"We’re still scratching our heads. We had no indicator that the show was ending," showrunner David Hollander says.
Ray Donovan fans weren’t the only ones shocked by that surprising cancellation.
On Tuesday, Showtime officially pulled the plug on the long-running drama starring Liev Schreiber as the titular Ray, a fixer for the rich and famous who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty — or bloody. And now Ray Donovan showrunner David Hollander is speaking out about that decision to end the series after seven seasons without advance warning — especially since the season 7 finale left all the characters on a divided and unsatisfying note.
“We’re still scratching our heads. We had no indicator that the show was ending,” Hollander says in an interview with Vulture. “We were behaving creatively as though we were in mid-sentence. And so, there was no sense that this was going to be a completion. This was in no way a series finale.”
Hollander wonders if the recent CBS/Viacom merger had any sway over the executive decision to cancel Ray Donovan — one of Showtime’s marquee shows that he claims was never “even remotely” on the bubble before. “The corporate elements of show business are complicated and often mired in things that will never be spoken out loud,” he says. “I think the easiest external impact was the merger. Whatever new environment grew from the merger clearly had some impact on their choice… We were so used to it being the other way, where we were burned out by a show that was very hard to make and the network would pull us and cajole us and push us. We were used to being a show that was not canceled. We never thought we would be canceled.”
The showrunner also reveals that season 8 was supposed to have been the final season, and he already had a plan in place creatively for the story. “The pivot we had been making narratively was to move the backstory into the present and run it concurrently,” Hollander says. “So there were actually two stories to be told: What happened then, really, and how will that impact what happens now? The next step was what happened with Ray and Mickey [Jon Voight] in the ’90s, which would have been the creation of Ray Donovan as a character and as a fixer. That’s why we went into such detail to find the right cast.”
Hollander also admits that season 6 would have made “an extraordinary series finale because it had enough open and enough closed.”
“When I came back for season 7, it was with the idea that you can’t just take the completion of an arc and then complete it again, so the writers’ room began with building two seasons,” he adds. “[Showtime] knew that was my approach. That’s why this season has some places where we lay up and build plot. There are certain times when you have to refuel. You’re gathering some strands and building for the future. I was shooting for a longer arc, for sure.”
Hollander continues, “It’s complicated. The people who made this decision are the same people who brought this to the air. They were unbelievably supportive creatively. They were always deeply in the artist’s corner, and deeply committed to our success. There was never a moment where I saw any of them negatively charged toward our show. They were always proud of it. They always accepted our indulgences. They put up with the fact that I was demanding a visual template as strong as anything out there. And that’s time and money. They were cool with that — until they weren’t.”
As for whether Ray Donovan could live on elsewhere if another network or streaming service saves the series for a final season, Hollander isn’t ruling out anything but he knows the journey would be difficult.
“I would never say never,” he says. “It is much easier to do in the now. The sets are still standing. The people are still contracted. The mechanisms are in place. Once we tear down the sets and put the costumes away… it’s a lot of actors who are in demand.”
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