Shawn Ryan: His Best Shots
By Gina Piccalo For Emmy.
Issue No. 5, 2009
It’s helpful to know two things about Shawn Ryan, creator–executive producer of The Shield, when considering his recent career arc: his second love is ice hockey and he plays goalie.
Television, like hockey, is a fast-moving blood sport. And like any good goalie, Ryan is always surveying the entire playing field, looking for opportunities, anticipating change and eager for the unexpected. Since The Shield wrapped its run on FX late last year, he’s had a half-dozen projects in play at one time, selling ideas to network chiefs while passing them in the halls.
But, as Ryan has seen this year, such prolificacy can bring success and rejection in equal measure. Last spring, CBS canceled Ryan’s military drama The Unit after four seasons, a bitter pill to swallow considering the show’s commercial success. A&E passed on The Lead Sheet, a deep character piece that Ryan wrote with novelist James Ellroy about a team of Hillside Strangler investigators. Fox passed on Millionaire’s Club, Ryan’s attempt at single-camera comedy. And back at CBS, Ryan and the network hit an impasse over who would play the lead in Confessions of a Contractor, delaying development indefinitely.
But Ryan isn’t one to dwell on setbacks. Like The Shield’s die-hard protagonist, Vic Mackey, Ryan keeps moving forward.
“I am most interested in doing things you haven’t seen before,” Ryan says, “and those always have a higher bar with networks. And so I guess I’m doomed to some heartbreak and disappointment. I got addicted to making a show where I never had to worry about whether another show had a similar story line that week. I want to do more of that. That can excite a network at development stage, but that can scare them at pickup time. I would say this past year was one of the more risk-averse years.”
Ryan is even philosophical about The Shield being overlooked by Primetime Emmy voters this year. The show, often lauded as helping redefine the cop genre, earned just one Emmy over its seven seasons: Michael Chiklis was named outstanding actor in a drama series in 2002. “It would have been nice for The
“It would have been nice for The Shield to be recognized, but there’s a lot of worthy competition and in recent years we just weren’t the kind of show Academy voters wanted to nominate,” he says. “I learned a while ago to not let award show disappointment affect me or alter my feelings about the quality of the work we did.”
And Ryan is all about the work.
“Shawn’s a fixer,” says Daniel Voll, his coexecutive producer on The Unit and now Lie to Me. “He has X-ray vision when it comes to story. It’s his superpower.”
This fall, Ryan is juggling two new productions — Fox’s clever Tim Roth procedural, Lie to Me, and FX’s comedic pilot, Terriers, starring Donal Logue and created by Ocean’s Eleven scribe Ted Griffin.
Then there’s Ridealong, his next cop drama in development for Fox. It’s set on the streets of Chicago, and Ryan describes it as if watching through the windshield of a beat cop. The lead character is a legendary Polish-American detective, who shares a complex dynamic with the city’s first female police chief. Ryan sold it to Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly with a ten-minute pitch.
“This is not the network version of The Shield,” Ryan says. “Comparisons will be made, but this is a look at a very different angle of police work. It came out of really wanting to do a crime drama centered in Chicago and trying to find a different way to tell cop stories.”
As Lie to Me’s new showrunner, Ryan looks forward to bringing more adrenaline and depth to the characters and new talent to the cast, including guest appearances by Erika Christensen and Deadwood’s Garret Dillahunt. He admits it’s been an adjustment, leaving two shows he created to assume the vision of another writer, in this case, Lie to Me’s creator Samuel Baum.
“It scared me a little bit,” Ryan says. “I think I do my best work when I’m scared. Obviously, it’s a very different story each week. These were characters I hadn’t created. It was sort of harkening back to my days as a staff writer, when I
“It scared me a little bit,” Ryan says. “I think I do my best work when I’m scared. Obviously, it’s a very different story each week. These were characters I hadn’t created. It was sort of harkening back to my days as a staff writer, when I was trying to mimic someone else’s voice.
“Coming off The Shield, that was a very different show. People were very kind about what they wrote about the show, and you just don’t know what you are setting yourself up for. It wasn’t an obvious move. But I like to work. This was an opportunity to really succeed or fail.”