What would "The Closer" be like without the closer?
Viewers are about to find out: On the heels of the finale of the much-acclaimed Kyra Sedgwick police saga -- one of the top-rated dramas in basic-cable history -- TNT launches the spinoff series "Major Crimes" Monday at 10 p.m. The show will involve nearly all the "Closer" regulars, with the notable exception of Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sedgwick, who felt a seven-season run as interrogator extraordinaire Brenda Leigh Johnson was enough.
Once she made her decision known, TNT asked "Closer" mentor James Duff to devise a way to keep the other characters going. The new drama brings Mary McDonnell front and center as Sharon Raydor, the police captain she has been playing on the parent series (which ends immediately before "Major Crimes" begins).
G.W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz and Phillip P. Keene are among others who will carry their "Closer" roles into the new venture. Jon Tenney and Robert Gossett also are slated to return in what the network terms "guest appearances."
"I've never lost a show and gotten a show in a 12-hour period, which is what happened, basically," says executive producer Duff. "It was a bit of a roller coaster, but I was very grateful for the opportunity. I don't think there's been a finale that's led directly into the next series before, so we'll see how that goes. It's an unusual launch."
Duff notes the potential for "Major Crimes" to exist was in reverse proportion to "how long Kyra stayed. The longer she stayed, the less likely this was to happen. And I should emphasize that she didn't 'leave,' since there is a distinction. She finished her contract, and she did an extra year, actually."
Though McDonnell has been around "The Closer" for a while, she's had no illusions who its principal female star was, but "Major Crimes" now changes the game for her considerably. "My general feeling is one of taking a deep breath and trusting James Duff and the writers and all of our company . . . and myself," the "Dances With Wolves" and "Battlestar Galactica" alum says. "I'm trusting we'll be able to organically allow this character to pivot into someone who's more of a protagonist."
Another powerful female
McDonnell hastens to point out her Raydor doesn't replace Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson in the new scenario, "but she does continue to bring in the point of view of a powerful female who is central to the Major Crimes Division. In one sense, she continues where Brenda Leigh left off; in another sense, she brings a different style that began in 'The Closer.' The link is that there's a continuum of the feminine in this very masculine environment."
Indeed, Duff confirms, "I take care in the first three episodes to establish Raydor as the major player that she is, but it's not exactly the same. 'The Closer' was a perspective on the justice system, and a very narrow one, too. It was the one offered by Brenda Leigh in her desire to finish what she started, and she's more of my conscious self, someone who has a hard time balancing work and personal life.
"Raydor is more my conscience, the part that I'm reluctant to heed but that I must listen to. And looking at the justice system that way, instead of through one's own moral prism, is an interesting switch."
Rebooting his detective role
For veteran actor Bailey, also known for playing another type of cop as Lt. Harris in the "Police Academy" movies, "Major Crimes" offers a welcome chance to reboot his "Closer" character.
"What can I say? I'm an extraordinarily lucky guy, at this age, to have the opportunity to do this," he says of continuing his role as Detective Lt. Louie Provenza. "Not only is it fun, it's lucrative, but it's also very touching."
So is how Provenza came to be in the first place, since Bailey has had ties to "Closer" and "Major Crimes" mentor Duff for a long time. Bailey taught a teenage Duff in an acting workshop, and their enduring connection played a big part in the performer going from having the originally planned multiple-episode "Closer" arc to becoming a vital, ongoing part of the show.
"All of us want to keep working, or we wouldn't have signed on for it," Bailey explains of the encore act "Major Crimes" is giving him and many "Closer" peers. "We can congratulate each other until the cows come home, but if the people in Omaha and Chicago and Atlanta and Miami don't watch, it won't stay. Do we think about it? Of course we do, but you can't do a scene thinking about that stuff. It's not how you approach a day's work. We'd like to grow the audience, but that's up to them."