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Shawn Ryan: Martin Scorsese Influenced 'The Chicago Code'

Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Tim Minear, left, and Shawn Ryan

After a disappointing experience with "Terriers" — beloved by critics, rejected by viewers, canceled by FX — Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear are back in business with Fox with "The Chicago Code." The police drama, which Ryan created and both executive produce, stars Jennifer Beals as the city’s chief of police on a mission with a hard-nosed detective (Jason Clarke) to take down the city’s corrupt infrastructure. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Minear and Ryan at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to discuss lessons from "Terriers," apprehension about working with Fox and how Martin Scorsese influenced "Code."

THR: Why Chicago?

Shawn Ryan: I was born and raised in Rockford, Ill., so I grew up as a kid constantly traveling in the city. Chicago was like Oz to me. Coming toward the city on I-90 and first seeing the Sears Tower and that whole skyline, Chicago was always the big place when I was a kid. It’s always been a dream of mine to do something in that city. This was finally the opportunity. I had an idea for a show but I’d only do it in Chicago, and only if we could film entirely there. You can’t say it’s in Chicago and film it in Toronto.
THR: What research did you do for the series?

Ryan: I spent time with [Chicago homicide detective] John Folino [Code’s technical adviser]. John was someone who was born and raised in Chicago and I hadn’t been there in a while. [I questioned] what the city was like now; how do the police interact with City Hall? We strove for a certain degree of realism.
THR: After Terriers didn’t get a second season at FX and knowing Fox’s quick trigger finger, do you have any apprehension as the premiere draws closer?

Tim Minear: No. You can’t live in that place. The truth is you go where things should be — this show belongs on Fox, Terriers belonged on FX and it’s up to them to launch it. It’s up to us to keep it on the air once it’s launched. I just hope that when they launch things they aim it upwards and not toward the ground.
Ryan: I’m terrified all the time. We put a lot of hard work into these shows. We’re grateful that all 13 episodes [of Terriers] got to air and that those people who watched the show got to see the conclusion. But it’s tough on the ego when people don’t watch. The good news and bad news is that this is a more high-profile thing. People are going to hear about Chicago Code and we’re going to have the Super Bowl to platform the show off of, which is great. If we were to fall, that would make the fall even longer and harder. [Laughs] I’m terrified all the time.
THR: Has Fox given you any feedback on what numbers they’re looking for?
No, they’ve just been wicked supportive. You look at the promotions and they reflect accurately what the show is. And I think they’re good.
Ryan: I have not spoken to them specifically about numbers. I have a sense that it depends how House — our lead-in — does. It depends how we do against NBC’s The Cape. There are two real powerhouses in that slot — Dancing With the Stars and Two and a Half Men — so that will be tough. We have the advantage and disadvantage of offering something new and fresh. It’s tough to get people to change their habits but we do have something that’s new and potentially exciting if we can get people to sample it.
THR: How is The Chicago Code different than the police shows you’ve done in the past?
The Shield tended to focus on corrupt cops — though there were some good cops around them, but the Strike Team was the main focus — this looks at cops through a slightly more heroic lens. Stylistically, The Shield was very jagged and very hand-held and very cinema verite. This show is very cinematic. I wrote and conceived it as if I was writing something for Martin Scorsese in the style of how he did GoodFellas and Casino; with the way it was photographed, with the use of voiceover to tell stories and the grandness of scope of a city and a culture. I think The Shield was a very insular, small personal show. This is a grander show in that way.
THR: What kind of lessons did you learn from Terriers that you brought in to Chicago Code?
The main lesson is if you truly make something you can be proud of you won’t have regrets. I don’t regret too much about that show. We made the show we wanted to make. If the show had sucked and been canceled, that would have been a lot worse in my mind. You can only control what you can control. I can’t make people flip channels at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night to watch the show.
THR: What’s the latest on the Terriers DVD?
That got put on hold over the holiday and I haven’t spoken with those guys yet. What they’re saying is there will be ways to view the show afterward, whether it’s video-on-demand, Netflix, things like that. They’re questioning now whether to include DVDs in the different ways available. I would like them to and I’m pushing them. But I don’t have an answer yet.

Minear: It must happen. No update yet but I assume that there will be a DVD. I hope it’s got all the bells and whistles. I feel like it’d be a great DVD set because it’s a whole arcing story that has a satisfying conclusion.

"The Chicago Code" premieres Monday, Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. on Fox.