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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

THE END OF A TV ERA

When I found out the production schedule of Sons of Anarchy was being accelerated to premier WITH the last season of The Shield, I was too overwhelmed by the impending work load to realize the other downside -- that I'd be so caught up in the flow of my own show, I wouldn't be able to savor the brilliant last season of the show that got me where I am. It really hit me when I received a couple emails from cast members urging friends and family to watch these last episodes of the show. I read the sadness and the approaching void in their words. Actors are looking for work. Holy shit, it's ending. The Barn is closing its doors. I was on The Shield from start to finish. I was hired season one as a staff writer and finished the last two season as an executive producer. Every other writer that started on the show left. Some because their options weren't picked up, but most because it was a better career move to jump to another show. I stayed. For a few of reasons, four reasons actually. One, before I got sober, I was a guy who never finished anything. Part of me felt like it would be quitting to take another gig. I wanted to finish the ride. Two, there was no other show I wanted to write for. Was I really gonna go take a gig on CSI Bayonne or Law and Order DUI? I'd blow my fucking brains out and probably take a few people down with me. Three, I loved writing those characters. Vic, Shane, Claudette, Dutch... c'mon, those voices are just so fucking great. The possibilities were endless. And four, I really hate change. The Shield was my first paying writing gig. I was a struggling feature writer with a few TV spec scripts. One of those specs got me the gig on what was then called "The Barn". It was on a nothing cable network with the fat guy from The Commish as the lead. I actually debated if I should take the gig. I was up for another show that looked like it had more potential. But when I read Shawn Ryan's script I realized that this was something different. It read like an independent movie not a TV show. After I met with Shawn and Scott Brazil I was offered a staff writer position. Of course I took the job. And that fat guy turned out to be a ripped pitbull who reinvented the concept of reinvention. From the jump, I flourished at The Shield. It really was a divine pairing. Every twisted pitch, every insane, dark, mutilated, fucked up idea I ever conjured up -- the ones that had studio execs calling security and my agents wondering if I needed psychological intervention -- I got to infuse into the actions of Vic and his crew. I dove into into the deep end of the dark pool and swallowed hard. My time on The Shield allowed me to grow as a writer and producer and Shawn's patience and tutelage, allowed me to become a better, more responsible man. I was a bit of a terror the first few seasons. My uber passion for the work and my lack of people skills were a dangerous combination. I unhinged a few doors and many a nerves. But the work was solid so Shawn stuck by me. Not wanting to step on my process and quite frankly not wanting to get hurt, he gently nudged me toward saner more productive work habits. It took about about six season for me to get it. But ultimately I did. There is no way I'd have the skill set to run a show if not for my time on The Shield. And I doubt no other showrunner would have put up with my intensity. Again, a divine pairing. I guess the upside for Shawn -- or at least I'd like to think this is true -- is that my intensity helped make The Shield a better show. Ground-breaking is an over-used term in this town, but the most accurate in the case of The Shield. It put a network on the map and help established FX's reputation for great drama. It set the bar for cable dramas both is quality and ratings. It took the cop genre and turned it on it's head, creating a whole new level of anti-hero. We made some small screen history. I'm catching up on a few episodes this weekend and looking forward to the finale. We're having a finale party and we'll all watch the final episode together -- cast, crew, producers, studio, network. It'll be a powerful, bittersweet evening. I really urge you to watch these last few episodes. It's some of the best drama you will ever see and I am confident if you are a fan of the show, you will be satisfied with the ending. One thing I can promise you -- they'll be no ten seconds of black.

19 comments:

Anton said...

Im glad you stuck it out Sir. I feel like the show would not have been as solid without you. Thank you for staying around.

Leonard Chang said...

Wonderful essay, Kurt. The Shield is an amazing show, and I've been watching it from the beginning. Last night I saw the penultimate episode in a state of disbelief, because it's ending, but more importantly, it's ending so *well*... It's incredibly compelling...

Muffin MacGuffin said...

I'm afraid I must disagree with you. The era of excellent and intricate storytelling on cable essentially created by The Shield can't end; The Shield's influence will continue to be felt as we continue to watch hard-hitting drama; this era goes on, defined by The Shield's legacy.
Thank you for what you've done and what you continue to do on Sons of Anarchy.

Justin said...

All good things must come to an end.

Thanks for all your hard work - I hope it was as fun to write it as it was to watch it.

Justin

Grizzly Kaz said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences Kurt. Very enlightening and encouraging.

I can't fathom what it's like to see a show you helped shape come to an end (I'm just starting to write fiction).

Wish everyone all the best, and maybe some more SHIELD cast/crew can moonlight on Sons?

East Coast said...

Gotta admit bro, Had no idea you were not only so talented, but had your fingers in so many pies.

I'm impressed with your work, and always close shop weds @ 10:00, for my new Biker fav. Son's.

The bikier world needed a show like this so bad. We are tired of the reality shows, Cop shows and hospital shows, and were hungry for something with Grit.

Sons has grit, and I, on a personal level, can relate to a good amount of whats shown thus far.
Keep typing those magic fingers of yours away,.... there gifted indeed.

Ride Free
East Coast Al

carr296 said...

Thanks for all your contributios to the Shield, my favorite show. Whenever I saw your name in the credits as writer, I knew I was in for some wonderfully sick, kick ass entertainment!!!

Louis said...

The Shield is the best TV show. Better yet, it is the most consistently high quality and best TV show ever. Many shows are as good (or nearly as good!) as The Shield maybe for 1 season, 2 at best. But they fail to maintain that quality - look at Heroes, Season 1 was solid entertainment but then the next 2 seasons are absolute rubbish.

The Shield has 7 quality seasons, and these last few episodes, especially last night's Possible Kill Screen have been amazing.

Really can't wait to see the finale! I hope that SOA follows the consistency in quality as TS - it's looking that way so far !

Kyle said...

I have enjoyed both The Shield and Sons of Anarchy. The Shield is the only TV show I own on DVD from the past 10 years. When Sons comes out on DVD, there will be two. I'm glad there's something I can look forward to on TV. Those two shows are the only reason I even pay for cable. Guess I can disconnect for the season after next week.

TheBronze said...

Kurt, I really like The Shield and SOA. SOA has turned out to be a really good show.

BTW, can you say who sang the "Forever Young" song at the end of tonight's episode? IT was very good...

Rob said...

I remember the first season. My mouth hung open the full hour, watching a type of TV I have never seen before. "This show is fucking amazing." I couldn't tell enough people about this new anything goes cop show. And now, one week before my favorite show of all time is gone for good, I feel a sense of sadness, but also a sense of pride for having been a huge fan from the very beginning... From when Vic put that bullet through Crowley's head, till the final act. My only consolation is that SOA will return next season, and hopefully many more after. Thank you, Mr. Sutter. And thank you to the cast, crew, and all that ever had anthing to do with the best cop drama to ever hit the airways. You folks raised the bar higher than anyone could possibly aspire to.

Spooky Lil Girl said...

Watched SOA last night and decided to see what you were all about. I been in the m/c business for 29 years and was curious to see who was responcible for such a show. I think of myself as a pretty jaded person, having seen a lot of things that most people never experience.
And your show is right on the money. It has many of the elements of real life.
I have enjoyed reading your blog. Seeing how you started out as a writer and where that path had led you. The times you stuck it out and stayed the course. No time to read much this morning as the day is slipping away and there's work to be done. But I have booked marked your blog and will be back to read more.
My boyfriend and I are looking forward to next week's final episode of Sons. I think its right up there with the Shield.
BTW, a few weeks ago in Vegas, we sat at a table with someone who will be guesting on Sons. The only thing that sucked about a week in Vegas is that we missed an episode of Sons. Forgot to Tivo it.
Congrats on 7 seasons of the Shield.

Parthenians said...

It is some of the best drama I have ever seen, Kurt: Along side Sons of Anarchy. You can be assured that I will watch the finale with Shield friends on Tuesday in admiration and parting sadness and Sons the next evening perpetuating the fine work you and all your staff, crew, and actors give from their hearts to be truthful and real and just damn good entertainment.

Thank you for your words on your journey. It is no wonder that the shows are such a success with the introspection and commitment that you practice as a man.

Pass on all our thanks for all the deeply moving seasons of The Shield. It has been a gift.

And thank you, Kurt, for your continued devotion to the work.

Kevin Michaels said...

Great post - I think a lot of us had been waiting for your take on the finale (as well as the entire season). From start to finish, The Shield has consistently been one of the best shows on TV - a little outside the mainstream which speaks more to our fucked up culture that prefers watching hours of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, etc than in true quality TV. The writing and acting have always been sharp, and although often over-looked, the camera work and editing has also been top notch.

I think F/X has become the new HBO - willing to take a risk on cool, edgy shows (Shield - Sons - Nip/Tuck - Rescur Me - Damages). But the network is only as good as the shows, and The Shield was definitely the first to really raise the bar and break new ground. It has been a dark, twisted, intense 60 minute ride every week - the best on TV. There's a definite legacy and as one of the other posters commented - the impact will continue to be felt in the shows that follow.

Thanks for making it happen, and thanks for continuing the lineage with SOA.

alohalani said...

OMG, Kurt what did you do? Killing Donna? I was upset so long after the episode last night. You totally blindsided me with that choice. I'm curious now to see what happens with the club and with Clay and Tig. I haven't been able to get that episode out of my head. What a shock!

Also, what an inspired plot twist. I like to think of myself as a writer (mostly poems and a few short stories) and I can totally see the appeal of where you've gone. Personally I tend to like my tv more optimistic and positive so I was hoping Tig would be stopped at the last minute or miss or something. However, this is definately a more interesting and complex development. I can't wait to see how CLay gets himself out of this one, or if he even does.

All I can say after having processed the episode is WOW!

nodonuts said...

Kurt check out what this ATF undercover guy says about SOA, interesting, good props...
http://www.jaydobyns.com/comments.html

Bongo said...

I've been a fan of The Shield since the beginning and I can honestly say that I have never been so emotionally invested or empathetic with a piece of media except for it. Intensity is exactly what The Shield does perfectly, among other things. I don't think I've ever been as moved as much by something that didn't occur to me in real life. All the cliches about innovation and story lines being a roller coaster ride have been so played out and become so meaningless, but this show was all of those things incarnate, nothing better exemplifying them. I cannot for the life of me think of something dramatic that has been as heart wrenching as some of the twists in this show, and the last season definitely solidifies The Shield as what drama should be.

Thank you Mr. Sutter for your hand in all of this, I really truly love what you've done for television as a story telling medium. As unlikely as you may be to read this, I would never be able to thank you enough for helping give me my most loved show of all time.

And here is to Sons of Anarchy continuing on with the same superb writing and emotional investment!

Admin said...

I can remember 6 years ago when my brother gave me his Season 1 box set and said, "Dude, you will watch the first one, and be hooked. It's like crack."

I shrugged him off and reluctantly popped in the DVD. My wife and I stayed up until 4am watching
the entire season. yes, it is like crack.

I remember going back to the beginning of some episodes and thinking, "Wow. who wrote that?" and seeing your name.

Keep up the great work!

irinaslutsky said...

hi i just found your blog because i just watched the season finale of SOA and googled it -- but THANK YOU FOR THE SHIELD. i cant tell you how many hours i've spent thinking about, talking about, laughing about and quoting vic! how many times i asked myself, "would i date dutch?" how may nights i bonded with my crazy alcoholic roommate over the shield. i got sober 15 years ago and went to journalism school 9 years ago so i know what you mean about finishing stuff. thanks so much.