'The Shield's' Shawn Ryan ramps it up
FX fast-tracks project; shows also in works at A&E, Fox
Another Ryan collaboration, a cop drama with author James Ellroy, created strong interest from several networks before landing at A&E. Titled "The Lead Sheet," it chronicles the hunt for the infamous Hillside Strangler in 1970s Los Angeles.
In a return to his comedy roots, Ryan has signed on to pen "Millionaires Club," a comedy for Fox, with "Semi-Pro" helmer Kent Alterman attached to direct.
It has been a whirlwind of activity at Ryan's MiddKid Prods., which has sold four projects in the past few weeks, including the drama "Confessions of a Contractor" at CBS.
The shows have been developed under Ryan's overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV, that he inked in September, when he also launched Midd Kid and tapped Marney Hochman Nash to run it. The two broadcast projects are being produced by 20th TV, while the cable projects are done through its Fox21 unit.
"I'm striving to stretch myself as a writer and producer," said Ryan, noting that his background as a writer-showrunner has helped set MiddKid apart.
"There are a lot ot producing entities out there populated by nonwriting producers," he said. "We strive to be very writer-friendly and writer-centric."
The idea for the FX project came from Griffin, a "Shield" fan who penned an episode of the gritty cop drama and also will write the new project.
Ryan mentioned it to FX topper Landgraf in a chance hallway meeting.
"I could see his eyes brightening up," Ryan said. "It was a lucky break because that's an arena he wanted to mine next."
For Landgraf, there was more than chance involved in getting back in business with Ryan.
"When you have Shawn's hit and critically acclaimed show go through seven years and change the shape of ad-supported television, it's meaningful to do another series with him," he said.
Coming off "Shield," Ryan said the one thing he knew he didn't want to do was another cop show.
That is, until he met Ellroy, whose pitch for "Sheet" left him "spellbound."
The Hillside Strangler was the media's nickname for a prolific serial killer who tortured, raped and killed young women in 1977-78 in the hills above Los Angeles. Cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono were convicted of the crimes.
"Sheet" follows three police officers and two DAs as they investigate the killer, with each episode of the crime procedural starting with a tip leading to a violent crime that may or may not be related to the Strangler.
A&E's head of drama Tana Nugent Jamieson said she never had to fight so much to land a project as she did for "Sheet."
"Cop procedurals do well for us, but there is an additional layer of this being a period drama that adds richness to it," she said.
In addition to writing, Ellroy will exec produce "Sheet" with his manager Joel Gotler and Ryan.
One thing Ryan planned to do after the end of "Shield" was to take a crack at a comedy.
The single-camera "Club," which has received a premium script commitment from Fox, revolves around a ragtag group of wannabe millionaires who keep coming up with ill-fated plots to get rich.
Ryan got his start in comedy, winning a national college comedy playwriting award and landing an internship with TriStar TV, where he was able to observe the writers on the NBC comedy "My Two Dads."
He penned comedy and drama spec scripts and scored a couple of blind script commitments for comedy projects but his first full-time job on "Nash Bridges" steered him toward the one-hour genre where he made his mark with "Shield."
However, Ryan said, " 'The Shield' is a much bleaker and darker show than I am as a person."
Leaving his drama comfort zone is a big risk. "It puts me back at square one with everything to prove," he said.
Based on Richard Murphy's book, "Confessions of a Contractor" is a "soapy, funny and smart" look at the world of building contractors, Ryan said. Murphy is adapting his book for CBS, which has given the project a put pilot commitment.
After having a steady job on "Shield" for seven years, Ryan admitted that the future is "a little scary."
"But it also infuses you with a real enthusiasm for television, with real hope of what's possible," he said.
Ryan, who also exec produces CBS' David Mamet-created "The Unit," is repped by Endeavor, manager Larry Shuman and attorney Michael Gendler.