Producer/writer Shawn Ryan had seven years on FX with his creation THE SHIELD, the award-winning drama about a very dirty LAPD detective. He also had four seasons as executive producer of THE UNIT, about a U.S. special forces team. His most recent series, 2010’s detective show TERRIERS for FX and 2011’s exploration of the intersection between police and city government THE CHICAGO CODE for Fox, were both likewise powerful shows, but both wrapped up after 13 episodes.
LAST RESORT, the ABC drama Ryan co-created with Karl Gajdusek, wraps up its thirteen-episode run this Thursday at 8 PM. The series concerns what happens when a U.S. Navy submarine captain, played by Andre Braugher, so distrusts an order to launch a nuclear missile at a foreign power that he and his crew take the boat with its lethal load and take refuge on an island.
This interview was conducted before it was known that LAST RESORT would end at thirteen episodes, although Ryan says he was prepared for that possibility. It was also conducted before this week’s announcement that Ryan and Eddie Murphy are developing a TV pilot version of BEVERLY HILLS COP for CBS.
AX: How developed was the pitch for LAST RESORT when you Karl Gajdusek brought it to you?
SHAWN RYAN: Not a lot. He was interested in the world of nuclear submarines, with the idea of, if somebody controls a nuclear submarine, they essentially have the power of a major superpower. If you have a nuclear submarine, you’re certainly more powerful thanIran, you’re certainly more powerful thanNorth Korea, you’re more powerful thanPakistan. And so the idea was, how can you create a scenario based around that idea, what would that do to people? He had this general idea and he had a love of submarines. So that was the start and we quickly decided to do it together, and then together we came up with who the characters were, what the situation was. We knew we wanted to get to a situation where they didn’t fire [when commanded to do so]. Why didn’t they fire? It didn’t feel right that they were peaceniks who opposed it – they had signed up for the Navy and they had signed up for a nuclear submarine. Those aren’t people who then suddenly decide, “I’m not going to go to war.” So that’s when we came upon this idea that intrigued us – the order that’s technically correct, but delivered by irregular methods, and what would you do in that situation, and then what happens when you’re hunted afterwards.
AX: Is part of the thrust of the narrative going to be who got in a position to give irregular orders, yet have them hunted?
RYAN: Absolutely. We’re a show much more about situation than mystery. Having said that, there are a couple of mysteries here. Who’s really in control in D.C.? Who gave the orders? Why did they attack us? Why did they try to sink us? We also have a little bit of a mystery of what the S.E.A.L. team was doing inPakistan before we picked them up.
AX: Once you figured out who would sail off with a nuclear sub and why they’d do it, did you start thinking about where they would go, or was the island always part of the initial premise?
RYAN: The idea was a place where the early warning station was. Because it’s not just the submarine, it’s a submarine combined with this NATO early warning station that has eyes and ears and can see things coming. Basically, because of that, there’s no attack theU.S. can do that they’d be able to do quick enough that we [the heroes] couldn’t fire our nuclear weapons. And that’s the deterrent here, that’s what keeps theU.S. from destroying the submarine and destroying our cast. So we knew all along we wanted this early warning station and then it was determined to be on this island. And it was also a [question of], where would we film this? Do you film inSouth Africa, do you film inAustralia? Once it was decided to film inHawaii, it became natural to say that it should be an island.
AX: Does each episode spend some time in D.C. and a lot of time on the island/submarine?
RYAN: Listen, we don’t have a formula. Almost every episode has portions that take place in D.C. I’m thinking of one episode right now that doesn’t, but that’s the exception. We will be getting into D.C. Most episodes will have some action on the sub. That doesn’t necessarily mean sub action, but the sub is one of our main sets. Some episodes will have more than others.
AX: Can you talk about the cast? Are these people you’ve always wanted to work with?
RYAN: Well, some. Some I didn’t know before the casting process. Certainly Andre Braugher is someone whose work I’d extremely admired over the years and he was someone who I dreamed of working with. Scott Speedman I had been aware of since the FELICITY days and I always thought that he was an under-served leading man. He’s a guy who’s grown into some real manhood in the last couple of years. So the last few years, I’ve had my eye on trying to do something with him. A lot of the other actors, I discovered. That doesn’t mean other people weren’t aware of them, but Daisy Betts, who plays Grace, Autumn Reeser I was familiar with from ENTOURAGE, Daniel Lissing, who plays James King, our S.E.A.L., we discovered him in an audition tape. So they weren’t all dream casting, but together, they ultimately form my dream cast. I just wasn’t aware they were my dream until I saw them [laughs].
AX: Were you okay with how CHICAGO CODE wrapped up?
RYAN: Yes. I much would have preferred it to be a huge mega-hit and to make a second season – we had some interesting storylines that we wanted to pursue in Season Two, but qualitatively, I was very proud of that show. Ultimately, I don’t think we could market it in a way that people understood why it was different than a lot of other cop shows, and I think ultimately that was its downfall, but to be able to tell the story, not just about police officers, but to really, really tell a story about a city, I think there are very few shows that have done that. THE WIRE certainly did that with Baltimore, we tried to do Los Angeles that way in THE SHIELD, NYPD BLUE I think they did a good job withNew York, but I really felt that our team did a great job of showingChicago as a city, which I think is rare.
AX: How far ahead of time do you need to know if LAST RESORT is picked up for a back nine episodes to know how you’re scripting Episode Thirteen?
RYAN: We’re ahead on the scripts – I think what you’re getting at is, if the show looks like it’s failing, will we be able to wrap up the storyline in a satisfactory way? [If it isn’t picked up for] a back nine, we’ll have time to do it justice and write an appropriate ending.
AX: Anything else you’d like to say about LAST RESORT?
RYAN: Well, the one thing I’d like to get across is, if people only see on the surface submarine, maybe military, they might think this is some gung-ho action thing. We think that there’s a great emotional arc here. This isn’t just a wham-bam shoot-‘em-up military show, this is a show about real characters going through real emotional things.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: LAST RESORT creator Shawn Ryan gives the scoop on the show’s finale