Before one fateful day in March of 2002, hardly anyone watched the small basic cable network F/X unless they happened upon a movie they liked that was playing... or they were really big fans of Son of the Beach. I started seeing all sorts of ads for this gritty new cop show that was billed as the show too bold for network TV. We saw the big bald guy who was The Commish in a way we've never seen him before. We even saw stuff on the ADS that we've never seen before. I was never really a TV person and I was one of the few who weren't even sucked into the phenomena of 24 a year earlier. However, after this heavy marketing campaign on F/X and on Fox networks as well, I was hooked. On March 12, 2002 at 10 PM ET, I tuned in to F/X and I saw things that I never thought I would ever see on television, even cable television. I saw The Commish transform into one of the most iconic and memorable characters in the history of television: Vic Mackey. I was stunned with the pilot's conclusion - Vic Mackey murdering fellow detective/stool pigeon Terry Crowley in cold blood... and I could barely wait six more days to see what would happen next. On March 12, 2002 I saw television history change in front of my very eyes with the phenomenal debut of The Shield. On November 25, 2008, I saw the series finale of The Shield (CLICK HERE for my review of this epic, historical finale), which will go down as one of the best series finales in TV history, but will go down in my book as the best series finale EVER. For a show that couldn't even find a home on a Big Four network, it is truly amazing what The Shield has accomplished in the seven seasons it was on the air.
The first season simply blew the critics and TV watchers away with this gritty portrayal of this fictional Los Angeles division of Farmington, and the new police station called The Barn set up to enforce crime in this hazardous neighborhood... and they were mesmerized by the one cop who was unlike any cop ever shown on TV before. They simply couldn't take their eyes off of Michael Chiklis as the venerable Vic Mackey, a hard-nosed cop who runs dirty, making shady deals with drug dealers to line his and his fellow Strike Team members' pockets, but a hard-nosed cop with deep ties to his family, his wife Corrine and his young children. We even saw a touch of humanity in this crooked cop with his relationship with a cracked-out hooker named Connie, who was struggling to provide for her infant son and whom Mackey often helped out in a bind. This sort of duality had never before been portrayed in "dirty cops" before, and the viewers and critics responded in a major way. The Shield was the first basic-cable series to ever win the Golden Globe for Best Drama series and Michael Chiklis was the first actor from a basic cable series to win both the Golden Globe and Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series for his powerhouse performance as Vic Mackey. With that historic first season, The Shield proved to the world that extraordinary programming can be found beyond the reach of the Big 4 and pay-cable outlets. The Shield single-handedly started the hour-long basic-cable movement, and the numbers speak for themselves.
The Shield was the second-highest rated hour-long scripted series on basic cable in 2002, just below another newcomer that year, The Dead Zone. That year, according to Nielsen Media Research, there were all of 10 series in this category, and most of those series were sci-fi or other genre fare like Witchblade, Farscape and The Invisible Man. In 2007, The Shield dropped out of the ratings top 10 for the first time, in 11th place... out of 34 series. 34 hour-long basic cable series, more than triple the amount on the air when The Shield first started. Simply incredible. Beyond any ratings victories or critical acclaim the series received, the series' biggest feat is really opening America's eyes to what is outside the proverbial box, to what is outside of the norms and conventions network TV has thrust upon us for years and years. I remember people making a big stink when NYPD Blue came on the air and we saw Dennis Franz's bare backside and heard controversial words like "dickhead" on the national airwaves. Just in the pilot alone, The Shield made NYPD Blue look like it came from PBS, and paved the way for the spate of extraordinary programming that can be found on basic cable today. It's almost ironic that the series ended when it did since, just a few months ago, the critically-acclaimed Mad Men became the first basic-cable series to win the coveted Emmy Award for Best Drama Series, something that simply would not have been possible without the pioneering trail that The Shield blazed.
Not only did The Shield revitalize the basic cable hour-long drama movement, it was the catalyst for F/X to be the front-runner in the movement. The Shield's inception and tremendous success at F/X enabled the network to continually expand, adding a new original drama to the network almost every year since The Shield came aboard, with such popular series as Nip/Tuck, which has led this basic cable hour-long drama category in ratings every year since its second season, Rescue Me, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Damages and this year's new addition, Sons of Anarchy. These series wouldn't have been possible without The Shield. However, despite Shawn Ryan's amazing creation, the show's success wouldn't be possible without the balls-out courage of F/X's Peter Ligouri and Kevin Reilly to put this controversial show on the air when no one else would, and also John Landgraf for seeing the series through to the amazing finale. Their foresight in showing the world this epic series is simply legendary, not only for giving this show a start, but to continually back the show after their constant upping of the ante that made this series so gripping to watch, but which would've had many execs scrambling to find the pink slips. Their contribution to this series is monumental.
I could literally go on and on about this series - the storylines, the characters, the actors, the guest stars, the guest directors... OK, I have to say one thing. How many shows do you know out there that can attract such A-list movie-star talent like Glenn Close and Forrest Whitaker for an ENTIRE season apiece? How many shows could get David Mamet to direct his first TV episode, and land Frank Darabont to direct as well? But a dissertation this is not. Still, I can't write a piece on my favorite series of all time without talking about the two powering forces behind the show: creator and showrunner Shawn Ryan and the face of the series and the embodiment of Vic Mackey, Michael Chiklis. I can hardly begin to describe how much Michael Chiklis has amazed me as Vic Mackey throughout the years. Throughout the seven-season lifespan of the show, in the series' timeline, three years had passed, but it seems like yesterday since we first met Vic Mackey. Chiklis has this unique gift to evolve his character throughout the years, keeping the same brash tone of the character intact, but continually surprising us with shards of nuances he has slowly added to the character throughout the years, keeping Vic Mackey, in larger ways, practically the same as when we first met him, but, in smaller ways, showing how different he has become throughout the course of the series. Chiklis' seven-season run as Vic Mackey is simply awe-inspiring and, coming from someone who hasn't missed a single episode, I can't stress enough how truly grateful I am to have watched Michael Chiklis stun and amaze us as Vic Mackey for these past seven seasons.
While Chiklis' performance is certainly towering, the superb material creator-showrunner Shawn Ryan kept giving him is the yin to Mackey's yang. Vic Mackey couldn't exist on any other world but Ryan's world of The Shield and the stories that Ryan and his amazing writing staff gave us throughout the years is a credit to how talented Shawn Ryan truly is. While he didn't write most of the episodes himself (mainly just the season premiere's and finale's), he ran the show from Day 1 - despite a total lack of showrunning experience. With the numerous amount of balls to keep in the air, juggling a very diverse cast of characters and wonderful actors who portrayed them, is just exceptional in itself, but another one of Ryan's masterful accomplishments is taking us deeper into the L.A. we don't see on the travel brochures and other TV shows. While Vic and the Strike Team's exploits were the centerpiece of the show, the minor, serialized stories that Ryan and his staff gave us in each episode throughout the years were often just as compelling as the drama going on with the Strike Team. He gave us these smaller backstories and characters that felt so true and gave us a backdrop for the main through-line of Vic and his team - showing us the victims of these everyday crimes and also showing us the amateur criminal mind and the often-shocking rationalizations these people gave for the crimes they committed. This show personifies the maxim that "there are no small roles" because even the smallest of roles throughout the duration of the show felt so authentic and were performed with such tenacity to such an extent never usually seen on any other show. For a guy who had never ran a TV series before, Shawn Ryan's accomplishment with The Shield is nothing short of legendary.
So, to the unbelievable cast and crew of The Shield, I say thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart for such an incredible television experience. While there are many I haven't mentioned in this article, there is not one single person who has ever worked on this series that I don't truly salute for their work on this series. Not a single one. Anyone who has ever worked on this show deserves the utmost respect, in my book, because they were a part of history. A part of a series that single-handedly changed television. A part of my favorite show of all time. I have never really been a TV person... but after finding The Shield, that was all the TV I ever needed. Peace in. Gallagher out!