Home Forums Television “Good Cop Bad Cop – An Oral History of The Shield (2002-2008)

“Good Cop Bad Cop – An Oral History of The Shield (2002-2008)

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  • Oscarluver30
    Sep 26th, 2011


    In the summer of 2000, the top executives in charge of the basic-cable network FX—which was mostly known for showing reruns of The X-Files and
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer—were eager to make a change. 

    They believed that in order to be relevant, they needed to
    present audiences with an original, prime time scripted drama that would
    be so provocative it would completely alter the way the network was
    perceived. FX President Peter Liguori and his second-in-command, Kevin
    Reilly, ordered two pilots to compete to fill this slot: One was the
    drug-fueled drama,
    Dope, which followed a kilo of heroin as it came into
    contact with several different characters. The show starred Jason
    Priestley in his first series role since
    Beverly Hills 90210. The second was a gritty drama called
    The Barn, which
    centered on a group of police officers operating in a crime-infested,
    fictional Los Angeles neighborhood. Created and written by Shawn Ryan (Angel, Nash Bridges), The Barn featured an ensemble cast led by Michael Chiklis, who was best known for playing the titular character in the ABC dramedy
    The Commish.

    From the start,
    Dope felt like a heavy favorite. Some executives at FX
    were concerned that audiences might not be interested in yet another cop
    show, and there were doubts about whether Chiklis was the right fit to
    The Barn’s lead role, Vic Mackey, a tough-as-nails,
    morally ambiguous antihero, even though Chiklis had shaved his head and
    lost more than 40 pounds. In fact, if Reilly’s original choice for the
    role, Eric Stoltz, had accepted FX’s offer to play Mackey, Chiklis would
    have never even gotten the chance to audition.

    Despite these doubts, once the two pilots were delivered and screened—Liguori and his team chose
    The Barn (at that point renamed
    Rampart) as the key to FX’s future identity. Shortly
    after, 9/11 happened, and the network was forced to decide whether
    presenting law-enforcement officers in a far-from-positive light was
    appropriate. As Reilly put it, the country was looking for comfort food
    at the time and their new original drama was far from it. Nevertheless,
    FX moved forward with the show—finally renamed
    The Shield—and was almost immediately rewarded for its
    gamble. On March 12, 2002, 4.8 million people tuned in to view its
    premiere, making it the most-watched debut of any scripted basic-cable
    series ever. Later that year, the show made even more history when
    Michael Chiklis became the first person from a basic-cable show to win
    the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. In January of
    The Shield won the Golden Globe for best dramatic television series, defeating the likes of
    The Sopranos and

    and surprising nearly everyone (including the cast and crew themselves).

    In the same way that Vic Mackey described himself in the pilot— as a different kind of cop—The Shield
    was a different kind of show. Storylines included torture, gang
    retribution, elderly rape, underage prostitution, and even one strangled
    cat; it’s no wonder that advertisers pulled out, and that the Parents
    Television Council, a watchdog group, labeled the show “filthy trash.”
    But The Shield was more then just provocative—it delved deeply
    into complicated and difficult human emotions with aplomb, thanks to
    showrunner Shawn Ryan and his writing team’s excellent work.

     While ratings eventually dipped and the flow of awards and nominations ebbed, The Shield
    continued its strong run. Major stars such as Glenn Close, Anthony
    Anderson, and Forest Whitaker joined the cast at various points, and
    their characters’ clashes with Mackey added dramatic punch. In 2006,
    during the filming of its sixth season, the show was dealt a major blow
    when executive producer and director Scott Brazil, the very first person
    Shawn Ryan hired on The Shield, died from complications of ALS and Lyme disease.

    On November 25, 2008, the 88th and final episode of The Shield aired, and the fans who watched were rewarded with one of the greatest series wrap-ups ever (Entertainment Weekly rated it number eight in its list of best series finales). Unlike the way The Sopranos went out, The Shield left nearly no questions unanswered and delivered pure satisfaction to its diehard followers.

    In the 11 years since The Shield premiered, basic cable
    has become a prime destination for those looking for well-written and
    original dramatic television. And while the show has never received the
    level of mainstream acceptance that Mad Men, Breaking Bad,
    and others that followed did, it’s hard to deny its influence. If there
    was never a Vic Mackey, who knows if Don Draper or Walter White would
    have ever have found their way into people’s homes. What follows are
    shared memories from The Shield‘s key players in front of and behind the camera.


    Sep 26th, 2011

    “This One IS Special”

    SHAWN RYAN (Creator–Executive Producer–Writer):

    The Rampart scandal [involving widespread police corruption] had broken
    in Los Angeles, and I was reading a Page One story about it in the L.A. Times.
    It continued on, like, page A8 and when I finished the article, I
    noticed that on page A9, completely unrelated to the one I just read,
    was a story about how crime statistics were down in Los Angeles. It went
    district by district, and crime was down in the Rampart area. I was,
    like, Wow, nobody’s put these two things together—that you had these
    guys running Rampart, possibly violating civil rights, but it was sort
    of effective. Soon after, my wife and I had our first child, and when
    you have your first child, you often have these nightmare scenarios
    about all the awful things in the world that can befall them. I had
    always considered myself a civil libertarian, but I noticed a
    contradiction—how much of a civil libertarian would I be if my own
    child’s safety were at stake? So I was kind of open to the idea of a Vic

    LISA BERGER (Executive Vice President, Creative Affairs, Fox

    Television Studios Production, 1999–2003): The studio decided to look in some of the Fox libraries to see if there were any scripts to develop, and there was one called Heartland,
    which was by Shawn Ryan. It was a half-hour comedy and was very well
    written. I tracked Shawn down and said to him, “What else do you want to
    write?” He went off for a while and when he came back, he said, “I want
    to write about corrupt cops in LA.” And I was like, “Go write it.”

    PETER LIGUORI (President, FX Networks, 1998–2005):
    At that point, the business model of FX was flawed, because there was
    nothing in primetime. The only scripted series we had was Howard Stern’s
    Son of the Beach, and his goal was not necessarily quality. It was yuks. It was also geared to him squawking about FX all day.

    KEVIN REILLY (President of Entertainment, FXNetworks, 2000–2003): The idea was for FX to
    be the HBO of basic cable and have similar type fare. But we were really
    a far cry from HBO at that point. The network was running Cops on a loop, and my office had a giant stain on the carpet, mismatched chairs, and a hole punched in the wall.

    LISA BERGER: Knowing what FX was trying to do
    as far as expanding into original scripted content, I felt that Shawn’s
    script was a perfect fit. I gave it to Kevin and said, “You’ve got to
    read this.”

    KEVIN REILLY: After just five pages in, I remember thinking, “This one is special.”

    SHAWN RYAN: I didn’t even know what FX was, so
    when I heard they wanted to have a meeting, I flipped on my cable and
    found it, and saw that it was Buffy and X-Files
    repeats. So I went to this meeting, thinking that they might ask some
    questions about the script. Within five minutes, Kevin Reilly told me he
    wanted to make the pilot.

    PETER LIGUORI:  Shawn wanted to know what he had
    to change to get it on the air, because it was so hard-hitting. And the
    answer to that was, “Nothing.” We wanted to do it as is.

    “A Rat Is Lower Than A Killer”


    I had gone to see the movie Donnie Brasco.
    It’s very well made and well acted, and I knew it was a true story, yet
    a third of the way through, I found myself realizing the inevitability
    of the plot in a way that kind of took some satisfaction and interest
    away from the movie. I could tell that it was really set up for Johnny
    Depp to have to betray Al Pacino, so my mind started racing as I was
    watching, and at one point I thought, “Wouldn’t it be so cool if in this
    scene, Pacino and Depp walk into the room and Pacino just turns around
    and shoots him in the head?” And that he knew the whole time Depp was a
    plant. So as I was working on this script I started thinking, Well, what
    if I set this up as a show about the undercover guy trying to take Vic
    Mackey and company down? But in the end [Mackey kills him]. I didn’t
    think anyone would make it into a series, so I was not worried about
    episode two or anything beyond. I just thought it was a cool moment.


    Needless to say, we knew the
    ending was going to be highly controversial. At one point, Kevin
    [Reilly] came to me and said, “Are you sure you want to end the pilot
    like this? Because we’re going to ask an audience to go 100 episodes
    strong with a lead character who is going to shoot his partner in the
    face.” My response was, “Let’s film it as is, because in the Bronx
    neighborhood that I come from, a rat is lower than a killer.” The
    audience won’t say that Vic Mackey made the right decision, but they’ll

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    Sep 26th, 2011

    There’s too much to post and the copy and paste is making me nuts because everything looks so fragmented so just click the link and enjoy the read

    ReplyCopy URL
    Oct 14th, 2011

    Haven’t had the chance to watch this show, but I’ll do it in my vacations.

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