LB: Mary McDonnell Said the Truest, Wisest Thing in Showbiz on MAJOR CRIMES Last Night

There I was, watching a cutish episode of MAJOR CRIMES, containing the kind of humor I usually find cringeworthy, when suddenly Mary McDonnell’s character, Captain Raydor, came out with the most insightful line of dialog in the history of TV. Yes, I know that a writer wrote it,  probably James Duff (but I’m not finding that info on the web so if you have it let me know), McDonnell’s understated and totally sincere delivery is what made it ring so true.

The situation wasn’t exactly unique. It was one of those times when the FBI invites itself in on a local, in this case LAPD investigation, with the agent in charge calmly telling Raydor all the things the Major Crimes Unit is going to be giving him and his guys. Raydor listens calmly. Then, without blinking (a sure sign that she’s a star, btw, as Michael Caine once told me), Raydor says these immortal five words:

“What’s in it for me?”

Why are these words so important? Why do they strike me between the eyes? Well, kids, it’s like this. For over 40 years, ever since I reached a point where I had some kind of influence in showbiz, or at least appeared to have some, people have come to me every day and told me how wonderful they are as writers, actors, directors, best boys, you-name-it. Then they either ask me for a gig or to help them find a gig.

These days, I’m happy to do whatever I can in that direction because I’ve made helping people achieve their dreams the way I’ve achieved mine my purpose both professionally and personally. But that’s a fairly recent development – since the late ’90s – and, to be honest here, I still don’t know anyone else in the biz who’s actively seeking to help others succeed without wanting anything in return.

See where I’m heading? It’s that “without wanting anything in return” thing. Because just about everyone does want something in return, even though they may deny it up, down, and sideways. (Hell, they may not even realize it themselves.) So the way to get the help you need in your (for our purposes on TVWriter™ writing) career isn’t just to show that you deserve it. (I’m not saying you don’t deserve it, just that, let’s face it, there are lots and lots of talented people in the world who do.) The way to get the help you need is to offer, at the same time you make the request, the absolutely essential quid pro quo.

Which is, of course, the answer to that usually unasked question: “What’s in it for me?”

Know, before you approach another writer/producer/mentor/executive/agent, as much as you can about what that person (based on occupation, degree of success, age, background, all that stuff) probably wants and needs and figure out how you can help him/her get it. Have a way that your talent can benefit that particular oh-so-“significant-other” as much as being given the opportunity to demonstrate it can demonstrate you. Because in my experience, in terms of myself and what I’ve seen in others, that’s the real, secret key to every successful pitch.

“What’s in it for you is…”

Finish that sentence and you’ll have a much more reasonable chance of making that internal world you’ve been nurturing for so long a part of the real world at last.

If that isn’t a “What’s in it for me?” look, I don’t know what is

The Big MAJOR CRIMES News That Nobody Noticed

We hear what you’re saying:

“What? Big News? Really? About a new series that isn’t really new at all because another version with most of the same characters and actors has been on the air for 8 years? What’re you on, dood? What’re you talking about?”

Okay, for starters, check this:

Not helping? Then how about this, from Wikipedia:

Mary Eileen McDonnell (born April 28, 1952) is an American film, stage, and television actress.”

Let’s zoom in a bit, to:

“…(born April 28, 1952)…”

Still not getting it? Let’s put it this way then:

Mary McDonnell has taken over the lead role in MAJOR CRIMES, formerly known as THE CLOSER.

At age 60.

That’s right. A sixty year old woman is now the lead in an American TV series. A series that is doing just as well in the ratings after several outings as it did with her predecessor, who was 39 when she started on the show.

In a business where age discrimination is rampant in every area – actors, writers, directors, producers, you-name-it, this is a huge departure, and we’re thrilled to see it. (We’re thrilled to see any size departure from the television norm, but this one is especially important because of its implication for the future of every baby boomer in the field.

TVWriter™ congratulates Ms. McDonnell, TNT, showrunner-creator James Duff, and everybody else involved in this coup. And we thank you as well, for succeeding in making MAJOR CRIMES a genuine Major Event.


Out with the old. In with the…almost, kinda, sorta not-so-old:

Hmm, how long before Capt. Raydor stops wearing her glasses? Who’s up for a TVWriter™ pool?

TNT Says Goodbye to The Closer, Hello to Major Crimes – by Adam Bryant

The Closer‘s series finale finds Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) trying to put away slippery defense attorney — and suspected serial rapist —Phillip Stroh (Billy Burke) once and for all. And although the climax of the Stroh storyline heavily impacts Brenda’s future, it’s the introduction of another character — an orphaned teenage hustler named Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) — that may ultimately prove to be most important. So much so that he’ll also be a focal point of Major Crimes.

“Brenda meets a witness … who indirectly changes her life,” creator James Duff tells “I didn’t want to necessarily have this character transition, but when this kid showed up… he just did an amazing job. And because he became Brenda’s sort of unexpected doppelganger, a lot of her energy transfers on to him in the show. It was a way of sort of keeping her voice alive even though she was gone.”

And indeed,  after closing the Stroh case, shedding a few tears, and eating one last sweet treat, Brenda will leave the squad room behind. But Major Crimes, which features almost all of The Closer‘s supporting cast and is shot and edited similarly, picks up almost exactly where its predecessor leaves off. The two major differences: Capt. Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) is now leading the team and the Major Crimes unit now has a new guiding principle.

“Whereas Brenda wanted to go for the confession, Raydor wants the conviction,” Duff says. “Brenda did not care about the financial costs of what she did, [but] there are serious budget issues inside the California Justice System right now. There’s a limit to how much justice we can afford. There is an incredible pressure to get plea bargains now. …The justice system was not designed to be a bargain, but we have to turn it into one.”

Read it all

So the series goes from one that damns the torpedoes and goes full speed ahead toward satisfying viewers’ feelings of frustration and impotence to one that fills us with rage every week because the most frustrating thing about the criminal justice system – plea bargaining – is now its reason d’etre? Great.

Could this mean one less hour to fill up the TVWriter™ DVRs? We’ll let you know…

Creator-writer-producer James Duff