When the Sedgwick-led summer series drawled to a close Monday night, TNT celebrated the end of its first legitimate hit with an original series. It was a victory for rerun-heavy, Atlanta-based TNT, which dropped out of the tricky original series game in 2002 to take time to burnish the network’s once-murky identity and to develop a formula for creating its own shows.
Among the tricks that drew an average of 5.45 million viewers during the June 13 to Sept. 5 run of "The Closer" was the deliberate tailoring of the show to appeal to the loyal audience that watches "Law & Order" repeats on TNT.
formulating its ideas for what became "The Closer," TNT pursued the idea of creating a series to emulate "Law & Order." In the TV trade, that program is known as a "procedural drama," because it follows how cops and lawyers do their jobs.
In 2004, TNT went shopping for the right kind of show. "The Closer" was born out of a meeting in Burbank, Calif., with Greer Shephard, Michael Robin and James Duff, executive producers of the series.
Duff, who also wrote the series, said TNT’s approach was unique because the network wanted a specific kind of drama, making it easier to plan and write. Duff and his colleagues mulled ideas as they walked out of their meeting with TNT and quickly settled on their notions for "The Closer."
"By the time we got to our cars, we had figured out what to do," Duff said.
TNT ordered a pilot, along with pilots for three other potential series. On Dec. 10, 2004, a group of 25 people, including top Turner Broadcasting System insiders, watched "The Closer" inside a big room within the company’s campus in Midtown Atlanta. The initial episode was a hit with the Turner brass, and so was one for "Wanted." With that, the two series went into production, joining the already approved "Into the West."
Koonin said the network spent $100 million on production costs alone for the programs, mostly for the lavish "Into the West."
From the start, Duff felt good about the prospects for "The Closer." Signing Sedgwick, a respected but not widely known actress, was a promising sign. She has appeared in a number of small but well-received films, including "The Woodsman," which starred her husband, Kevin Bacon.
In a nod to TNT’s hometown, Duff made Sedgwick’s character a native of Atlanta. He defined her with a Southern drawl, coupled with smarts and toughness, partly to take a jab at regional stereotypes.
"I wanted the person with the Southern accent to be the smartest person in the room," said Duff, a native Texan whose mother was raised in Mississippi.
"The Closer," which will return for another season next year, could change the perception of TNT to some extent. Koonin said a hit original series makes viewers think of a network as a destination, not just something to sample on occasion.