I said my piece last week about The Shield‘s spectacular confession scene, so now, as tonight’s grand finale approaches, I’ll recommend the AV Club’s two-page interview with Shawn Ryan, creator of the show.
I think Ryan is one of the best interviews among the A-list creator/showrunners. He’s good at explaining the thought process behind making serious, challenging TV in the specific terms of making, well, any TV show. A lot of cult-favourite showrunners give the impression, intentionally or otherwise, that they have a fool-proof, god-like plan for the entire series; Ryan is more likely to let us in on how a series is shaped by everyday nuts-and-bolts stuff: story meetings, the needs of individual episodes, availability or unavailability of actors. As he says at the end of the interview, he’s not a particularly idea-based writer; he’s more of an “instinctual writer” serving the needs of the characters in a particular moment or situation.
Not that there aren’t lots of big ideas in The Shield, but most of them revolve around the character of Vic and how we respond to him; it is a character piece, and as Ryan points out, “it’s become very much a character piece” as it’s gone on. Once the post-9/11 shock wore off, and once 24 had also covered a lot of The Shield’s “Do the ends justify the means?” territory, The Shield had to go further inward or risk turning Vic into an uglier, small-time version of Jack Bauer. That’s one of the things that also distinguishes The Shield from The Wire, that The Wire is consciously using the TV medium to explore over-arching questions about society, whereas The Shield is more about what kind of effect certain situations have on specific individuals.
Also, Ryan should be commended for giving a shout-out to the show where he got his start as a staff writer, Nash Bridges. The first successful series created by Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was awesome, but not successful), it was a big training ground for a lot of highly successful writers like Ryan, Damon Lindelof and Jed Seidel (a writer producer on Veronica Mars among others). This isn’t that surprising, actually. If someone can learn how to write within the disciplines of the old-school action show — with a cool car, a buddy relationship and an adventure in every episode — while also figuring to inject some character and humour and individuality into the formula, then he emerges with a pretty throrough training in how to write a good TV episode. (I would recommend that you check out the season 1 DVD of Nash Bridges, which includes a writers’ roundtable with Cuse, Ryan and other writers, but all the music has been replaced, so you’re better off with bootlegs for that one.)