Fifth Estater

End of 'The Closer' Leads EP to Next Chapter

Duff finds new opportunity in TNT’s spinoff, 'Major Crimes' 8/13/2012 12:02:00 AM Eastern

James Duff

Title:

Creator and executive producer, TNT’s Major Crimes

Education:

Attended Texas Tech University and Tarrant County Junior College

Employment Highlights:

Doing Time on Maple Drive
, writer, 1992

Betrayed: A Story of Three Women
, writer, 1995

919 Fifth Avenue
, writer, 2000

The D.A., creator and executive producer, 2004

The Closer, creator and executive producer, 2005-2012

Current title since 2012

Personal:

Born Sept. 3, 1955

When Kyra Sedgwick announced that the seventh season
of The Closer would be her last, TNT did not tell showrunner
James Duff that it would snuff out the series.
Instead, the network asked him to create a new show
that would also shine brightly, but without its star.

The Closer, which has led scripted cable
with an average 6 million viewers for its
final episodes, ends where new series
Major Crimes picks up—literally, as the
show debuts following its predecessor’s
finale on Aug. 13. While
many spinoffs feature
one or two characters
from the original, most
of Major Crimes’ cast
reprise their Closer roles.

“I don’t think anyone
has ever done exactly
what we’re doing here
before,” Duff says. “We
created a new show…
keeping the core ensemble,
switching
around how the show
works and finding a
new center of gravity.”


Major Crimes
broadens The Closer’s
perspective on the criminal justice system,
even taking the substantial budget
cuts to California’s courts in the past few
years as a relevant plot point. “The system
is reeling from the financial cuts, and
the only way to try and stave off collapse
is to pursue more plea bargains,” Duff
says. “[Major Crimes] is a reflection of
what’s actually happened in California.”

Duff’s desire to accurately reflect
both current affairs and his characters
has been evident in his writing, particularly
Sedgwick’s Deputy Brenda Leigh
Johnson, a character lauded for female
empowerment. Before The Closer, Duff
felt broadcast “seemed hell-bent on this
politically correct version of what women in the workplace were,” he says. “I
wanted to show a character who was
powerful—not because she could act
like a man, but because she knew how
to tap into her feminine strength.”

Duff credits his close
relationships with female
family members, especially
his mom and sister,
for his ability to write
strong characters working
women relate to.

Even Johnson’s Southern
twang is a nod to
Duff’s family and home
state of Texas (though after
moving to New York
City, Duff fought hard,
even taking voice lessons
to shed his accent).

Before writing professionally,
Duff performed in plays and
commercials but found it creatively
unfulfilling, he says. While working as
a waiter, Duff in 1984 penned his first
play, Home Front, which opened in London
after being retitled The War at Home.

Duff’s work in television began with
the TV movie Doing Time on Maple Drive,
a writing project he had turned down
twice before finally agreeing when the
concept was tweaked. The film—which
costarred a young Jim Carrey—earned
Duff a 1992 Emmy nomination.

“I’d never written for television before,”
he says. “I remember going to my
agent’s office and saying, ‘Could you
show me what TV movies look like?’”

Duff joined Michael M. Robin and
Greer Shephard of the Shephard/Robin
production company (Nip/Tuck) in
2004 to create The D.A. for ABC,
which the network “didn’t get behind
very much,” scheduling it in a Fridaynight
death slot before canceling it after
four episodes.

Serendipitously, Michael Wright,
president and head of programming
for TNT, TBS and TCM, who was then
heading TNT’s original programming
division, was seeking a companion for
TNT’s successful primetime run of Law
& Order
as its first foray into original
programming. Wright approached Duff,
Robin and Shephard with a request for a
show that wouldn’t “scare away women,
and that was different enough from the
other procedurals,” Duff recalls.

Though following a given format,
Duff says there was never an “authoritative
relationship” with TNT; over
seven seasons, Duff says, they have
developed a friendship.

“[Duff’s] work is like the man himself—
a wonderfully unique combination
of smart, funny and deeply felt,”
Wright says. “His characters vibrate
with authenticity because his writing
is as fearless as he is.”

Although the back-to-back finale and
premiere of The Closer and Major Crimes
has given Duff no time for a summer
vacation, he spends his downtime on
the Hollywood Stock Exchange, an
online multiplayer game where players
buy and sell “shares” of actors, movies
and TV shows using simulated money.
It’s the industry’s version of fantasy
football. “I’m addicted to it,” he says. “I
have a portfolio that’s almost a billion
dollars—although it’s all fake money. I
can’t really do anything with it.” Which
is OK: In TNT’s book, he is doing pretty
well with the real shares he has.

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James Duff

Title:

Creator and executive producer, TNT’s Major Crimes

Education:

Attended Texas Tech University and Tarrant County Junior College

Employment Highlights:

Doing Time on Maple Drive
, writer, 1992

Betrayed: A Story of Three Women
, writer, 1995

919 Fifth Avenue
, writer, 2000

The D.A., creator and executive producer, 2004

The Closer, creator and executive producer, 2005-2012

Current title since 2012

Personal:

Born Sept. 3, 1955

September
October

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