope they take away the sense of family that we tried to create. As we were on the air, television changed, and we changed with it. We adapted as we went along. The explosion in social media, which has been a great disrupter in many ways, allowed us a direct connection with the viewers. That was something we didn’t have with The Closer. That was something we were only able to develop the second or third year of Major Crimes, when we really began to explore all the different elements of the world that social media opened up to us. We formed a genuine bond with our audience. We call it the community of the show, and we felt like it was an opportunity to have a more immersive experience for the audience.
I did what I would have wanted to do when I was a kid. The actors who are playing some of my favorite characters are available on Facebook and not some evening chat show, and they’re taking my questions. Or I could write in. I would have loved that. We do that before every episode. I was able to blog before every episode. I know more of this audience on a first-name basis than I’ve ever known in my life. What I am taking away from this experience is a connection to the people who participated by viewing, that has enriched my whole life. It’s been a profound experience for me personally. I didn’t want it to end, but I recognize I did not enter show business for the stability.
Relative to others, anyway, you got to make quite a lot of television here.
Oh, that’s right. I’m very proud of what we accomplished and very happy that we got a chance to breathe this rarified air. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Honestly, having the opportunity, I hope I maximized it. I hope I availed myself of this opportunity and used every means at my disposal to make the most of it. That’s what I hope.
The cast of Major Crime will be appearing this weekend at Stan Lee’s L.A. Comic Con. Tickets are available at stanleeslacomiccon.com. Plus, with any ticket purchase, you’ll also get a free yearlong subscription to EW.