‘Chicago Code’ Creator Shawn Ryan Talks About the Show’s Demise, the State of TV and What’s Next
We talked to Ryan for well over an hour, about a variety of topics — everything from ‘Code’ to the “tabloidization” of television to ‘Game of Thrones’ to the chances of a ‘Terriers’ DVD coming out later this year. I’ve provided a road map of our conversation below.
“One think that [Fox entertainment president] Kevin [Reilly] said, and I think it’s accurate — he said, ‘For some reason, the show just didn’t, from the beginning, just generate any kind of controversy or must-see appeal,” Ryan noted near the start of our conversation. “It just never became a newsworthy kind of show.”
Does a show need tabloid appeal to break through the clutter? Does it need a simple concept that people can immediately identify and hook into (zombies! vampires! zombie vampires!)? Did ‘The Chicago Code’ do a good enough job of showing people early on that it wasn’t “just another cop show”? These are among the topics we discussed with Ryan. (A description of the conversation, with running-time guideposts, is below.)
I should also note that Ryan did not sound downbeat during the chat. Clearly he would have liked for ‘Code’ to get another chance, but he noted, “In the grand scale of pitfalls in life, this is not that huge a one. I’m very aware of what the country is going through and how lucky I am in my life that I get to do what I do. …I don’t feel bad for myself. I feel bad for the cast members, because I think this business eats up actors quicker than it eats up writers. …I feel bad for the crew members in Chicago.”
We began the podcast discussion by talking about ‘The Chicago Code’s’ ratings and how they weren’t quite in line with Fox’s hopes and expectations. Also, the show’s demographics skewed a little older than the network had wanted. Given that the ratings were never as strong as the network had wanted, Ryan said he wasn’t “shocked” by the cancellation. “If [Fox] had more space,” the network might have brought the show back, Ryan said.
About 9 minutes in: Was ‘The Chicago Code’ too serialized? Not serialized enough? “I’d like to think it wasn’t too complex,” said Ryan, who cited successful shows such as ‘Hill Street Blues’ and ‘NYPD Blue,’ which had semi-serialized elements. “But maybe you just go all in,” he said, when it comes to a show’s mythology, so it can be the program that viewers had to see so they could “talk about it tomorrow” with their friends.
About 16 minutes in: Is it possible for a serialized network show, a la ‘Lost,’ to succeed in this day and age? Have reality shows replaced scripted shows as must-see, watercooler TV? “Mass audiences do show up for ‘American Idol,’ they do show up for ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ they do show up now for ‘The Voice.’ There seems to be a preference, which I hope is temporary, for that kind of stuff,” Ryan said.
About 22 minutes in: How television is following the template the film industry has been following in the last several years. “There’s a desire — I don’t mean this in a bad way — for a simplicity of concept,” Ryan said.
About 24 minutes in: No spoilers, but Ryan talks about whether fans will feel satisfied by the last two episodes of ‘The Chicago Code.’ He then talks about his new overall deal at Sony’s TV studio, which will have him developing new shows and working with a variety of writers to develop projects. He says he enjoyed his time working for the 20th Century Fox TV studio, but he said the fact that he had to offer his projects to Fox first made things more “difficult,” given that the network, which programs fewer hours per week, has a “shelf space” issue.
About 30 minutes in: Ryan says he’s done with cop shows, at least for a while. We also talked about the process of creating and running a new TV shows, and what it’s like to work on a show with serialized and semi-serialized elements, and how that’s harder than creating a show with somewhat interchangeable standalone episodes.
About 44 minutes in: He wants TV fans and ‘Chicago Code’ to know two things: First, he understands and respects the anger they feel about the show being canceled. But he hopes that people who are curious about particular programs don’t sit on the sidelines to see if it will succeed. “People do feel gun-shy and they’re not committing right away… and that prevents the shows from succeeding. What I would say is, just accept that some shows are going to get yanked from you prematurely. But don’t be afraid of investing in these shows early.”
About 55 minutes in: How do shows get the kind of buzz that reality shows have these days? “I think you need to nail not just the execution [of a show] but the concept. And that’s tough to do because we live in cynical times where people feel like they’ve heard and seen everything.”
About 57 minutes in: Is a ‘Terriers’ DVD set coming out this year? Does Ryan have any new Twitter wars planned? This section segues into a discussion of ‘Game of Thrones.’ [Apologies: Ryan's audio began to break up a bit during this section, though the audio improves within a few minutes.]
About 1 hour, 9 minutes in: We revisit a couple of Ryan’s TV-industry pet peeves, which he discussed last time he guested on the podcast.
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The photo above is of actor/director Adam Arkin, Shawn Ryan and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on the set of ‘The Chicago Code.’
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