'Damages' Co-Creators Open Up About Season 4, How the Series Will End and DirecTV's Impact (Q&A)

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for DIRECTV
Daniel Zelman, Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler

In an interview with THR, creators Daniel Zelman, left, Todd A. Kessler and Glenn Kessler discuss the complicated relationship between Ellen Parsons and Patty Hewes and the challenges they face on the heavily serialized drama.

After three acclaimed seasons on FX, Damages is moving to DirecTV, where it will attempt to lure viewers with longer episodes, harsher language and the ongoing -- and ever-complicated -- relationship between Rose Byrne’s Ellen Parsons and Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes.

As their July 13th premiere date neared, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the show's co-creators, Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman, to discuss what’s next for the series, the characters and themselves.

The Hollywood Reporter: What can viewers expect to see this season?

Daniel Zelman: One of the things we’re excited about this season and going into the next is the relationship between with Ellen and Patty, which is always this complicated dance. Even when they’re working together or cooperating, there’s latent conflict between them waiting to come out. There’s this kind of slow arc this season and at the end of it, something happens between them that has never happened before in quite the same way. Without giving it away, it builds to a place in their relationship that they’ve never been, and that place is going to launch season five.

THR: Do you have a sense for how the series will ultimately wrap up?
Glenn Kessler: The end of the series will really revolve around the Ellen and Patty relationship, much like it started. We’ve always envisioned their relationship as the central thread of the series. At the very beginning, Ellen was a very young, idealistic woman entering the workplace to join her idol on what she thinks is a common path and common goal. We saw it as a coming-of-age story because it’s literally the birth of her professional life. The second season is about her adolescence. By then, she understands more about Patty and she starts to rebel against that authority. During the third season, she goes out on her own and starts working for the D.A., though there is certainly some intermixing with Patty.

As we enter the fourth season, Ellen is really out in the world, interested in trying to make a name for herself. This season is about whether she will be able to do that. The fifth season, and our move to a potential ending of the whole series, will really revolve around that. Will Patty crush her as a mentee or will she provide her resources and mentor her so that the next generation can actually flourish? We have several different models that are in our minds for how that ends and whether there’s a negative resolution or a positive resolution. It’s something that we’ve been thinking about and talking about since the pilot.

THR: How does the move to DirecTV impact the way you tell the story?
Zelman: It’s not impacting the way we tell our story that much, and our particular show gets reinvented every year because we have a new cast and a new case that comes in. So in that respect, it hasn’t affected our storytelling. But there are two ways in which it has. One is the standards and practices issue.
G. Kessler: On FX, we were beholden to the rules of basic cable. The standards for language and graphic content on DirecTV is just more lax. Whether its violence, sex or language, we have a slightly larger canvas to play with. And it’s been interesting because the nature of this season’s case and storyline revolve around the military and private contracting. So we’ve taken it out of the world of CEOs and white-collar crime, and its great because the military guys are allowed to talk like military guys. Had we still been on FX, our ability to do that might’ve been slightly impeded.
Zelman: The other piece is that there are no commercial breaks. That really impacts the rhythm of the storytelling of the narrative. When there are no breaks, an audience can really get lost in the world, and is not taken out of it every 12 minutes of so. We’re really enjoying that freedom. Plus we have episodes that average eight minutes longer than they would on FX.
THR: Where can you take the story that you couldn’t before?
G. Kessler: It opens up some time to explore a character a little bit more than we were able to in the past. Because of the thriller nature of the show and the pacing that was required to make it fit into 42 minutes, the character stuff and the slower scenes were always the stuff that had to be removed and those were things that were always of interest to us. We tried to find a way to do both, but now we’re able to get deeper into certain characters’ stories. With such fantastic actors, it’s a nice luxury to be able to give them more to do and let them explore the characters even deeper than they were able to in the past. 
THR: Over on FX, you were able to woo a strong contingent of guest stars. How has that changed?

G. Kessler: I think it only helps [to be on DirecTV], because of the expanded template and palette. It’s unusual for a show moving into a fourth season to have creative restrictions removed -- not that there was a whole world of creative restrictions at FX that we were constantly struggling with, because there weren’t -- and I think that was exciting to people. This year we have John Goodman, Dylan Baker, Chris Messina, Judd Hirsch, Fisher Stevens and Tom Noonan. We’re continuing to expand the cast of characters and work with exceptionally talented people.
THR: I assume you’re aware of the fan outcry associated with finale of The Killing on AMC, which spoke to an audience’s expectation for closure. As the producers of a serialized show that uses an entire season to tell a story, were there lessons in it for you?
Todd A. Kessler: We’re aware of the outcry and we know people who are writing on The Killing, but I can’t speak to it specifically. From the beginning on Damages, our desire was to tell a complete story each season. We feel as storytellers that with these kinds of shows, we really appreciate the commitment that our audience makes, and our desire as storytellers is to deliver a complete story. There have been shows that have introduced more mystery, making it exciting for an audience to come back for another season, but we’ve been able to do that not in the cases, but in the relationship between Ellen and Patty. That’s really the underpinning of our series, the relationship between Glenn Close’s character and Rose Byrne’s character. But in terms of the actual case, from the first season we made a commitment to ourselves and also to the audience that it would be wrapped up. We wouldn’t leave details out there or make it feel in any way what we would perceive as unsatisfying.

But it’s very challenging. People are under a lot of pressure to have an audience watch, and whatever happened with The Killing was not an accident. That it got a lot of people talking can also be a positive. Getting people talking about anything in this television landscape where there’s tremendous competition for viewers is a success. 

THR: FX chief John Landgraf has been vocal about the challenges of heavily serialized dramas like Damages, even saying publicly that he’d be foolish to greenlight another show as serialized as yours today. Do you agree? Is Damages too serialized?
G. Kessler:
No. That’s what the show is. I think an audience is confident based on the first three seasons that they can watch this show and get closure. They know that if they do invest in the show, the mystery will be solved by the end of the season. I see the broadcast world as a menu. There are people who enjoy a procedural. By the end of the hour, they know it’s all over. There are people who are interested in investing in a story that takes an entire season to tell. And then there are people who are interested in investing in a show like Lost, which is five, six or seven seasons and doesn’t necessarily provide closure at the end. So I don’t think that we’re worried. We’re providing a very specific kind of programming, and it appeals to some demographics and not to others.

And for us, as storytellers, we’re interested in character development and a story that takes more than 42 minutes to tell. I don’t know if we would’ve been able to get the cast that we were able to get had we simply been providing a close-ended 42-minute story. People come on board a show like ours because of the character development and the nature of the roles that they’ll be able to play, and its part and parcel with the genre. 

THR: What would you like to do next? Are there genres you haven’t yet tackled that you’d like to next?

G. Kessler: There are ideas for other shows and different genres that we’re interested in exploring in television and film. All three of us probably have a desire not to repeat what we do in Damages, so maybe it’s comedy because there’s not a whole lot of levity in this show. Of course, I say that and a character like Arthur Frobisher, who is played by Ted Danson, is wildly entertaining. We’ve been fortunate to work with many comedic actors in dramatic roles. In between action and cut, it’s serious; but after cut is called, there’s a great spirit and a lot of funny things happen. Exploring comedy and different genres is probably where our passions lie in terms of doing another television series.
Email: Lacey.Rose@thr.com
Twitter: @LaceyVRose