The creator/executive producer and the actor who portrays Lt. Provenza talk about this new five-episode run.
Things are good in the world of The Closer. Well, not in the characters world of the show itself, with some high drama like wounded officers and wedding ultimatums continually ramping up... but for those who work on the show, life is good. When the series went off the air in September, they had set a new ratings record, averaging a whopping 8.5 million viewers per episode, numbers that would beat out even most primetime network series averages. The Closer returns to cap off the show's fourth season with a new five-episode run that starts on Monday, January 26 at 9 PM ET. I was in on a conference call with series creator and executive producer James Duff along with G.W. Bailey, who plays the cranky Lt. Provenza on the series. Here's what these two had to say.
James, I see you as a man who has two paths before you. Obviously, you could marry off Brenda and Fritz, but part of you as a producer and writer probably is more tempted to not marry them off because it opens up more storylines for Brenda. How do you reconcile that over recent seasons?
James Duff: I think cable gives you the chance to do the unexpected and to try things that have not been tried before or people say can't be done.
G.W., can you maybe give us an update on Sanchez. Is his team pulling for him and is his fate still in limbo?
G.W. Bailey I have no idea. I haven't seen it so I don't know. I'm not allowed to say. I have a stock answer, but I'm not allowed to give it either (Laughs).
James Duff: His stock answer is not printable, so let me just say that in the episodes that you've been handed out, you have an answer.
G.W. Bailey: I think that they would prefer that would not be printed, obviously.
G.W., what is it that continues to challenge you about your role?
G.W. Bailey: Well, at my age it's getting up and getting to work (Laughs). Trying to make it through the morning is the main thing, but in terms of the character himself, it's the same with any. You want to keep him very much alive and very much engaged. It's easier with this guy because he really has no other life. He's a curmudgeon and he constantly gripes about things but he doesn't want to be anywhere else. They had this brilliant episode they wrote where he tells J.K. (Simmons), he tells the Chief, 'You'll never get rid of me.' The main reason, he has an ex-wife, but the main reason is this is his life. He pretty much goes home to an empty house, which I'm trying desperately to get the writers to get me something sweet to go home to. I really don't find him a challenge. I find him a joy. I can't wait to go to work, and it hasn't been like that since I did M*A*S*H 25 years ago.
Do you have a memorable moment from filming over the seasons?
G.W. Bailey: Yeah, well I've had a couple. Certainly, because my character is called upon to do a lot of the lighter stuff, whenever you have a moment that really tears at you, I think the moment where Sanchez's brother is killed and people reach out to him and he doesn't want to expose himself to anybody in his emotional state. Then, at the very end of the episode, when he finally collapses in Provenza's arms, was an extraordinary moment, both visually to see it and the playing of it. It was quite a moving experience for both of us. That's a really great moment. Then there's a moment at the end of the summer season when he, in effect, puts his life in jeopardy - and it's still in jeopardy - and saves my life. Those are pretty stand-out moments. I could tell you some of the laugh lines that I really love, the one about the kid defecating on the desk (Laughs). I love that whole sequence. But yeah, a lot of great moments. They write great stuff. They write great stuff for all of us.
James, why do you think people continue to tune in and watch The Closer?
G.W. Bailey: Mainly because of Provenza.
James Duff: (Laughs) I think partially because of Provenza, but I think they built their own relationships with these characters. Character is plot. If you construct your show properly or your story properly, character is plot because you could put someone else down in the same circumstances and have a different outcome. They want to not only see what the challenges are and what the stsory is going to be, but how the characters react to the story. That's my theory. I think they love the actors and I think that's, ultimately, how good shows manage to stay on the air. You really have to like the actors. I think there are some big exceptions to that. I think Law & Order is a tremendous exception to that. They do a fantastic job and they're a really really good show. There are other shows that are probably exceptions to that, but I think a lot of it is in relation to the actor. I'd love to be able to tell you that, 'Oh, my writing, I'm such a genius.' But I think we try to write really good shows and we do our very best that way and we're getting better, I feel, as we go along. But, I think, generally, any time a show is successful, it's because they have built a relationship with the actors. And Kyra Sedgwick is just amazing. She's just an amazing human being.
I think your show is one of the best at balancing the humor and the darker side of the crime world. I guess, both from the writing and the acting standpoint, how do you juggle that? It just seems effortless for you guys, but how do you do it?
James Duff: Well, we spend a lot of time in a room here in Raleigh Studios, what's called a writer's room, breaking these stories and finding those moments. Because the show is thematically organized, you'd be surprised how many times the theme suggests the answer to the question. Not only the season, but each individual episode is very tightly structured, thematically. That's one way and another way is just observation. We have a LAPD robbery/homicide detective with us when we break these stories and on the set, when we are at the crime scenes. We spend a lot of time around these guys. They go about their job the way you go about yours. It's a job. Talking about a prolonged SAG strike would do to the business, has led to a lot of very comic remarks, even though it's dire and dark. You know, people's jobs are in jeopardy and here we are making jokes. That's the way human beings are. As I said earlier, if you're going to tunnel through some of the darkest areas of the human heart, you're going to need a flashlight, and humor is that light.
G.W. Bailey: If I may say, one of the things the writers do so well, and I think the actors do so well, is they don't play the end of the piece. The last episode of the summer season was a great example. You don't get any darker than this. One of our squad members has likely been killed. Many people have been killed, these boys. Yet, toward the beginning of it, we're playing the moment. We're not playing the end of the piece. We're not playing, 'Oh this is some heavy drama, this is where we're going.' We're playing, again, I go back to this defecation thing. We find out that this kid, the only trouble he's ever been in was he defecated on the principal's desk. How can you not get that information and not think it's funny? You play the reality of the moment that's there. You don't play where it's going to be.
James Duff: Yeah. That's one of the things that I have to say is we don't play comedy, and we don't play drama. We play the action and people get to react to it however they want. Some people laugh out loud and some people smile and some people don't get it. Sometimes criminals, the reason we catch criminals is they're so incredibly stupid, for the most part. Every now and then, we play that. We have some stupid criminals. There's a great story that Mike Birchem tells, our homicide detective, about a guy who was so dumb and he wasn't answering the question and he pointed at a Xerox machine across the room and asked the guy, 'Do you know what that is?' He said, 'No.' He said, 'It's a lie detector, come on.' He put his face down on the Xerox machine and asked him the question and when the paper came out he showed him the shadow of his face created by the Xerox and he said, 'Look. It says you're lying.' And the guy broke down and told him the truth. Now, we can't do that, because the audience won't believe that. But it's hysterically funny.
G.W. Bailey: If Provenza gets that scene, I'm not going to use his face (Laughs).
So what's the update on the spin-off?
James Duff: Oh, I actually have it up on my computer. I'm working on the story right now and hopefully we'll have something to discuss at the end of this month.
You have a lot of guest stars, so James, do you get a guest star and then write a script around who you've got, or do you write the role and then look for whoever would fit that role?
James Duff: Well, I will say that I wrote Brenda's parents specifically for Frances Sternhagen and Barry Corbin. Other than that, other than family members who will recur, we never know. We write for the part and then we go out and find the very best actors we can find to play those roles. You would be surprised how many extremely talented people are wandering around Hollywood without a job at any given moment. We have gotten some of the very best actors. Also, the roles, the way they're written and because they get a chance to work with this cast and Kyra, we've drawn some really good actors out. Oh my God. This season alone we have Frances Sternhagen and Barry Corbin but then also Jennifer Coolidge and Daniel Baldwin. There are too many to mention all of them, but we have some fantastic guest stars.
The Closer returns with five brand new episodes starting on Monday, January 26 at 9 PM ET only on TNT.