Chiklis, Landgraf, Ryan Ride Final ‘Shield’

Aug 29, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Michael Chiklis is pleased with the way FX’s “The Shield” is coming to an end—with a bang, not a whimper.
“I feel like we really finished it in an incredibly strong way,” said the series’ Emmy Award-winning lead actor. “Especially the last seven episodes, it becomes like a moving freight train and it becomes quite explosive in the final episodes.”
The series, which begins its final season Tuesday, made a bang in the TV world, opening the door to a new type of edgy drama on ad-supported cable TV and creating an identity for FX.
Series creator Shawn Ryan said the freight train described by Mr. Chiklis has been stuck in the yard for a long time.
“It’s been the longest goodbye in TV history,” Mr. Ryan said.
Shooting finished in November, but post-production work couldn’t be done until the Writers Guild of America strike ended in February. The final four episodes were edited in March.
“It feels like a movie. We’re waiting for that release,” Mr. Ryan said.
While fans of the show are no doubt eagerly awaiting the final season of the groundbreaking basic-cable series, the show has lost viewers over the years. FX President John Landgraf is conservative in his estimates of how the last season will perform in the ratings.
FX is taking steps to retain viewers. For example, the News Corp.-owned network is creating a two-minute recap of each episode that viewers can watch to keep up with the series if they miss the show for a week.
The recaps are designed to be automatically recorded by digital video recorders when viewers tape full episodes, giving them the option of watching the full hour or the two-minute update to keep them from falling behind on the serialized storyline.
Even with those efforts, “I am skeptical that we’re going to see a lot of new viewers,” Mr. Landgraf said.
“Over time, you have a lot of viewers who for whatever reason fall by the wayside,” he said. “Now that they know it’s the end, they may come back to check it out. But I’m not expecting that ratings this season will be significantly higher than the one that just aired.”
Ratings for the show peaked in season two with an average of 3.2 million total viewers. Last season the show averaged 2.2 million viewers.
Mr. Landgraf wants FX to stay in business with both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Chiklis.
Mr. Ryan is working on a buddy show about detectives with a relationship that’s comedic in a “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” way, Mr. Landgraf said. Mr. Ryan is working on the project with Ted Griffin, who wrote “Matchstick Men” and “Ocean’s Eleven.”
Mr. Landgraf said Mr. Chiklis, in the role of an executive producer, brought a family drama to the network that involves financial chicanery and fraud. The network is in the process of hiring a writer to create a script.
Of course, the network would love to have Mr. Chiklis in front of the camera as well.
“In a heartbeat, if we had the right part for him,” Mr. Landgraf said. “The guy is to us what Johnny Carson was to NBC. He helped us build this network.”
Everyone involved in “The Shield” still seems slightly shocked that the show ever got on television.
Part of the credit goes to Kevin Reilly, who was head of programming at FX then and is president of entertainment at Fox now. He had been previously been at HBO, and when the story of Vic Mackey hit his desk, he wasn’t worried about a show featuring an antihero.
“Our biggest concern was not, is it too far out there?” he said. Rather, FX executives worried about whether their cop show would stand out from the crowded field.
Mr. Ryan had written “The Shield” as a sample script. He was surprised to get a call from FX.
“I had no reason to believe that anyone outside of HBO would make a script like that,” Mr. Ryan said. “The basic idea of your central character killing another cop at the end of the pilot, you didn’t see TV shows like that on the major networks.”
Mr. Ryan said he didn’t know much about FX then.
“I had no idea who Peter Liguori or Kevin Reilley were,” he said, referring to FX’s president and programming chief at the time. “I had no idea why they’d be interested in my script. I spent a lot of time talking to Kevin and it became clear that I had stumbled into the zone that they were trying to hit.”
Mr. Ryan said he wasn’t trying to break new ground in what could be shown on basic cable.
“I think if we start from a place of, ‘Hey, let’s break down barriers,’ the audience can sniff that out and things can seem a little gratuitous,” Mr. Ryan said. “We just tried to tell the best story we could week to week, and we did it without having the usual network filter on how we told those stories or how admirable we had to make our characters. The result was something that a lot of people found groundbreaking.”
Another difficulty in getting “The Shield” on the air was finding the right person to play Vic.
“Like any great alignment of the stars, it’s hard to imagine now that anybody else could have played it,” Mr. Reilly recalled. “But in fact we were struggling casting the role. Michael’s name came up early on. His agents wanted us to offer it to him. I wasn’t going to do it because I knew Michael Chiklis as a fantastic actor, but a very different kind of guy than we had in mind.”
Mr. Chiklis had starred as ABC’s cuddly “Commish.”
Mr. Reilly said he’ll never forget Mr. Chiklis’ reading.
“It was one of the great moments in my show-business career,” Mr. Reilly said. “When Liguori and I walked upstairs to the casting room, Chiklis was sitting there chewing Nicorette gum in a leather jacket with the shaved head. We both looked at each other like, ‘I think that’s him.’”
“There was no chit-chat. There was no small talk. He launched right into the scene like Vic Mackey. He was Vic Mackey. He literally knocked us on our asses and then blew out of the door with that same sort of magnetic energy that he brought to the role.”
Mr. Reilly and Mr. Liguori just looked at each other when the reading was done, almost speechless.
“I just said, ‘That works,’” Mr. Reilly recalled.
Mr. Reilly said fighting for the role turned out to be a move that realigned Mr. Chiklis’ career.
“There were other more lucrative options out there, and the important thing is that in these fragile careers you have a guy who said, ‘This is the right role for the right moment in time for me and I’m not going to just chase the money,’” Mr. Reilly said.
Mr. Chiklis said the success of “The Shield” vindicated that decision for him.
“People were telling me that I was insane and I’d never work again if I did it,” he said. “Had the show not worked for whatever reason, I would have definitely taken a big hit in terms of taking that kind of risk. But thank God I did. I had to go with the material and the people involved.”
Before taking the role, Mr. Chiklis said, he wanted to be absolutely sure the network was going to shoot the script he fought so hard to be a part of.
“That was my biggest thing. Am I going to show up on day one on the set and the pink pages are going to come down and this is going to be boiled into its least common denominator, because I’ll quit,” he said.
Mr. Chiklis said he’s concentrating on movie work after “The Shield” wraps, but wouldn’t rule out doing another series.
“If some great writer wrote something phenomenal tomorrow and it landed on my desk and it happened to be on television, I’d probably damn well do it,” he said. “A lot of the greatest stuff that’s being made right now happens to be made for the small screen, I believe.”

One Comment

  1. Wonderful to read!

Your Comment

Email (will not be published)