Editor: In TV parlance, a “showrunner” is a person who handles the daily operations of a television series. Here is an interview with Shawn Ryan, the showrunner for “Terriers” – the great 13-episode TV series filmed in Ocean beach last year.
by David Chen / SlashFilm / March 25, 2011
Shawn Ryan is one of the most exciting people working in the entertainment industry today. With an ear for crackling dialogue and a penchant for labyrinthine, satisfying plots, Ryan re-invigorates any genre he touches. He created the hit FX show The Shield, and was the showrunner on Lie To Me, Terriers, and The Unit. His newest show, The Chicago Code, airs on Fox on Monday nights and it’s one of my favorite new shows of 2011. In addition to watching it on TV, you can also see The Chicago Code on Hulu, Amazon, or iTunes. It’s well-worth your time to catch up now!
Shawn Ryan, thanks so much for joining us today on the Slashfilmcast.
I’m thrilled to be talking to you. I know it’s been a long time coming. I’m glad we’re finally here.
The honor is all mine, sir. Well, I have a lot of stuff I want to discuss today, but let’s begin with The Chicago Code. I listened to your interview on KCRW’s The Business and in it you spoke about the differences between creating a cop show for cable versus creating a cop show for broadcast television. We’re now seven episodes into the show and you recorded that interview before the show even aired, I believe. So I just thought I’d check in to see how it was going. What do you feel have been your biggest challenges so far with The Chicago Code versus a show like, say, The Shield?
Well, there are two different aspects. One is just making the show, and then second is getting people to watch the show, and I’ve been lucky in a lot of the shows I’ve done, going back to The Shield and even including The Unit and Terriers and The Chicago Code. All those shows, I was able to do a lot of work and make a lot of episodes before it aired. So as a result, I was able to kind of separate my focus.
In terms of making the show, I’m very, very happy, very pleased with what our team was able to do, and I really like the episodes. In terms of getting people to watch, I would say it’s a very difficult environment these days to launch a new show, to kind of cut through the clutter of everything and get people to watch. So we’re in that world right now, where our ratings are kind of in the middle. They’re not great, but they’re not horrendous, but we’d certainly like them to be better.
And that’s what I’m focusing on now, just is there a way to increase viewership at a mass level for my broadcast partner, which is Fox, and find a way to educate people that maybe the show is slightly different from other things they’ve seen in the past, that there is something original about it, and that it’s worth their time to watch.
Yeah, let’s talk about that. The Chicago Code was originally titled Ride Along, but I read that as you were writing the show and creating it, you wanted it to be a little bit more expansive than was originally intended, hence the name change. Can you talk a little bit about how the scope of the show changed and what your intentions originally were?
Peter Berg, the writer and director, and I had sat down and we had talked about the idea of trying to do something together. And ultimately, his schedule got too busy and we were unable to do something, but sitting down to talk with him started making me think about what I might want to do.
When I first started out, I just kind of had the idea of seeing the city of Chicago through the various windshields of different kinds of police officers’ cars, and what kind of stories could I tell that way. And as I started to come up with the characters and started to come up with the plot, and once we made the pilot and started thinking about what future episodes would be, I realized that the show had really kind of morphed into a bigger sort of macro look at a city and into the citizens of that city and into an examination of how politics intersected with police work and intersected with our characters. And as a result, I didn’t quite feel that Ride Along was an apt name any longer for the show.
And networks are always interested in tinkering with that and doing testing and asking themselves whether we’ve got the right title for a show. What I realized was a lot of people understood what Ride Along meant in terms of riding along with police, but a lot of people were unsure of what it was, and so I had a title that was confusing to some people and didn’t feel like it applied any longer to my show to myself, so that’s what caused the search for a new name.
For the remainder of this interview and more insight into “Terriers”, please go here.