The Closer ? Perhaps an Opener Instead?

One of my favorite Television shows in recent years is The Closer. This show is extremely well done. The writing is superb and we all know how important great writing is to the survival and longevity of a television series. The great writing not withstanding when you talk about The Closer the discussion starts and ends with one name, Kyra Sedgwick! Ms. Sedgwick is phenomenal in the role of Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, a role that she plays so flawlessly it seems as though at times she has to be playing herself, a southern belle born and raised, just add the badge and gun. Her acting prowess becomes even more impressive when you learn that Ms Sedgwick was born and raised in New York, not in the south as the character she portrays. She is without a doubt the driving force behind the success of this show, a show that is entering its final season this winter completing a long successful journey that began in 2005.

I began to think about what an impressive character Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson really is, true southern grace and elegance on the outside, but inside a ruthless determination to “close” every case that comes to the Major Crimes unit she heads. She goes about her business fixated on her goal, without regard for herself or her career. She will use any and all methods necessary to get her job done. I think anyone who has seen the show would agree that not only has she constantly navigated that fine line of morality, but on more then one occasion has run full speed past it, so far past it that as fans of the show are fully aware it might actually be her ultimate undoing. The more I thought about this complex morally challenged incredible character I wondered what her place in television lore would be. With this in mind I decided to take a look at this seasons full television line up to see if there was perhaps another character modeled after Brenda Lee Johnson. As I was doing this I noticed something very interesting.

I counted twenty six shows; scripted shows, including The Closer that currently have women as lead characters. I am not referring to reality shows or shows that have an ensemble cast some of whom are women. Here is a list of those shows:

2 Broke girls – Gets big ratings. Somewhat amusing. Kat Dennings carries most of the load here. Co- produced by Whitney Cummings.
Body of Proof – Murder/mystery drama that has Dana Delany as a female version of Jack Klugman’s great Quincy M.E.
Charlie’s Angels – Already Canceled. Terrible remake, how is anyone supposed to believe Minka Kelly as a car mechanic? Best part of he series was that Drew Barrymore was an executive producer.
Covert Affairs – Very nice spy drama on USA network. Piper Perabo is great an agent Annie Walker, and I love Peter Gallagher as the CIA director.
Damages – What more can there be to say other then Glen Close as Patty Hewes!
Desperate Housewives – The Women of Wisteria Lane just keep going. The only show on both lists.
Fairley Legal – Sarah Shahi as an ex lawyer turned mediator. Very light legal drama. What’s not to love about Sarah Shahi? Loved her in Life and the L Word.
Harry’s Law – Oscar winner Kathy Bates lobbied David E. Kelley for the title role of Harriet Korn. The role was originally written for a man. She has taken the role and run with it. Top notch guest stars.
Heart of Dixie – Rachel Bilson plays a New York doctor who finds herself re-located in the deep south. Love Tim Matheson (West Wing Alum) as her nemesis.
Homeland – Claire Danes is magnificent as a seemingly unstable CIA operative. One of the best shows of the season and by far the biggest surprise.
In Plain Sight – Mary McCormack as a U.S. Marshall working for the witness protection program. This USA series is coming to an end this winter and it will be missed.
Necessary Roughness – Another USA hit. Callie Thorne is great as a Long Island psychotherapist whose personal life is a mess but finds herself catering to a new high profile clientele.
New Girl – Zooey Deschanel as a down on her luck quirky girl who moves in with 3 guys. Critics love this show I do not see it.
Nikita – Great Show. Maggie Q does it all in this latest take on La Femme Nikita.
Once upon a Time – Only two episodes have aired so far, but what a fun and interesting show. I cannot wait to see more. Jennifer Morrison, who I loved in House, is the heroine here.
Pan Am – Four female leads headed by Christina Ricci. Seems like Ms Ricci’s talents are wasted. Pan Am stewardesses as cold war spies?, interesting, but not that interesting.
Playboy Club – Already Canceled. Amber Heard was great to look at but not much else was going on in this series.
Prime Suspect – A Remake of the BBC original with the same name. Helen Mirren headed the BBC version. Maria Bello is the lead here and is as good as anyone currently on TV. This is a great show and the network seems intent on giving it a chance. I really hope it catches on.
Private Practice – Kate Walsh left McDreamy to go off on her own.
Revenge – One of the best new shows and one of the best shows period. Emily VanCamp is captivating as she finds a way each week to exact a small piece of her big revenge plot. I cannot wait to see what happens next and love the flashbacks to fill in the back-story.
Ringer – Sarah Michelle Geller (or Buffy as she will always be known to me) once again carries a series. Just wish she was taking out some vamps in the process.
Rizzoli and Isles – Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander as the title characters are great. Lorraine Bracco gets as far away as possible from Dr Jennifer Melfi and adds some very nice comic relief.
The Closer – All you need to know is Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson
The Good Wife – Julianna Margulies plays the scorned lawyer who decides not to take it lying down. Loved her in ER and love her here.
Unforgettable – Poppy Montgomery plays an ex cop who is tortured by the fact she can remember every detail that has ever happened to her except the circumstances of her sisters death.
Whitney – A Whitney Cummings vehicle. If you like her standup you will love this show. I like her so this is very funny.

I looked back to the 2004-2005 television season, the year before The Closer premiered and found that there were sixteen scripted shows with women leads, Alias, Charmed, Crossing Jordan, Desperate Housewives, Eve, Gilmore Girls, Girlfriends, Half and half, Hope and Faith, Joan of Arcadia, Judging Amy, Medium, Reba, Tru Calling, Veronica Mars and What I like About You. The total number of shows alone does not tell the whole story. Of the twenty six shows from this 2011-2012 television season only three, 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, and Whitney are half hour sitcoms. That leaves 23 hour long dramas with female leads in the 2011-2012 television season. When you look back to 2004-2005 season you find six half hour sitcoms, Hope and Faith, What I Like About You, Reba, Eve, Girlfriends and Half and Half, and 5 of these six were aired by the now defunct UPN and The WB networks. That leaves 10 hour long dramas with female leads in 2004-2005.

I was shocked, what a huge difference! More then double the amount of scripted dramas featuring women leads this season then the season before The Closer debuted. Can this be a coincidence? I do not think so. Now we must take into consideration what I like to call the “copy” factor. We all know that every television network loves to take a formula that has already proven successful and copy it. Since The Closer is such a successful show I am sure a few of those extra thirteen hours can just be the result of the “copy” factor, but what about the rest? I think this can be explained in one sentence. The Closer, staring Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson!!

The depth and the presence that Ms Sedgewick brings to Brenda is remarkable. Brenda is thrust into a position of power within a police department that was until her arrival an exclusive boys club. Those who now find themselves as her subordinates in rank resent her and are not at all inclined to help her unless forced to by a direct order from Police Chief Will Pope (Played wonderfully here by JK Simmons, who you might recognize as J. Jonah Jameson from the Spiderman franchise, but in my opinion did some as his best work on the HBO prison hit OZ as the sadistic white supremacy leader Vern Schillinger.) Regardless of the professional obstacles that are thrust in front of her it becomes immensely clear very quickly that Brenda will get her way, she will close her cases using whatever means necessary and that she is without a doubt in charge, in control, a force that you do not want to find yourself up against. Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson is liked by those in her major crime division; she is also respected and feared, especially by those that have tried one way or another to cross her.

I think Ms. Sedgwick’s performance is groundbreaking. I think she shows that a woman, a demanding, powerful, headstrong woman, in a dramatic role can not only flourish but can carry a series and make viewers come back again and again. She has showed you can be ruthless, demanding and relentless in the pursuit of your goal, achieve that goal and still be respected solely because of your ability to get the job done. I think the television powers that be have certainly noticed. Look at the numbers, twenty three hour long scripted drams with women leads this season, thirteen more hours of programming with a woman lead after Brenda Leigh Johnson burst onto the scene. That is an amazing number, and one I think we have Kyra Sedgwick, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, the writers of The Closer and TNT to thank for. I think it is safe to say that The Closer is an opener, a door opener and an eye opener.

4 Responses to “The Closer ? Perhaps an Opener Instead?”

  • Jenn:

    I am a big fan of the closer and I enjoyed reading this piece. I never realized how few shows had staring women before the closer began compared to now. Another reason to like the closer even more!

  • Peggy:

    I think the one thing that makes The Closer so good, is that Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson is not trying to be manly. She is very feminine and still tough and gets the job done very well while being herself. Some of these other shows mentioned here still try to make the woman manly instead of letting her be feminine. I really hope other shows can copy what works in The Closer. It would make watching them so much more enjoyable.

    • Sean:

      Peggy,
      That is a great point and I could not agree more. I would be willing to bet that we will begin to see a trend of women characters on television in that direction, and when we do we will know where it all began
      Thanks
      Sean

  • jester7734:

    I love The Closer. I love the fact that the main character is a powerful woman who never apologizes for her power and is not afraid to use it. I love the fact that she is so complex and flawed. She reminds me of so many people that I know. And I love the fact that this show was not a major network project. It could never have become what it is. And I HATE that Kyra Sedgwick is leaving the series, although I totally understand that she’s given enough of her life to Brenda Leigh Johnson.

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