At the Fox party for the Television Critics Association last month, I got a few interviews with the men of the new cop show “The Chicago Code.” Jennifer Beals is an important presence too as Superintendent Colvin, but I couldn’t pull her away from the crowd. I got a few questions in with her separately.
But my “Chicago” boys were all ears. First, cop show impresario and Vic Mackey lookalike Shawn Ryan spoke with me after his “Chicago Code” panel. I followed up about the midseason premiere, the multiple narrators each week, and the epic production in Chicago.
Q: Why wait until midseason to premiere this show?
Shawn Ryan: Well, I don’t decide the schedule for Fox. Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly do and they wanted to wait for this. I’m great with that. “The Shield” premiered in March. “The Unit” was a midseason show for CBS and that worked well as a midseason thing so I had no problem with this. It’s a Monday night show, we avoid Monday Night Football as a rival. It really gave us time to figure out what we’re doing on the show and I’m thrilled that with February, they have a real big promotional platform off “American Idol” and off playoff football and this year off the Super Bowl. So you’re not going to be able to watch the Super Bowl this year without being reminded to watch “The Chicago Code” the next day.
Q: Have you relocated to Chicago?
SR: No, the writers still work in L.A., do the editing out here but all the writers spent time in Chicago prior to production. All the writers were in Chicago for prep and production of their episodes so there were always at least a couple writers in Chicago, myself included. I think I made at least four trips out there during the filming of the 13 episodes.
Q: How much does the more sweeping camera work add to your production schedule?
SR: Well, it adds at least a day because we’d shoot “The Shield” in seven days and we shoot this show in eight days. This sort of adds some hours to the work. It takes a little bit more time for the lighting. It is definitely a more composed filmic look and that was something that I intentionally wanted. I wanted to differentiate this from “The Shield.” That was very down and dirty. This show I think is very cinematic. But we’re able to fit it into an eight day production schedule.
Q: Will we hear from every narrator each week?
SR: I think I just finished the first episode that doesn’t have any narration. So there’s one episode that doesn’t have any. We had some scripted and it didn’t work for me and the episode was long, I ended up cutting it, it works fine without it. We eventually do hear from everyone. There’s one episode that I really love where you actually hear a voiceover from Jarek’s ex-wife about what it’s like to be married to the police. So we explore that and some of them deal with their childhoods and how they were brought up and others sort of deal with historical things in Chicago. I like doing that.
Q: Were you surprised “Terriers” didn’t make it?
SR: I don’t know that I would say I was surprised. I was certainly disappointed. It’s hard when you make a show that you think is really good and a lot of critics agree and just never get an audience to show up and never really be able to increase it. But there have been other examples of that in TV so I knew it was certainly a possibility. I thought it was more likely that we’d sort of be in the middle and that we’d be able to get a pickup based on creative success but it didn’t turn out that way.
I’m actually lucky Jason Clarke still talked to me. I knew he was Jason, but I confused him with Jason O’Mara from “Terra Nova,” another upcoming Fox show. They’re both British too. Luckily, I had seen “The Chicago Code” and I proved it to Clarke with some really specific questions. For example, Wysocki comes down on his partners for swearing. A good trait for prime time TV, but also very defining of his character.
Jason Clarke: It’s badass just to come down on people, kick a door in, throw them over the hood. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, a dude that likes to be rough but he’s very polite as well, particularly around women.
JC: Yeah, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, somebody quite old fashioned and gentlemanly but manly about it as well I think.
Q: Do you confer with Superintendent Colvin every week or are you on your own now?
JC: A bit of both. She’s always got something for me to do and I’m always doing my own thing as well. We stick pretty close together as well. There’s always a common goal of what we want to do.
Q: Do the voiceovers give you more insight into your character?
JC: Yeah, but we’re still trying to find that language which is in the voiceovers, that Scorsese got so right in Goodfellas, that you want to find where you’re not just giving information. It’s who you’re speaking to, not just what are you talking so that it becomes part of the character and you can let the audience into another side of you without giving away too much of what’s still to come in terms of what we filmed.
Q: Do you think Jarek’s ex-wife is actually a loving connection or could that be dangerous and unhealthy?
JC: It’s a loving connection. It’s probably dangerous and unhealthy, particularly for her though. They’re childhood sweethearts that love each other, somebody he probably loved his entire life. Whether or not it works, whether or not he’s good for her anymore is probably not in my character’s mind.
Q: What’s coming up that you’re excited about for Wysocki?
JC: You see a lot of Jarek’s relationship with women and something to do with his dead brother but a lot of it with his wife and Teresa.
Q: Isn’t it also interesting he can work so well with a woman, but not when it’s personal?
JC: Yeah, he makes a mess. Not to say he doesn’t care. Maybe he cares too much.
Q: Do you get to give any good beat downs?
JC: At least every episode, every single episode, I smack somebody down.
Delroy Lindo plays Alderman Gibbons, a politician Colvin suspects of corruption. She enlists Det. Wysocki to bust the underlings who could lead her to real evidence on Gibbons. Of course Gibbons is such a smooth talker he may make you believe he’s innocent. At least that’s what Lindo tried to do.
Q: How illuminating will this show be for people who may not know what an alderman does?
Delroy Lindo: You are not from Chicago obviously. I just spoke with somebody in the other room who was from Chicago and she got it. But you’re right, in general if you’re not from Chicago you will not know about what an alderman does, what an alderman kind of represents. Anybody from Chicago, they know.
Q: I know that it’s a local position, but what do they represent?
DL: They represent districts which are called wards. Their jobs are to look out for and procure services for their ward, for the constituents in their district. But somebody made a really interesting comment about aldermen. They also have their hands in business so there’s a potential conflict of interest in terms of how they go about doing what they do, but in a nutshell, it’s a political position and the mandate is to look out for the people, the individuals, your constituents in your ward. Make sure they get services, make sure the garbage gets picked up, make sure the schools are superior if it comes to that. All social services to make sure that your ward and the constituents in your ward are wel taken care of.
Q: Does it have just as much potential for corruption as any political office?
DL: All right, to the extent that there’s always money involved and in some instances large amounts of money, and there is the aspect of getting results. It’s a result oriented business. If you don’t do well for your constituents, you’re probably going to be out of work, so it becomes a situation where you’ve got to produce results. On some level, the ends justify the means. I don’t care about how you got it done, just get it done.
Q: No to say Gibbons is corrupt right away, but in theory the position could be.
DL: Sure, sure. I don’t disagree.
“The Chicago Code” premieres Monday Feb 7 at 9PM on Fox.