MCTV Exclusive: SPOILERS – James Duff Talks Major Crimes Season Finale (Explosions! Promotions!) and More

By M. Sharpe


CAUTION – the below includes spoilers for Wednesday’s season finale of Major Crimes. Do not read if you have not yet seen the episode and don’t want to be spoiled!

In Part Two of our exclusive interview with James Duff, we discussed some of the most shocking (blowing up the squad room!) and long-awaited (Commander Raydor has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?) moments of the season finale, and what’s ahead for the team when it returns next fall for Season 6.

MajorCrimesTV: So, first of all, wow! That was a very nerve-wracking finale, and then right at the end, it packed a big emotional punch!

James Duff: I agree. And also, I want to point out how well-directed it was all the way through. Patrick Duffy did a great job of last week’s episode and Michael Robin did a fantastic job of the finale, and it all worked very well. Very happy about it.

MCTV: You mentioned earlier that there two drafts of this finale – one if it was the season finale, one if it was the series finale. Certainly I didn’t want it to be a series finale, but had it been, I feel like this was satisfying and beautiful, and would have been one we could have lived with as the end.  But had this been the series finale, what can you tell us about what might have been different?

JD: There would have been many changes. There was an important reprise, a very important reprise, and there was a heightening of what could happen in the future. Also, the explosion (at the LAPD) happened much later in the story than it would have, had it been a series finale.

MCTV: I saw that explosion and thought, wow, I don’t know if they would have blown it up if they knew they were going to have to put it all back together again for the next season!   Continue reading

MCTV Exclusive: James Duff Talks Major Crimes Explosive Season Finale, 200 Episodes and More

By M. Sharpe

MAJOR CRIMES (TNT)As Major Crimes prepared to film the two-part finale to season 5, there was some question whether what they were filming would be a season or series finale. Several versions of the script were prepped by the writers, and just days before filming on the “Shockwave” arc began, TNT renewed the show for season six, and tonight the season finale of Major Crimes airs at 9pm/8c.

In part one of our interview with series creator and writer of tonight’s episode, James Duff, he discusses in what ways the late renewal affected tonight’s season finale, and how it feels to be celebrating a combined 200 episodes in the world and characters of The Closer and Major Crimes. Stay turned for part two of our interview tonight, after the episode airs.

MajorCrimesTV: Last week’s episode was a real nail biter, and going into tonight, I have a lot of questions about what’s going to happen. And in terms of bad guys, it seems like Christian Ortiz rates right up there with some of the biggest foes the team has ever faced, right up there with Phillip Stroh and the Chris Wood character from the Poster Boy arc a few years ago. Was that an intentional choice to just put everything into this character and story?

James Duff: Most of our finales on Major Crimes center around a really bad guy you get to know. And Chris Wood is a fantastic example of someone we employed in that capacity. And by the way, look what happened to his career afterwards! He exploded. He’s such a fantastic actor. And the same thing is going to happen with this guy. He’s in “The Fate of the Furious”, coming out this weekend. So, we just got him at the right time. He was awesome and fantastic in this role. Continue reading

MCTV Exclusive: James Duff on THAT SCENE and Other Shocking Moments from Tonight’s Major Crimes Premiere

By . Sharpe

514 - sharon fritzCAUTION – the below includes spoilers for Wednesday’s all-new episode of Major Crimes. Do not read if you have not yet seen the episode and don’t want to be spoiled!

Major Crimes is always full of twists and turns, and tonight’s winter premiere is no exception, with two particularly shocking moments towards the end of the episode. We wanted to find out just how those moments came to pass, so we checked in with creator James Duff for the scoop.

MajorCrimesTV: So, this episode was full of shocking moments, but first, let’s talk about Sharon getting punched, because I was NOT ready for that!

James Duff: Sharon was just trying to find a reason to hold her suspect and she put her face in the line of fire. You see our characters running towards the danger at the top of the episode, and then you see Sharon walking in and putting herself in the line of danger in the interview room. It’s actually a parallel to that moment in the beginning. It’s a dramatization of her putting herself first – she is trying to find a way to stop this guy. And the way to stop him is to get him to assault her. And she succeeds. That was her strategy to resolve this case.

MCTV: Well, it sure got me – I wasn’t expecting it at all, and it looked very real.

JD: It got me, too, even though we wrote it and knew it was happening, when I saw them on screen I gasped. And Mary was fantastic in that scene. It’s very unnerving.

MCTV: The other big bombshell at the end of this episode is that Stroh may be back. How is that going to play into the rest of this season?

JD: Well, we’re going to get more information as we go along about Stroh, but I’m not going to be able to tell that story–remember when I was doing these last eight episodes, I didn’t know whether or not we would have a season six, and so I put all the Stroh information where I could excise it if I needed to. And I made it small, so I could track his potential return without promising to actually show anything.

Indeed, if he has come back, he would be very careful. I mean, he’s on the ten most wanted list, he is a serious, serious criminal, people seriously want to catch him. He’s the subject of a world-wide manhunt. So how he may be accomplishing these things is questionable. He may not be here in person. We know he has a history of manipulating people into helping him. I’m not really going to pay off the story in the back eight, but I’m going to continue setting it up, because I am going to go there next year.

Major Crimes returns with an all-new episode next Wednesday at 9pm/8c on TNT. Don’t forget to check out the “What Would Sharon Raydor Do?” podcast tomorrow, where we talk about this episode (and that scene!) in depth with Captain Raydor herself, Mary McDonnell.

MCTV Exclusive: James Duff Previews Major Crimes Winter Premiere, the Race for Chief, and Why He Prepared Alternate Scripts For This Season

By M. Sharpe

514- duff raydorAfter a five-month hiatus, Major Crimes returns tonight with the first of eight all-new episodes of its winter season. spoke to series creator and executive producer James Duff to find out just what fans can expect from these upcoming episodes, including how Chief Taylor’s death continues to impact the team and the LAPD at large, what we can expect from two major new additions to the cast, and how the long wait for a season six renewal affected how the writers approached the season finale. And stay tuned for after the episode for our special postmortem with Duff on a few of the jaw-dropping turns tonight’s episode delivers.

MajorCrimesTV: It’s great to have you and the team back. It’s been far too long, and with everything that has been going on in the world, it feels very comforting to have Major Crimes, and these familiar characters back in our lives.

James Duff: Thank you, it’s good to be back. I will say, in our present day lives, the world suddenly seems less stable than it used to. I do think having these familiar characters come back for eight episodes right now is something that offers people a little happy familiarity. And people who like the show, I think they’ll like it even more than usual, because they want a little stability somewhere, and the show does, in its own way, foster that stability in the world. It’s a continuance, and no matter what changes in the world, or how it changes, MC is still here, doing its thing. And we’re very glad to be back for that.

MCTV: You’ve mentioned before going into this season that the team was in for a big shakeup, but what struck me even more than that watching the winter premiere was the feeling that this was a bit of a rebirth for the show, and that things are headed somewhere different. Camryn Manheim as Winnie Davis comes onto the scene like a bull in a china shop, butting up against Raydor. It’s very reminiscent of how Sharon really came onto the scene in The Closer and butted up against Brenda. Are we going to see that parallel continue?

JD: Yes. That is a parallel, but there is a difference, in that Brenda handled Sharon’s presence much differently than Sharon is going to end up handling Winnie’s presence. You’re going to see in this episode, Sharon’s first reaction is, ‘may I please go back to work’. But later the later reactions are going to be much different. Sharon is struggling to find a way to deal with Winnie that’s professional, and Winnie knows that, so she goes for the personal. She tries to get some personal antagonism going between her and Sharon, and Sharon does not take the bait. She keeps everything as cool and professional as she can, although she does eventually lose her patience.

MCTV: We see in tonight’s episode that Wes Nolan, who was the undercover cop from the three part finale from summer, is now working with the team. Has he become a permanent addition?

JD: You know, that’s still a question. He’s going to be testifying for years against the white power organization in which he was an undercover agent for five years.  And while he’s testifying against Zyklon B he’s going to be attached to Major Crimes. And he may ultimately end up somewhere else, but he does seem to fit in, and I will tell you that the cast loved Daniel. They adore him and I think he’s a great addition to what we have. But a lot of it depends on our story-telling needs next season and how his career path goes.

MCTV:  Part of this episode focuses the team going through training exercises, and all that’s involved in that. How did that come about being part of this, as we’ve really not seen that before on the show?

JD: No we haven’t, and active shooter training is a big thing that started with the actual LAPD. There wasn’t any active shooter training like this for a very long time, and also the training has now changed. In the past, the police were told to wait for SWAT. But now, you can’t wait for SWAT, and you have to go right in. Your job as a first responder now is to get in there and try to stop it any way you can.

I felt like I didn’t want to do an actual active shooter story, because we did one already last season, but I did want to show how these episodes are disrupting our society, and I also wanted to show how we are training to deal with it. Additionally, it takes a lot of resources to continue this sort of training. A lot of time, a lot of effort and everybody must go through it. Since our show is largely about the lives of police officers, I felt like it was a great way to start our season, by showing them still training. Even the most successful of them still are training to do better.

MCTV: One thing that really hit me in this episode was that, as we’ve seen for the life of the show, the Major Crimes division has always been the darling of the LAPD. It’s the elite division, they’ve been supported by the brass, etc. But it seems that perhaps in this episode, and moving forward, I’m feeling like we might have just seen the first crack in that armor?

JD: Yes, and that is it exactly. Every time new management comes in, there are changes. They look to see where changes can be made, on all sides. It may surprise you to hear that detectives are not the most popular people inside the LAPD, or inside any police department, usually. Everybody feels they get special treatment, especially homicide detectives. The resources that are detailed to Homicide are always envied by other divisions. It’s natural, of course, because you want your money to go in support of people tracking the most violent offenders. But everybody considers their job important, too. And there’s always a question of balance. How much does any one division get, as opposed to another division, and could some of the crimes that are ultimately solved by our detectives have been prevented by resourcing some of these other departments? Those are legitimate questions. Allocation of resources, that’s always a big deal inside bureaucracies. And the LAPD is no different.

MCTV: We don’t see him until next week, but what can you tell us about the other person who’s going to be in the running for the Chief position?

JD: Commander Davis is also in charge of a division that the LAPD supports and that causes a lot of anxiety among other divisions, which is Criminal Intelligence Division, the LAPD’s own CIA. People’s big complaint about Criminal Intelligence is that they swoop in, they get information, and it goes away and it never comes back. And they never share anything they’ve learned with the rest of the department. I mean, these are the rumors and the complaints that you hear from other LAPD officers, that CI is the sinkhole of all relevant information. And that they would rather hold on to their sources and methods than assist in solving crimes. So Commander Davis will have his own issues in terms of the Chief position, and Winnie Davis is going to have issues with him as well.

MCTV: We were all thrilled and relieved by the recent renewal announcement for season 6, but it came pretty late in the game in terms of where you were in the production schedule of these episodes. Did the delay in renewal affect the storytelling and how you wrote this winter arc, not knowing if there would be another season after this?

JD: I was preparing to do the last eight episodes as if we were going to do no more, but we also planned it so the last episode could go a multitude of ways depending on what happened. The word came down [that the show was renewed] before we started shooting the last two episodes. So as things turned out, we were prepared for the renewal with an alternate script, and the renewal came, and so we had that script ready to shoot.

The winter premiere of Major Crimes airs tonight at 9PM/8C on TNT, and don’t forget to come back to after the episode as James Duff breaks down two of the most shocking moments of the night.

Thursday morning, delve even deeper into the new episode with a brand new edition of Mary McDonnell’s “What Would Sharon Raydor Do?” Podcast, guest hosted by the editor of Find out just what Sharon Raydor was thinking during tonight’s episode, from the woman who knows her best, actress Mary McDonnell.

MCTV Exclusive: James Duff Previews Major Crimes Summer Finale and ‘Delicate Dance’ of Replacing Taylor

By M. Sharpe

Major Crimes Executive Producer and Co-Creator James Duff. Photo Credit: Mark Hill, Courtesy TNT When we last spoke to James Duff at the beginning of season five, he alluded to how the theme of this season of Major Crimes, balance, would have repercussions for everyone in the team. As the summer season wraps up tonight with part three of the summer finale, we caught up with Executive Producer James Duff to shed some light on some of the biggest changes we’ve seen so far this season (RIP Chief Taylor), and what we can expect both in tonight’s finale, and for the winter season of Major Crimes, and beyond.

MCTV: I would be remiss to start this off without asking about Taylor, and the shocking decision to kill him off in part one of this three-part summer finale. What lead you to making the decision to have Taylor’s death be such a catalyst in this arc, and as part of the season as a whole?

James Duff: There’s two things to discuss with this. Part one of that is, opening Taylor’s office was always my plan, so that was always going to happen at some point. Part two is that balance is the theme of all thirteen summer episodes – it links them all together. I couldn’t do a study on balance without including the balance of power, and without completely removing the balance of power and forcing a new center of gravity into the circumstances around which Major Crimes revolves. And this new center of gravity that the team is now looking to f26135_011 Major Crimes Ep 511 White Lies Pt. 1ind is going to be the subject of the next eight episodes–how we adjust to changes, who becomes the center, and how everyone must adjust to accommodate that new center.

History itself is the story of a succession of one center of gravity replacing another, and how people must adapt constantly to that sort of change. People either adjust, or they crash and burn. That’s just how it works. And so, Major Crimes is adjusting. And that will be the back eight episodes we’ll see this winter. That’s always what I meant to happen. And beyond that, there is a world beyond the adjustment of gravity, and so that would be our next season, if we end up getting one.

It’s also important to remember that the LAPD is a dangerous place to work, and police officers have an extremely dangerous job in this day and age. The Los Angeles Police Department trains hard to do the right thing, and to bring policing into the twenty-first century, but it’s still every bit as vulnerable as the bad police departments are. There’s no discrimination, apparently, between good police officers and bad police officers. Taylor also encompassed the essence of the blue/black divide, because he’s both. And both sides are damaged by this divide. And I’m not taking sides, I’m just dramatizing the divide that exists, and he was a very good way to dramatize that nobody wins when violence is the answer.

So Taylor’s death accommodated the two things I needed. One was to explore the balance of power and how it affects our daily lives, which is what part two of the finale was about. But, any meditation on the balance of power in our human life would require us to take into account religion, and its force in the world and on our leading characters. So both of these major events, Taylor’s death, the shooting of Dwight Darnell, the balancing of what we owe to our spiritual selves and what we owe to our professional selves, all of that was meant to create special circumstances for Sharon Raydor. And I think we did that.

MCTV: Speaking to that examination of religion, last week was a departure for the show, in that it both took on a different structure in how it was framed from Sharon’s confession, but also gave us a much closer look at Sharon than we’ve seen for a while. There has been hints that Sharon has this strong religious part to her, but this was the most overtly we’ve seen it, and also gave a bit more insight into the state of her relationship with Andy, and what she feels like she can and can’t talk to him about.

JD: To be clear, it’s not that she can’t rely on Andy to talk to, it’s just as she says, she can’t rely on Andy to talk to about the death of Dwight Darnell. And truly, she couldn’t rely on a lot of the audience, either. A lot of the audience would tell her, ‘Look, you did the right thing. Get over it.” I heard that from people after the episode aired. 512- priest raydor

But taking a human life is complicated, no matter the circumstances. For example, with the military, we have 20 veterans a day committing suicide, and a lot of it has to do with loss of life they are involved in. We train people to believe that murder is wrong, and then we send them out to kill people, and don’t understand why they’re confused afterwards. And so I thought it would be important to show Sharon in a moral quandary – wanting to feel grief for having stopped Dwight Darnell from killing anybody else through violence, which she’s always been hesitant to use, unless absolutely necessary. And she’s never killed anyone, and I wanted to explore that aspect of her personality.

Also, she’s very Catholic. That has been mentioned throughout the series. She was so Catholic she didn’t divorce her husband for over thirty years. She loves angels, that’s an established fact, and she sent Rusty to a Catholic school. She’s been very serious about her religion, although, this is a murder show, not “True Confessions” or anything like that, so we just haven’t seen it more than that. But if she and Andy were to perhaps want to do something more than just live together, that would create conflict for her. And so maybe there’s a reminder there, maybe I’m setting something up for the future, by reminding everybody about how Catholic she is.

MCTV: Going back to Taylor for a moment, we’re heard through some casting announcements that we’re going to see the power shift, and we’re going to see some new people come in to be in the running for his job. Are we going to get closure on the loss of Taylor at all, and the impact that death itself has on the team?

JD: Well, we will be talking about Taylor for ages to come. And there is an attempt to honor him in the summer finale in the first act. Not at a funeral, because we’ve already done that, when we went to the funeral of the Chief of Police. I don’t want to give away too much, but he will not be gone completely. He’s a member of the Major Crimes family and he’ll be treated that way throughout.

MCTV: In terms of the power vacuum, the Sharon of a few years ago had a lot of desire to move up the ranks. But now that we’re seeing this job having opened up, it’s hard to envision Sharon wanting to leave Major Crimes now that she’s established this great team, and everyone works together so well. How is this power vacuum going to affect her, in a desire to move up the ranks, or lack thereof? MAJOR CRIMES (TNT)

JD: It’s a delicate dance inside the LAPD when one of these positions opens up. If you get considered for a promotion, you have to try to get it because if you fail, you’ll lose what you have. And that happens all the time. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but when new people move in to positions of power, then the people underneath them, who were also trying to get that position of power, end up with a lot of ‘freeway therapy’. They get transferred to Harbor Division or they end up at SOB (Special Operations Bureau) or teaching at the Police Academy. So in terms of a career path, it’s dangerous.

On the other hand, you don’t get to decide this. The Police Chief job is decided by the Mayor in concert with the city council and the police commission. The job of Assistant Chief is decided entirely by the Chief. There’s no one else to ask. So if he interviews you, and everybody knows you’re up for the job, then you’re exposed. That’s why we’re bringing on Camryn Manheim, and another actor I can’t announce yet, to all be in play for the job. But the struggle to replace Taylor, will also be a struggle to protect Major Crimes. Because a new Assistant Chief comes in, and the division changes. So Sharon is given a lot to think about in these back eight episodes this winter, and that influences how she has to react to being considered for the position. 504- buzz lr

MCTV: Switching just quickly over to Buzz, and his journey this season. We saw last episode that he’s really stepped up in this investigation and come into his own. Are we going to see more of that now that he has had a taste of being part of this side of the police work?

JD: Well, you’re going to see his realization that things are not over. That’s going to come back. So the conclusion of Buzz’s story is both final, and ambiguous. And Phillip has done an amazing job this season, and in the last scene of the case, he does an amazing job, and in the scene after the case, he does an amazing job. And also stepping up and showing he’s capable has been Julio Sanchez, as a foster parent. And we’re going to see just how much this new experience has meant to him in the finale.

MCTV: Finally, you mentioned that a potential season 6 would have a focus around the adjustment to whoever becomes the new chief, and how that appointment could change Major Crimes. There hasn’t been an announcement yet for season 6 from TNT. Any updates there?

JD: It’s impossible to know what the network consider their needs to be right now, and I can’t say for sure anything. They have not indicated a pickup for next season to me yet, so I really don’t know. I’m very happy overall with how we’ve managed our numbers this season, especially given the switch to 10pm. We did much better than we thought we would do and I think better than TNT thought we would do. It’s a bit of a win-win for us and hopefully the network will want to solidify their gains here and do it again.

The summer finale of Major Crimes airs tonight at 10pm/9c on TNT.

MCTV Exclusive: Lights! Camera! Action! On Set with James Duff

By M. Sharpe

It’s a warm June day in Hollywood, and Executive Producer James Duff is being pulled apart.

Not literally of course, but as we are invited on set to interview Duff and watch the filming of an upcoming episode of Major Crimes, all plans for a traditional sit down with the executive producer/writer/creator of the show seem to go out the window when we arrive to find him and the cast and crew at full speed in the middle of production for the 5th season, premiering tonight at 10pm/9c on TNT.

As the day progresses, the scope of just what being in the middle of the episode order really means becomes more and more clear. Bits and pieces of all seven of the season’s first episodes are in different stages of progress at the same time, all on the same day, and each piece has to be perfect.

The cast is down on the soundstage filming the second-to-last day of episode 506. We first catch up with Duff when the cast takes a break to do the table read for episode 507. The read is running about 45 minutes late–the filming on the soundstage ran long. The actors are released from filming and start arriving, and the big conference room we’re in suddenly begins to feel very small as it fills.

The mood is jovial as Duff introduces himself and the episode’s writer and director to the guest cast that has joined the group for episode 507. The newcomers then introduce themselves and the room erupts in applause, welcoming them into the Major Crimes family. The regular cast introduces themselves and their characters, then Duff takes back over, introducing the dozens of other writers, producers and key crew members who have all joined for the reading as well. He rattles off an impressive list of names and titles of everyone present from memory, then they begin. Continue reading

MCTV Exclusive – James Duff Talks Major Crimes Winter Season and Daring New Structure

By M. Sharpe


When we spoke to executive producer James Duff at the beginning of this season of Major Crimes, he discussed how the focus for this season centered around the theme of “courage”, and how that issue would reverberate through the lives of the characters. Catching up with Duff on the eve of the groundbreaking winter premiere, it’s clear that exploring the themes about courage was not only for the characters, but for the writers themselves as they embarked on a new structure for the series. For the first time ever, Major Crimes will break from its procedural format to create a serialized arc out of the final five episodes of season four.

The choice to move to exploring just MAJOR CRIMESone case over five episodes instead of the traditional murder-of-the-week structure is a first for Duff, and in many respects, a first in general for televised programs. Duff admits that the choice is both unconventional but exciting, “It’s very different. It’s interesting to see the show continue its evolution and finding interesting things for our fantastic series regulars to do. We are very excited by the challenge.” It’s a bold move for a highly successful show with a devoted fan base to suddenly flip the switch part-way through a season, but Duff is confident that fans, whom he’s always shared a close connection with, will appreciate the creative liberty which he has taken. He notes that if it doesn’t sit well with them, “our audience will not be shy in telling me if I’m mistaken.”

The decision to structure the season this way came after TNT increased Major Crimes season four episode order by five episodes for a total of 23 episodes, the biggest season order of any TNT series to date. Duff explains that he and the writers had just finished laying out their plans for the original 18 episodes of the season when the additional five were ordered. Instead of changing what had already been put into motion with the first part of the season, they opted to use the opportunity to try something completely different.

Partially inspired by the success of past two-part episodes of the show with both the fans and the network, Duff shares that the increased episode order led him to take the traditional two-part episode formula a step further to push the boundaries of what television has been capable of before. “When we got the extra order for the final five episodes, I thought of this idea I had had before for a procedural pilot. Procedural pilots are very hard to sell right now, and I thought that I could take this story and weave it into the existing plot and it would turn out differently because there are different characters here. At the same time, I knew that it would fit the characters that we have already established and connected with, and that it would give a chance for Sanchez and for Sykes to run at their own issues.”

419- sykes lr As Duff explains, much of the reasoning behind bringing Sykes to the center of the action in the winter arc has to do with the character of Sykes herself, and points out that as the newest member of the team, she was the most likely candidate to be willing to explore the mystery surrounding the new case in a way that would be unthinkable to anyone else on the squad. Duff also says he relished the chance to finally give Sykes her own fully realized storyline. “We’ve never been able to fully utilize Sykes in our previous seasons and the structure of these episodes finally allows us to do just that. Unlike most of the cast, she wasn’t part of the original The Closer crew so it’s been a slower ride up for her and I’m just thrilled to be able to show everybody what Kearran Giovanni can do. She’s got game, and Amy Sykes has game, and I think the audience has really grown to like Sykes and that they’ll really enjoy getting to see her in action.”

Sykes isn’t the only supporting member of the cast who takes a more prominent role in the unfolding episodes. Despite an intense crime unfolding in the foreground of the episodes, in the first of the five episodes alone there are no less five of the main characters of the show for whom things begin to shift dramatically as the case and episodes unfold.

The intensity of these episodes, 419- buzz provenza rusty lralong with the structure of the sustained arc, work together to also function as another storytelling device, and a new prism through which to view the characters. “It just gave us a lot of opportunity not to just tell a mystery, but also to delve deeper into our characters, and to see how our ensemble reacts in different circumstances.  We saw how Flynn reacted to the various conflicts that took place during our winter episodes, and now we want to see how Sykes and Sanchez and Tao react to the conflict of these final episodes. Sanchez is still dealing with the issues related to his wife, and having someone else there who is relating to long-term grief issues as well. And, Tao in particular has a really epic scene in the second episode that I think will really shock people!”

In addition to the return of the squad, fans can look forward to the addition of a few new faces joining the winter season as well. Cheryl White appears as firearms technician “Firearms” Francine, who sets Sykes off on her unsanctioned attempt to get to the bottom of the case, while Julie Ann Emory portrays a detective with a very personal connection and perspective to the case. Jason Gedrick also features prominently as Mark Hickman, a disgraced former LAPD officer who finds himself with his foot right back in the case that ended his career years before, and left things very tense with his former partner, Mike Tao. Duff praises Gedrick for not worrying about tempering his performance to make his controversial character more palatable to viewers. “He did not try to make his character likable, and yet somehow or other there is something about the character, you see how wounded he is.”

419- hawkins3 lrGeddrick’s Hickman, as well as the gang-related case at the center of these episodes also serves as a tool for the writers to touch on the very relevant and very real issue of race and racial tension between civilians and police, but Duff maintains that his purpose as a storyteller is not to present these issues with bias, but merely present them as they are and allow his audience to judge them for themselves. “I’m ruthless about not politicizing issues or current events, that is not what I am trying to do with this show. What I am trying to do is be authentic and as unbiased as possible. I present issues that reflect our current events as they are and the facts clearly indicate that there are racial tensions between minority groups and the law enforcement community. I am not making that up, I am merely acknowledging it.”

Fans should expect a nail-biting conclusion to the first episode – and we use the term ‘conclusion’ in the very loosest sense of the word. Rather than having the drama and mystery wrapped up neatly as per Major Crimes’ traditional formula, the volume gets turned up even higher. Duff shares that this is the effect he and his writing team were hoping for. “Not only was this our intention, but we realized early on in the writing process that this was the best way to tell the story. It’s important to remember, this is not the kind of mystery that we normally tell. Normally, we limit ourselves to a mystery that can be told in one episode, and this one could not be done in that same way. When we were evaluating our writing strategy, we realized that you couldn’t even get the back story in one episode.”

MAJOR CRIMESLooking forward, Duff reveals that the writers are already hard at work crafting season five, which will premiere this summer. After the intensity of these final episodes of this season, it seems natural, and welcome, for Duff to have a more harmonious theme to open season five: balance.  “We will be exploring how we balance our professional and personal lives, how we balance needs of adults and needs of children, how we balance our virtual world with the real world, and how we balance our fantasies  of how things are going to be with the actualities.” In addition to finding balance in the lives of his characters, Duff jokes that he is also on a personal journey to finding balance with his cast and crew. “Balancing a cast this large is phenomenally difficult, and it makes me really, really appreciate Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey and those are even larger cast shows. It’s a very interesting process!”

Major Crimes winter season premieres tonight at 9pm/8c on TNT.

MCTV Exclusive: James Duff Talks Season 4 and “The Courage to Live an Everyday Life”

By M. Sharpe

duff btsMajor Crimes series creator and Executive Producer James Duff recently took the time to chat with about tonight’s exciting season premiere, and preview what lies ahead for the team as they enter their fourth season. 

When we caught up with James Duff last week, he was in the midst of filming episode 406 of the season, prepping episode 407, and editing episodes 402-404. Despite the manic pace that is the production schedule of a television series, Duff was happy to take a few moments from his tremendously busy schedule to let us know how excited he is about this upcoming season of Major Crimes, and specifically how the theme of “courage” will play into the stories of this season. “I’m looking forward to exploring and dramatizing the courage it takes to live an everyday life.  We have some unique elements with which to dramatize that particular theme.”

While courage will be a theme that we’ll see in all the characters’ journeys, Duff says that this theme will resonate particularly strongly within the relationship between Sharon and Rusty. “Every parent who sees their child stepping into adulthood has tremendous fears, as they lose their authority and as the child gains autonomy; fear ensues. Have you prepared the child? Have you given the child good judgment that they need to make the right decisions in this complicated world? And we dramatize 401- provenza raydor rusty taylor lr - Copythat dilemma that all parents face by having Philip Stroh escape; he becomes an existential threat in how do you deal with these existential threats and how do you live your life in the face of something like that kind of fear?” He stresses that Sharon, like so many parents before her, is struggling with having to relinquish her control over Rusty’s safety.

Tonight’s episode takes place several months after the events of the season three finale, and find Rusty as a full-time college student on the cusp of taking on a new endeavor as an aspiring journalist for his college newspaper. Those aspirations will intersect with the team through an arc that finds him researching the story of Alice Herrera (first introduced in the season 3 episode “Jane Doe #38”), a young murder victim who, through the course of the investigation, was discovered to have lied about her name, and was never able to be truly identified.  Duff explains that this season, “Rusty is going to be following that story, trying to identify her for the first ten episodes.”

401- rusty2 lrRusty’s newly-discovered passion will also bring something new to the show, in the form of short video-blogs that will will be posted across the official Major Crimes social media pages (and Rusty’s own YouTube channel, which will be launched concurrently with the blogs). They will follow Rusty’s journey to try and identify Alice over a 10-episode arch. Duff reveals that these vlogs will take place in some familiar settings around the murder room, but will feature a fresh perspective on them in the form of Rusty, and that other familiar faces from the show also turn up within them.

Rusty is not the only person who viewers will see entering the Murder Room with a renewed sense of purpose. As we enter this season, Detective Sanchez returns after the suspension caused by his excessive force allegations last year. Explains Duff, “Sanchez has his own challenge to face. I think it requires tremendous bravery to come back after a public suspension and to try and resume your place. And not everyone is that wild about having him come back.” Duff goes on to promise that the writers will deal with Julio’s anger management issues early on in this season. “We are going to answer where the rage comes from; we’re going to deal with the temper issue and we’re going to see him struggle and we’re going to see change.” Duff states, “It is a tribute to Raymond Cruz, to his talent; that he makes the character transition look like the simplest thing on Earth and yet it is an amazingly emotional scene.”

401- tao4 lrOther members of the Major Crimes team will also have to call on their courage in situations that will test them beyond their limits this season. Duff elaborates, “Tao has to face the consequences of using his weapon. And how that affects him, and how it spurs him on beyond finishing the case.” Additionally, Det. Sykes is faced with an impossible situation when, “[She] has an opportunity to protect a witness and this opportunity comes with great challenges because this witness could possibly solve a murder that they have not solved, and yet the witness’ identity cannot be given out.” Duff explains that, “The law does not make exceptions for the judgment of a police officer in this case, so she is standing up to the legal system as well as to a very deadly street gang.”

Despite the serious nature of many of the storylines, Duff assures us that season four isn’t all gloom and doom, with many treats in store for viewers. Buzz, the team’s reliable, rule-abiding sidekick will step into a more pronounced role this season as he completes his Reserve Officer training and joins Flynn and Provenza on his very first ride along. Though, in typical Flynn and Provenza fashion, the three of them find themselves in a significantly more complicated position than anticipated when a domestic disturbance call at a local hotel turns into a homicide investigation, threatening to spoil the entire Major Crimes division’s July 4th plans to attend a Dodgers game together.

401- raydor 1 lr - CopyDuff also reveals how the theme of courage will resonate with one of the most anticipated storylines this season, as the deepening relationship between Sharon Raydor and Lt. Flynn is continues to be explored. Duff shares that Sharon will need to search for a certain kind of courage herself this season, in order to allow her heart to welcome this potential romance. “There are a lot of pluses and minuses involved in dating someone with whom you work with and especially when the stakes are life and death sometimes. But one of the things that is not necessarily a con is how the LAPD looks at these relationships, all you have to do is inform your immediate superior that the relationship, is in fact, going on and you’re in the clear. But, informing your superior that the relationship is going on means admitting that relationship is going on. So, saying it out loud has a lot of power, and I think that probably is one of the most courageous things that [Sharon] is going to have to do.”

Progression in a possible romance with Lt. Flynn will also have consequences for her relationship with her newly adopted son, and perhaps bring some of the trauma from his past back to the surface. “Adding an older male into his living dynamic has never worked out for Rusty [in the past], and as much as he is okay with Sharon going out and spending time with Andy and dating him, the idea that it might move into something more is not met with rapturous joy. And, so he is going to have to deal with that as well, and so is she.”

401- provenza4 lr - CopyWith Flynn getting closer to Sharon this season, that leaves Provenza the time that he needs to evaluate his relationship with Patrice, who was introduced as his own love interest last season. “We love Dawnn Lewis, she is an amazing actor, and a lot of fun. She loves coming to play with us and we love having her.” Duff says this relationship is where Provenza will need to call on his own courage, “I think it takes enormous courage to start a new relationship at Provenza’s age with a woman who is closer to being a peer than the last woman he dated, who was ridiculously young.”

Overall, as Major Crimes enters this fourth season, Duff says fans will watch as the team faces a more heightened sense of danger than ever before. “What you’re going to see is that people are going to rise above that risk because it is a choice of living in fear or living in a much more hopeful environment. Admitting that you are dealing with something that is out of your control and that is dangerous, but that you must live anyway is difficult. and it is a way of living your life in a hopeful place while going through some dark times, and choosing hope over the anxiety. And that is a brave choice. It is how we are setting up the circumstances and we’re allowing the cast to rise above their problems.”

Duff hopes that this season’s theme and the way that it touches each character will resonate as strongly with fans as it has for him and the rest of the Major Crimes cast and crew. “The choice between living your life in fear or living your life with hope, choosing to live with hope, that takes courage. Moving into a defensive crouch, that seems normal and it seems practical. Ignoring that defensive crouch and choosing to live your life out in the open, to act as if you will survive life’s onslaughts – that takes courage.”

The season premiere of Major Crimes airs tonight at 9pm/8c on TNT.