'Ray Donovan' Producer Mark Gordon on the Appeals of Cable, Fixers

The prolific EP behind "Grey's Anatomy" and "Army Wives" talks with THR about the appeal of fixers on TV and why characters like Ray and "Scandal's" Olivia Pope are appealing.
"Ray Donovan," with Mark Gordon (inset)

Prolific producer Mark Gordon is having a grand experience with Showtime's Ray Donovan, his series which was developed and airs on a premium cable network.

The EP behind such hits as Lifetime's Army Wives, CBS' Criminal Minds and ABC's Grey's Anatomy -- which will mark its 200th episode during its upcoming 10th season -- has seen the series about a fixer (Liev Schreiber) for Hollywood's rich and famous accomplish a rare feat for a freshman show: growth.

Following its record-breaking premiere, ratings for the drama's second episode grew by 15 percent, marking the first Showtime series to grow from its premiere episode. (Factoring in repeats, the hour collected 2.2 million total viewers.)

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"We haven't seen a show where we have both an emotional storyline filled with high testosterone since The Sopranos," Gordon tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm not comparing them, but that's one of the greatest TV shows in history; you had violence, humor and real emotional issues within the storytelling and the characters, and it was a family show -- as most shows are in one form or another. That's what we have here."

For Gordon, what makes Ray stand out from the other series he's developed and produced is simple: time. Partnering with Showtime, he says, allowed the show from creator Ann Biderman (Southland) to get it just right -- a rarity at a time when the broadcast networks push through 100-plus pilots in a few short months.

"When we shot this pilot, we'd been working on the script for some time. You don't get that in network television; you don't get the time to develop a script and cast it and say, 'OK, it's ready to make now,' " he says. "We waited until we got just the right cast -- Jon Voight and Liev and everyone else -- and then we made it. That's the major difference between network TV, cable and pay cable -- you don't make it until it's ready to be made and you're not fighting for cast, writers or producers when 100 pilots are being made in a short time with decisions in a two-week period in January. We had time to do it right."

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Ray, which follows the title character working to get athletes, actors and other Hollywood personalities out of sticky situations while juggling the demands of a family with incredible baggage (a murdering, ex-con father, abused brother and more), marks the latest "fixer" to grace the small screen. The character joins Scandal's Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) as the emerging trend of fixers connects with audiences. (ABC's Scandal became a certified hit in its second season, regularly winning its competitive Thursday at 10 p.m. slot among viewers 18-49.)

Gordon says characters like Ray and Olivia connect with audiences because they effectively walk the line between right and wrong.

"The audience is very curious about these kinds of characters: When you peel back layers, how do things really work? We believe that if you have an inside track and know the right person to call to solve your problem, that you can beat the system," he says. "That's been something that audiences have been interested in for a long time. Maybe they weren't called fixers, but people have always been fascinated by stories about con men, people who can beat the system, and slightly gray characters who live on the fringe of right and wrong. Like anything, there's something in the air about this arena that has captured people's imaginations. Scandal is a strong network show and Ray is a much darker, edgier version -- it's even farther under the law, if you will."

Ray Donovan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com