Major Crimes returns to TNT Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. EST for its winter season of nine episodes. I recently had a chance to sit down with James Duff, executive producer and co-creator of Major Crimes (and before that The Closer) to talk about the new season. He brought a slew of people with him: Jonathan Del Arco who plays Dr. Morales, Kathe Mazur who plays DDA Hobbs, Writer and producer Adam Belanoff, executive story editor, Damani Johnson, former Detective Mike Berchem and writer Kendall Sherwood. They shared a bit about their writing process and what’s up next this season in Major Crimes. Let’s start with what he said about he writing process first and get to the spoilers at the very end.
How does the writing process work?
Duff said they outline every season at the beginning of the year and then start to talk through the theme that they are going to explore. Then they work on the characters, their relationships and how they will grow and evolve. Since Major Crimes features an ensemble cast, the writers make sure that each character has an arc that is specific to them.
The next step is for the team discusses the individual stories for each episode. That’s when the writing team starts pitching ideas for terrible, dark murders. Duff can’t go anywhere without thinking about murder and where a body might be found. Then they crush those stories into 42 minutes of airtime, episode by episode. The writing team works together on all of the episodes, even though one person may take the lead, and their name appears on the episode. Duff writes at least one episode a season, and Adam Belanoff writes all of the Flynn & Provenza episodes.
How do you make the series seem so real?
One of the writers is Detective Mike Berchem, a former LAPD homicide officer who served for 29 years. About 70 percent of the murders on Major Crimes come from Detective Berchem’s experience. The writers often go to Detective Berchem to see how the situation would have been handled and for ideas on how a great clue can come to light at exactly the right moment for the story. When Detective Berchem started working with the team, he didn’t know anything about writing for television and the writers didn’t know anything about police work. Now Berchem writes scripts, and the writers know a lot about how a homicide detective works.
How much improvising do you allow the actors?
Improvisation can interfere with the show structure and clues of a mystery, so there are rarely ad-libs once a script is set. Moments before commercial breaks are carefully timed, so there is a reason for viewers to stay through the commercial and continue watching the show. But there is a lot of give and take between the actors and the writers before shooting starts. That’s the time to discuss and refine what a character would and would not say, so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the show.
What was the transition like from going from The Closer to Major Crimes?
Duff said that while they were writing The Closer, the team always had that Brenda Leigh Johnson voice to rely on and her point of view. Her viewpoint was always strong and clear, and the goal was to get that confession at the end of the show. Major Crimes is an ensemble show, and it focuses on the art of the deal. It’s much harder to write, but it’s also more accurate portrayal of how the justice system works. Ninety-three percent of all homicide cases end in a deal. It’s just the reality right now.
Is there a Major Crimes spin-off in the works?
There is, but TNT hasn’t officially picked it up yet. The spin-off features Jon Tenney, playing former FBI-agent Fritz Howard, who has recently become the Deputy Chief of the LAPD Special Operations Bureau, known as SOB. The title of the show would be SOB and co-stars would include Laurie Holden and Malcolm Jamal Warner. If you’d like to see SOB make it on the air, go to the Major Crimes Facebook page and post a comment about wanting to see it.
And now for our spoilers. What do we have coming up this season to look forward to?
Office Romance: The relationship between Captain Sharon Raydor and Lt. Andy Flynn heats up a bit this season. We learn that Flynn has been exaggerating the extent of their romance with his family when Flynn’s daughter goes to Sharon for relationship advice. Then Sharon tells Flynn they need to tell his daughter the reality of their relationship. That’s when Duff says there will be a surprise. You can hear Duff talk about it in this video:
Bad Guy Philip Stroh: The super bad, super smart bad guy is back (played by Billy Burke) and this time he cuts a deal that impacts Rusty. Stroh has information that could save three people from being murdered. In exchange for providing information that saves these people, Stroh gets immunity from all crimes and an interview with the material witness against him. Of course, that material witness is Rusty, and Stroh is entitled to that interview by law. Neither Rusty nor Sharon like it but it doesn’t matter what they think. Duff says this storyline will be resolved this season, but Sharon and Rusty won’t exactly like it.
Romance for Provenza: Lt. Louie Provenza (played by GW Bailey) may find himself with a romance on the horizon.
Santa Returns: For Christmastime, we can look forward to a Santa flash mob singing to Johnny Mathis while a burglary is being committed.
Will you watch Major Crimes this season?
Photos courtesty of Deborah Lacy and Kim Hammond.