Tom Kane is a force to be reckoned with on Starz’s political drama Boss.
The drama that stars Kelsey Grammer as Kane, the fierce mayor of Chicago as he battles foes both political and personal while combating an incurable disease he’s keeping secret from most everyone returns Friday for its second season with a bang.
The series, while critically heralded, hasn’t caught on ratings-wise: the eight-episode first season ended its run with 510,000 total viewers tuning in to the finale, a fact that is not lost on creator/executive producer Farhad Safinia. And despite Grammer’s Golden Globe win (and Emmy snub) the duo say the underwhelming numbers had no impact in their decision to pick up the pace in the drama’s second season.
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Safinia and Grammer to discuss how the series changed under new showrunner Dee Johnson (ER), the assassination attempt story line that kicks off in second season premiere and what exploring original sin means for a political figure like Kane.
The Hollywood Reporter: How does Season 2 compare to the first run? What did you learn?
Farhad Safinia: The storytelling is taking on a new shape. Season 1 was focused in terms of its structure; I told it like a movie. The eight hours had a beginning, middle and end and you had to be patient to wait for the plots that we put in the first few episodes to pay off. It’s a risky endeavor for a TV show. We are not like The Sopranos or The Wire or Mad Men in a way in which we’re looking at a window into a particular life that is open for the moment and then is going to get shut. In our case, we have an arc of change in our storytelling because we promised the audience that we’re watching the final few years of this man’s life. So from season to season we either have to keep to that promise or the audience is going to get upset with us. I couldn’t go back in Season 2 and repeat the same tone and vibe of the first season in a way in which shows like ER can without people getting upset.
Kelsey Grammer: It’s specific to what has gone on in [Kane’s] mind. I think you’ll find that in the latter half of the season there’s another shift. A lot of what felt like the old show you started to see again in the last two or three [episodes] of last season.
Safinia: The plot structure and plotting that we’re following is very much a mirror of Kane’s state of mind in a way. I think that worked for us very well. Even in Season 1 there was some shift. I remember during the course of the season people were asking us, “My God, Kane doesn’t seem to have even suffered from any illness for two or three episodes; is [his disease] going away, is it coming back?” I think that’s because that is the nature of the disease: where you can have a long run with nothing and then suddenly it comes back and looks like it’s going to take you out there and then. When we start Season 2, we’re in a place where [Kane] had effectively decimated his inner circle. He is seemingly in control again because of the radical moves that he pulled in terms of what he did with Ezra Stone [Martin Donovan], what he did with his daughter [Hannah Ware], what he did with Kitty [Kathleen Robertson], and so on. But his mind is nowhere good. He is desperate in a way. That desperation we are marrying with a structure of storytelling that’s more hectic. That will change midseason again for a plot point that we can’t quite tell you why. But hopefully the pace will shift again, as the pace of his disease shifts and changes.
The disease is moving a lot quicker than anticipated, was the decision to speed things up based at all on the underperforming ratings?
Safinia: Not at all. The network and the studio have been behind what we want to do and have never once said anything about any of those things. We don’t have shifts in storytelling tone to reflect the fact that our story is changing fundamentally because our central character is changing. Tony Soprano ends The Sopranos effectively unchanged in my view. That’s why they can just cut to black. In our case, we’re not like that. We are watching a five-year drop. So, we have to have those changes reflected in our how we’re telling our story. There is a bigger fragmented nature in Season 2. The story lines seem to spin out of a gravitational control. Things that seem to be irrelevant at first suddenly become relevant in a horrific way. That aspect is exactly what’s going on in Kane’s mind, too. We didn’t have the right numbers but we had critical acclaim for Season 1. They think the formula works, let’s just try to build an audience. We opened it up, telling you that Kane’s dying and that you can’t go into Season 2 and repeat what you did because people need to see something new.
You mentioned five years. Is that your ideal run for the show?
Safinia: I think five real years could be 12 seasons.
Grammer: Actually, it could be a ton of seasons if you really wanted. We could always construct a season that takes place over a week.
Safinia: Season one took place over three weeks. Season 2 takes place over the course of a few months. If we get a third season, who knows when we’ll start it; we don’t have to pick up where we left off at all. DLB has that kind of timeframe: When you get told that you have that long left, it can be a couple of years. It can be six, seven years but usually it’s not a whole lot more. So, there is that aspect of what we’ve contractually bound ourselves to with our audience. We’ve set that up.
The previews for the new season have teased a shooting aimed at Kane. What prompted you to tackle an assassination attempt?
Safinia: Kelsey and I talked about that very early on. Then when Dee came onboard, it was the first thing that we talked about. We wanted to anchor the season on something that would tap in immediately. In Season 1, you see one or two of his political skeletons creep out of the cupboard but the idea that a man like him has been in charge for over two decades would only have one or two of those is ludicrous. So immediately in Season 2 we’re just blowing that open; we’re saying, Let’s look at the gamut of some of the things he’s got buried and how they’re all going to come back to be a problem for him just at the time when he can’t control it anymore. That’s all entwined with this assassination attempt.
Grammer: One of the things I liked about what Farhad said when we were first talking about the story was exploring what original sin is. What every person has is their sort of original sin. In terms of a political career, there are several.
Safinia: How did that come about, how did Kane’s ascension to power start, that’s the idea of that original sin.
Grammer: We have this opportunity in this guy to create the modern tragedy. I mean that’s what we set out to do and I think that’s what we’re still doing. But it’s almost without exception in Shakespeare’s world. Human beings are subhuman when they start out. The leads of those shows, they are vile, unfulfilled, unsatisfying human beings to know. Powerful, of consequence, but not human. They always discover their humanity. My obsession is to get him somehow to that place.
Safinia: Not only that, in the discovering of it, usually it happens just too late, which is tragedy.
Grammer: Just before, then that’s when it’s a tragedy.
What would you like to see for Kane this season? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Boss returns Friday at 9 p.m. on Starz.