One of my favorite parts of the most recent Bouchercon, held in Long Beach, California, was the special meet-and-greet some of us had with the writers and two cast members of the TNT series Major Crimes, which is wrapping up its mini season finale with a two-hour program on Monday, January 12, at 9 p.m.
Before Bouchercon’s scheduled Major Crimes panel, about 10 of us were able to sit down in a private session and hear their behind-the-scenes take on working for the series—and also hear some spoilers (which I won’t reveal here).
Those who attended were James Duff, executive producer and co-creator of Major Crimes (and also The Closer), writer and producer Adam Belanoff, executive story editor Damani Johnson, former police detective Mike Berchem, and writer Kendall Sherwood. Also joining were actors Jonathan Del Arco, who plays Dr. Morales, and Kathe Mazur, who plays DDA Hobbs—two personal favorites. More actors were scheduled to come but the season had just wrapped up.
One of the things that appeals to me about Major Crimes is that it is such a well-written series that manages with just a few scenes to show us the crimes, the behind-the-scenes work, and the personalities of the actors.
Major Crimes always has been about the “art of the deal”—which Duff said is how about 93 percent of homicide crimes are dealt with in the real world.
The writers credit the show’s authenticity to Mike Berchem, who was a LAPD homicide detective for more than 29 years. The majority of the murders depicted on Major Crimes are from Berchem’s experience. He tells the writers how to handle scenarios and how to plant clues that may be explored later in an episode.
Unlike The Closer, which centered on Brenda Leigh Johnson, Major Crimes is an ensemble show. The detectives, support staff, and Hobbs have to work together to make that “art of the deal.” Writing for an ensemble is more difficult. “Brenda’s voice was always strong and clear,” said Duff, who added that the confession at the end of The Closer was the writers’ goal.
Now, no one voice, not even Captain Raydor's (Mary McDonnell), can define Major Crimes.
Berchem’s involvement is another example of how the ensemble works. Before he came on board, Berchem knew nothing about TV writing and, conversely, the writers didn’t know how a police detective handles homicides.
And not only is that appealing to me as a viewer, but listening to the writers and cast talk, that idea of an ensemble came across. The writing team works together on each episode, although one writer may take the lead. The writers are as much of an ensemble as the characters are.
And although this is an ensemble, some episodes may focus more on one of the cast members. We can thank Belanoff for those episodes that feature Flynn and Provenza.
And we will see future episodes—in the next season—that prominently feature Dr. Morales and DDA Hobbs, and we may finally learn their first names.
I raised the question of when we will see more of Dr. Morales, who is my favorite character in the series. We have been shown snippets of his personal life before, but I want to know more about this character. And we have seen actor Jonathan Del Arco show us how devastated Dr. Morales can be after an autopsy, especially when a child is involved. (You can see his reaction to my comments in the photo.)
TNT is considering a Major Crimes spin-off that would focus on Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), who is the new deputy chief of the LAPD Special Operations Bureau, which is called SOB. The new series, which sounds like it could be another winner, also would be called SOB.
The two-hour finale on Tuesday will bring back Philip Stroh (Billy Burke), the serial killer from whom Rusty Beck (Graham Patrick Martin) escaped. There will be a “face-off” between the two.
But that is all I am going to say—except that I'm looking forward to more—and longer—seasons of Major Crimes.
Photos: Top, from left: James Duff, Mike Berchem, Kathe Mazur, Jonathan Del Arco, Damani Johnson, Kendall Sherwood, and Adam Belanoff; Below: Jonathan Del Arco shares a laugh with Oline Cogdill
Photos courtesy of Deborah Lacy and Kim Hammond