'Major Crimes' Showrunner James Duff Talks Final Season, Sharon & Andy's Wedding, Phillip Stroh & More – TVWise

After a combined twelve years and thirteen seasons, the franchise that began with The Closer, and since 2012 has continued on with Major Crimes, is set to come to a close. Earlier this month TNT announced that the show would end with its upcoming sixth season as the network looks to move away from procedurals in favour of “edgier” fare.
Long-time fans were left reeling from the announcement; especially as Major Crimes ranks as TNT’s highest rated show, with a viewership in excess of seven million viewers. There are still, however, some thirteen episodes of the show left to unspool before the book closes on Major Crimes.
I recently caught up with series creator, executive producer and showrunner James Duff to ask him about what viewers can expect from the new episodes, whether or not Sharon and Andy finally tie the knot, if Kyra Sedgwick will reprise her role as Brenda Leigh Johnson, and whether or not the series finale will provide closure?
TVWise: What’s the theme for season six?
James Duff: Safe, Reason and Risk. What we’re really talking about there in some ways is that faith is for those moments when reason cannot help you. Reason is for those things that you can figure out. Risk is what you do when your gut and your mind are attuned and you decide to go for something, or not go something. It’s the ongoing struggle between idealism and pragmatism and figuring out when you must bend one way or another.
TVWise: What else can you tease about the new season?
James Duff: We’re doing three different stories in our thirteen episodes. They are all serialised this year. The first one is called ‘Sanctuary City’ and it’s about three Latino boys from a catholic school who go missing during a museum field trip. One of them is a severe diabetic, so the search for them becomes frantic. The story that unfolds from all that leads us into, unfortunately, some of the political wars that are going on. I don’t like to write about my politics. I think politics change from season-to-season, but the emotion in humanity doesn’t change. The human animal is still a very flawed creature and that’s what we tend to concentrate on. [But] in this instance, not acknowledging the problems facing law enforcement related to the immigration issue would be inauthentic. I try very hard not to take sides, I’m just putting out other people’s points of view and dramatising those points of view as well as I can. I am especially tied to the LAPD point of view because those are my heroes. You’re often in your heroes’ perspective, whether you agree with them or not. There were many times I did not agree with what Brenda did, but I understood her. And her behaviour was meant to be questionable, so the behaviours here are meant to be questionable too.
TVWise: I understand that Sharon and Andy finally tie the knot…
James Duff: Yes. [But] Sharon does try to call it off. She has what she thinks are good reasons and it’s a very, very emotional scene. [It’s] probably some of Tony Denison’s best work in the whole series, and [Mary’s] too. This was a great moment for Tony and he really handled it beautifully.
TVWise: It’s already been announced that Billy Burke is back as Phillip Stroh. How does that play out?
James Duff: Phillip Stroh looms over the whole season and connects everything. Stroh does come back and he and Rusty do have a confrontation of sorts. It’s hard to describe the story without giving anything away. Stroh is back and why would he come back under these circumstances when he’s made a clean getaway? You have to think about that. Sharon doesn’t figure out exactly why, but she does figure out the overall reason why. She is instrumental in determining why Stroh came back and she does protect Rusty. In the end of the second episode she is teaching [Rusty] how to use a firearm.
TVWise: What else is in store for the characters this season?
James Duff: Rusty has to come to terms with Gus and Gus has done something that, for Rusty, is hard to forgive. I expect there to be two schools of thought about this; it’s a very difficult transgression in any relationship. Rusty is ghosted for nearly the first four episodes and Gus doesn’t actually end up showing up until very late in our first story. Also Julio is challenged. His mother dies and the whole set up he has in place to help with Mark starts to collapse. So he’s struggling with that.
TVWise: You also have a new addition to the cast this season.
James Duff: Yes, Jessica Meraz (pictured below). She plays Camilla Page, who Provenza has known since she was a young girl. Her parents were killed by a driver under the influence and Provenza solved that case and became closer to the family. She ended up raising her five younger brothers and sisters on her own. The way she did that was by becoming an LAPD Officer and an LAPD Detective working in Criminal Intelligence and then Missing Persons and now Major Crimes.
TVWise: To address the elephant in the room, where you blindsided by the cancellation?
James Duff: It was something that, actually, we could see coming. Even though we had been told that if we made adjustments – and we did make some adjustments – that we might come back. They didn’t even wait. I think they just had it in their head to cancel us this year and that’s just what they did.
TVWise: You mentioned making adjustments to meet the shifting strategies at TNT and part of that was doing these serialised arcs. This season is entirely serialised stories, what was that shift like from your perspective?
James Duff: I would say serialised storytelling was a creative challenge that we embraced actually before the network asked us to. We did a five-parter at the end of season four and we did another sneaking five parter during the summer [run] of season five. We felt like it was a creative challenge and we loved it. It was great to see the show could embrace that kind of challenge. We took the order for serialised storytelling and embraced it. We wanted to see how the show could handle it and also it presented us with a great opportunity to go deeper into our character’s lives. That opportunity opened up the show a little bit and the stories got bigger. We just got bigger stories and those stories were fun to tell.
TVWise: Does that shift to entirely serialised storytelling mean there is no Buzz/Flynn/Provenza episode this year?
James Duff: There is a lighter episode this season. There’s a couple of lighter episodes. The first episode of the second story is built lighter.
TVWise: Without touching too much on the cancellation, you’ve mentioned that you saw it coming. Did that allow you craft a satisfactory conclusion?
James Duff: I would say the end is defiant. It does not create complete closure, but we do pay off a lot of stories. We found a way to give Mary something worthy of her Oscar abilities. She’s an amazing actor and she was given a lot of great stuff to do [over the past five seasons] don’t get me wrong, but she did not have something huge to play. So we gave her something really big to play and we gave her a big, big, personal story in addition to the marriage. Her story could have ended in different ways. We were waiting to see how things would go and she was waiting to see how she felt about what was happening. Everything we did in the show, Mary and I did together. It was a collaboration from the beginning. She and I ultimately looked at each other and said ‘this is the way we’re gonna go’. That was not just a creative decision, but we didn’t want to be left hanging with no ending. We just didn’t want that. We wanted to have a complete and finished storyline for her, and for Sanchez, and for Rusty, and for Provenza, and for Buzz. We got to those places. I’m so glad I booked Billy Burke early, otherwise the ending would have been very unsatisfactory.
TVWise: I understand that despite the deal you had in place, you were unable to line up the schedules for Kyra Sedgwick to return as Brenda Leigh Johnson?
James Duff: Yes, I couldn’t do it. I wanted to. It’s important to put it out there that Kyra did not leave The Closer and become unemployed. She almost immediately went into producing her own series and started doing movies. She was going to come and direct an episode and get a feel for what the new show had become. She wanted to immerse herself in the show and then she got a part in a film while we were in prep. So we lost that opportunity in that moment, but it did look like she was going to have a gap of time and we might be able to figure out something, but stuff kept happening. I’m very happy for her and just seeing her back on screen in Ten Days In The Valley is so much fun. If I could have worked her into the last four episodes I would have. I’m good friends with her and I love her to pieces, it was just not to be.
Major Crimes returns for its sixth and final season on Tuesday October 31st at 9/8c on TNT in the United States, and on Monday November 13th at 9pm on Universal Channel in the UK.