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Mary Lou Williams Collective: 'Zodiac Suite'

The new CD from the Mary Lou Williams Collective is Zodiac Suite: Revisited. The trio, created by pianist Geri Allen, plays the tunes of Mary Lou Williams.



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Other segments from the episode on March 14, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 14, 2006: Interview with David Mamet and Shawn Ryan; Review of Mary Lou Williams Collective's new album “Zodiac Suite: Revisited.”


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: David Mamet and Shawn Ryan discuss their new CBS show
"The Unit;" Ryan also discusses his FX show "The Shield"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

David Mamet, the screenwriter, director and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright
has for the first time created a TV series. He's done it with Shawn Ryan, the
creator of "The Shield," the terrific cop series on FX. We're going to talk
with Mamet and Ryan about their new TV series "The Unit." Then Ryan will stick
around to talk about "The Shield." Mamet and Ryan are executive producers of
"The Unit." It's based on the book "Inside Delta Force: The Story of
America's Elite Counterterrorist Unit" by Eric Haney. The series follows the
men in a covert military unit who live at home when they're not on assignment.
And it follows their wives, who have to keep their husbands' secrets as well
as some of their own. The leader of the unit is played by Dennis Haysbert,
who used to play the president on "24."

Let's start with a scene from last week's premiere episode of "The Unit,"
which was written by David Mamet. A newcomer has joined the unit. His wife
is greeted at the base by the wives of two other unit members. They think she
should live on base. She doesn't want to.

(Sound bite of "The Unit")

Unidentified Woman #1: We intend to live off-base.

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, Molly arranged a temporary...

MOLLY: Mattresses. They were short bedframes, but I figured...

Woman #1: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. What is the 303rd Logistical Studies

Woman #2: Would you excuse us for a minute?

(Sound bite of footsteps)

Woman #1: What is the 303rd...

Woman #2: The 303rd Logistical Studies Unit is where your husband works.
That is his cover. It is your cover. Other than that, this unit has no name.
Other than that, it doesn't exist. You will live that cover as if your
husband's life depended on it, as believe me, it does.

MOLLY: Every person who knows one more piece of information is one more
person who could get our husbands killed.

Woman #2: You do not tell your mother, your best friend, your priest, what
your husband does.

Woman #1: I need to talk to someone.

Woman #2: Would you like to talk to the chaplain?

Woman #1: What denomination is he?

Woman #2: He is the unit chaplain. He is your denomination now.

Woman #1: Please, take those boxes away. I'm not living here. I'm free to
live off-base if I choose. Army regulations state...

Woman #2: You aren't in the Army. You're in the unit.

(End of sound bite)

GROSS: David Mamet, you wrote the pilot for "The Unit." The pilot always has
to do a lot of work in introducing the characters, explaining the story, and
making us want to come back for more. Can you talk a little bit about how you
design the pilot so that it could efficiently do all of that?

Mr. DAVID MAMET (Writer/Producer, "The Unit"): Yeah. The trick is to leave
everything out. That's the whole trick to drama. It's like the ability to
hit the fast ball is the ability to leave out the narration. You've got to
leave the narration out, because anybody can say, `Well, well, Jim, welcome
back to Antarctica. I haven't seen you since we cured cancer together in
1985. How's your wife and is she still an albino,' you know? So if you take
out the idea that you can overburden the show with narration and you can just
constantly deluge the audience with narration, if you take away that false
idea, then the question is what information is really, really needed, and what
information can we do without.

GROSS: Well, David Mamet, there is a fair amount of explanation in the pilot.
I mean, for instance, like the wife of the new guy in the special force, you
know, in the unit is just kind of coming to the neighborhood and the wife of
the leader of the unit is kind of explaining to her all the things she needs
to know and why she should really live on the same block with the other women
whose husbands are in the unit. And so she's, you know, as the new woman in
the neighborhood is learning all this, we're learning it, too. So it seemed
like that's the way you were trying to get in a lot of the explanation.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. The trick is to find out what's important, and to do it
dramatically rather than as exposition. In the old days, we used to have
maids. You know, `I'm the maid. Oh, oh, oh. Your husband's not back yet. I
believe he's still, ma'am, I believe he's still at the 21 Club. He said he
was meeting, you know, Mr. Grimmace from Detroit.' And now we have computers.

GROSS: We read it on the screen?

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. We read it on the screen. So the trick is to find out
what's, as I said, find out what's essential and then make sure you do it
dramatically so it becomes part of the drama rather than part of the

GROSS: Now did you need to get permission from the Special Forces, permission
from the military to do this series and do they have any oversight that they
insist on?

Mr. MAMET: No, we didn't get permission from nobody.

Mr. SHAWN RYAN (Co-executive Producer, "The Unit): No, you know, the
military does an interesting thing in Hollywood. Essentially they use the
time-tested method of bribing you, which is...

GROSS: How does that work?

Mr. RYAN: ...which is if you want to use their resources to help make your
TV show or to make your movie, they will be more than happy to offer you up,
you know, tanks, helicopters, an aircraft carrier if necessary. And all they
require is to read the scripts and be able to vet them and to be able to make
sure that the people who are, you know, representing the military are the way
that they want to see them. So you have a choice. You can either find a way
to produce the show without their assistance and write it the way that you
want it and try to be true to who you think these people are, or you can use
their resources and get lots of production value on the screen and let them
help dictate the creative direction of the show. We chose to go the former
way and to find ways to produce the show ourselves.

GROSS: So you're using inauthentic planes?

Mr. RYAN: No. There are authentic planes that are in the hands of

GROSS: Right.

Mr. RYAN: And, yeah, what's wonderful about this show is that, you know, is
that the way that war is waged these days is on a much smaller, more intimate
scale, meaning that, you know, we have a team of five men at the center of our
show. And we see what they go about doing. And it's on a smaller scale that
we're able to produce, you know. It would be hard to make a show about World
War II with, you know, with dozens of planes flying overhead, and you have
three dozen tanks coming over the hillside and, you know, 3,000 men all
shooting at each other. You can't do that. But this, in many ways, you know,
the war gets smaller and more personal. And we're able to tell the stories of
these five men in a way that we've been able to do without the assistance of
the military.

GROSS: Now that you're doing this series, when you see military spokespeople
talk about the war in Iraq or the war on terror, or when you see Secretary of
Defense Rumsfeld or President Bush, do you often sit at home watching them on
TV thinking, `Man, I could have written you much better stuff than what you
just said.'

Mr. MAMET: What amazes me is why someone in such a powerful position doesn't
have better writers, that the jokes are clunky. They're just clunky. That
means to say that the, what's it called, the Department of Homeland Security?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah.

Mr. MAMET: They just aren't paying attention. Nobody's ever called America
the homeland. It's a European construction, right? The mother land or das
mutterland or something like that. The Heimat. Nobody ever called America
the homeland, so somebody had to work pretty hard to come up with a
construction that clunky. So I think they could use better writers. The
whole idea of weapons of mass destruction is just in terms of dialog, it's not
a good phrase. It's exactly the cadence of a scold. "I told you a thousand
times, weapons of mass destruction." And so one has to repeat "weapons of mass
destruction." And nobody's ever said--I mean, you have to say it a lot on your
program. We say it a lot. And eventually you have to, because we only have
so much psychic energy in a day, eventually you stop the subconscious
addendum, `But I don't like the way it sounds.' And you find yourself saying
it. And if you find yourself saying it, you just eventually find yourself
believing it.

GROSS: Have either of you ever, you know, shot guns either at target ranges
or hunting or in any way so that you would understand the weapons that you're
putting in your character's hands?

Mr. RYAN: You want to start with that, Dave?

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. I've been a hunter all my life. I learned marksmanship in
the Boy Scouts. I was never in the military, but I still am a hunter--deer
hunter and a bird hunter. And I shot pistols competitively for a number of
years. It's because I lived in Vermont, and I had a pistol range out back of
my house because the house is in the middle of country. I mean, that's what
you do. And those days, I'd get tired of writing and I'd go from one town to
the next to get out of the house and to have a cup of coffee and go shopping,
and every town would have a little general store in the back roads of Vermont,
and every general store would have a gun counter. And you trade guns. That's
one of the things you did, get you out of the house, and it was part of the
culture. And that's a deeply ingrained part of American culture. And that's
a part of American culture that I've been a part of for my whole life. And so
to see the debate about guns and gun control become a divisive part of
America, it's very, very interesting to me. It's about a culture in
transition from the agricultural to the industrial, from the rural to the
urban. Because in an agricultural community, in a rural community, people
have guns. They have need to protect themselves. They hunt. They protect
themselves from threat of violence.

Mr. RYAN: They protect their livestock.

Mr. MAMET: Yeah. That's something interesting to me about Delta Force is
that it's so low-tech. Eric told us that he got some letter-writing, a lot of
commenting, and somebody called him from a knife magazine, wanted him to write
an article on combat knives, the combat knives of Delta Force. They said, `We
don't use any combat knives.' So they guy said, `Well, what kind of knife do
you take on a mission?' `Oh, we just go out and buy a butcher knife.' Said,
`It's sharp, you know, it's cheap. If the blade gets loose, just go buy
another one.' And the same is true of the armaments. And there's a bit in the
pilot where Jonas Blane, the character Jonas Blane played by Dennis Haysbert,
takes back a grounded airliner that's being held by some terrorists. And Eric
talked us through it. He said, `I don't think it's ever been shown what
actually happens, how low-tech it is.' And what actually happens is one guy
with one pistol and no body armor in a pair of sneakers and blue jeans and a
T-shirt opens the door and goes in and kills the terrorists. It's
magnificently low-tech.

GROSS: David Mamet and Shawn Ryan are the executive producers of the new CBS
series "The Unit." The second episode airs tonight. Coming up, Shawn Ryan
talks with us about creating his FX cop series "The Shield." This is FRESH


GROSS: We were just talking to Shawn Ryan about his new CBS series "The
Unit." While he works on that, he's also working on "The Shield," the cop
series he created and executive produces for FX.

(Sound bite of "The Shield")

Mr. MICHAEL CHIKLIS: (As Vic) Get out of the car. Hey! Get out of the car!
Hands on your head right now! Don't move or you're dead! Let me see your
hands! Let's go. Let's go!

Unidentified Man: Let me see your hands, buddy.

Mr. CHIKLIS: (As Vic) Stop struggling. Got him?

Man: Yeah. I got him.

Unidentified Woman #3: What are you doing? What are you doing? Why are you
arresting him?

Mr. CHIKLIS: (As Vic) He ran a stop sign.

(End of sound bite)

GROSS: "The Shield" stars Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey who leads a strike
force. He's very good at getting the bad guys, but he's also corrupt and
brutal. Before creating "The Shield," Shawn Ryan wrote for the show "Nash
Bridges." He told me it was more of an entertainment show than a realistic
portrayal of real life police work.

Mr. RYAN: That was very much a hero show. So Don Johnson's character, Nash,
you know, really couldn't screw up very badly. He always had to have the
right intentions. You know, so if something went bad, it wasn't because, you
know, any human foible of his caused it to go bad. And, you know, the shows
ended happily, and the crimes were always solved, and he was a straight-up
hero. And if there was any problem with Nash, it was that he just couldn't
quite make whatever his current relationship with a beautiful woman quite work
out because he couldn't commit. That, you know, that was like the one big
"character flaw," quote/unquote. And, you know, it was a very successful
show. It ran for six years, and that's the way that show needed to be for
what it was. But, you know, there was a hierarchy that, you know, Nash was
the one that needed to solve the crimes. He was the one that needed to swoop
in at the last second. You know, one of his underlings was never the one
that, you know, was the hero of the day and would save it. So it was those
kinds of things. And especially the intentions. You know, these were cops to
look up to and, you know, and they always had the innocent public's best
interests at heart. So...

GROSS: OK, now you can't say that that happens in "The Shield." I mean, some
of the cops at the center of "The Shield," particularly the star of the show,
the character played by Michael Chiklis. I mean, he's not only corrupt, he's
kind of sadistic. He really enjoys violence. He's...

Mr. RYAN: He has a few flaws. You know, I wanted to write in the gray
areas. You know, I'd written a very black-and-white show for three years and
been successful doing it. And the show was successful. And it was my job to,
you know, to service my bosses in presenting them with the material that they
wanted. And I worked hard to do that. But really it was, you know, there
were just a lot of sacred cows.

You know, for instance, on almost every TV cop show I'd seen in the '90s, or
in the late '80s, the heros would be, like, the detectives and the boss, the
captain, would be a minority. And it was television's way of saying, you
know, `Well, we acknowledge that its a multi-ethnic universe, but we're not
going to, sort of, put them forefront. And additionally our minority captain
is going to be above reproach and, you know, isn't going to have a bad quality
at all.' I looked at Edward James Olmos' character in "Miami Vice." I looked
at James McDaniel's character in "NYPD Blue," Yaphet Kotto's character in
"Homicide." All these shows sort of had the thing, and so my first thing was,
well, you know what? I'm going to have a minority captain, but everyone's
going to hate him. And everyone's going to think that he's a quota baby that
got the job, you know, because of his race, not because of his talent, and not
everyone's going to look up to him.

GROSS: You know, you're talking about trying to break the rules of some of
the shows that you really admired. Now in shows like "Homicide" and "Law &
Order," there's some, like, fabulous interrogation scenes. And you really
admire how brilliant some of these cops are at interrogating. In the
pilot--and excuse me for going all the way back to the pilot, but, you know,
although I've been watching this series for some time, I never saw the pilot
until last night on DVD. So it's really a brilliant episode. It's, like,
maybe the best pilot.

Mr. RYAN: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: But anyways, there's three separate interrogation scenes in that, and
each of them are really different. Each of them serves a different dramatic
purpose and reveals something different about the person doing the
interrogating. Would you just talk about how you used each of those
interrogation scenes to do a whole lot of dramatic work?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. "Homicide"--like I said, "Homicide" really was my favorite
show and I was always impressed with their interrogation scenes, especially
the ones involving Andre Braugher's character. And really what I took from
that show was the interrogation scenes in good dramas are about the
detectives. They're not about finding out the truth of the case. They're not
about just furthering plot.

So I wanted to find out, you know, Dutch has a few scenes with this pedophile
where he just goes along and sort of shows empathy for, you know, for how you
can be attracted to young girls. And it showed this sort of gamesmanship and
mindset that he was willing to get into to break this guy. And then we had,
you know, a very sort of infamous scene with Vic Mackey and another pedophile
kidnapper near the end, and we saw just sort of how ruthless he could be. But
those scenes were designed to get into the characters of our detectives and
find out who they are, which are far more interesting interrogation scenes
than just browbeating people until they tell you that they did it.

GROSS: Well, yeah, and, you know, Dutch, the cop who's interrogating the
child molester, the first time he really gets into the guy's head, and he's
basically saying, `Say, do you believe there's a gay gene? Do you believe
that, like, people are born gay? Well, if people are born gay, maybe people
are born to be child molesters, too. I mean, I understand. I understand what
you're going through.' And that's very effective. But then he does it again
on another child molester, and the child molester's attitude is like, `Hey, I
know the game you're playing, and it's not going to work on me. I'm smart,

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. Well...

GROSS: And then the third time, like, Vic Mackey, the Michael Chiklis
character, goes in and just, like, beats the confession out of him. And the
contrast between those three interrogation scenes is just so interesting
dramatically and in what they reveal about each of the characters.

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. Well, there's a time for each of them, I think. And, you
know, what I was really trying to get at is that, yes, it is tempting to
resort to brute behavior at times, and sometimes it can be even effective.
But is that what we want? And I never really try to take sides and sort of,
you know, pick a side. But I wanted, knowing that at the end of the episode,
I was going to have Vic kill Terry, it's really just completely unforgivable.

GROSS: And just to say who Terry is, for our listeners who haven't been
following the story, Terry is somebody from Internal Affairs who was
investigating whether these cops are on the take or not, whether they were

Mr. RYAN: He was on Vic's team, and was actually trying to work undercover
to take Vic and his buddies down. And what I wanted, through the other story
with the interrogation with the pedophile, is to see how it's tempting to give
law enforcement people sort of unlimited power to do anything to solve these
heinous crimes, because there's a slippery slope at the end of it, because
when you give them power to act on your behalf, don't be surprised when they
take that power to act on their own behalf.

GROSS: Shawn Ryan is the creator of the FX series "The Shield" and an
executive producer of the new TV series "The Unit" on CBS. They're both shown
Tuesday nights. Ryan will be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Sound bite of music)


(Sound bite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, Shawn Ryan talks about creating his FX cop series "The
Shield," and Kevin Whitehead reviews the new CD of Mary Lou Williams
compositions played by pianist Geri Allen.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Shawn Ryan, the creator
and executive producer of the FX cop series "The Shield." This season, Forest
Whitaker guest stars as an investigator with Internal Affairs. He's looking
into whether Vic Mackey killed a cop on his strike team after figuring out
that the cop was cooperating with Internal Affairs on a corruption
investigation. In this scene, Whitaker is interrogating Mackey's ex-wife.
The actress who plays her, Cathy Ryan, is married to Shawn Ryan.

(Sound bite of "The Shield")

Mr. FOREST WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) You know Terry Crowley?

Ms. CATHY RYAN: (As Corrine) Sure. He was on Vic's team.

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) Do you remember any change in Vic's behavior
leading up to Terry's death?

Ms. RYAN: (As Corrine) No. But he was pretty torn up afterwards. We all

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) I'm sure it was terrible. Terry was working
for Justice, investigating your ex-husband's team for corruption, planting
evidence, extortion, kickbacks, laundry list of things. When Vic made Terry
as working for the feds, we believe that he and Shane Vendrell murdered him.

Ms. RYAN: (As Corrine) Vic's a lot of things, but he's no killer.

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) He's a survivor. He'll do whatever it takes to
protect himself, his team, and his family. Are you really trying to tell me
after 12 years of marriage you don't think that that man is capable of pulling
the trigger on someone who's trying to take away everything from him?

Ms. RYAN: (As Corrine) You need to stop this?

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) Don't cry! I don't want to see you shed one
single tear, because tears imply that you didn't know. And don't you sit here
and tell me that you didn't know, Mrs. Mackey.

(End of sound bite)

GROSS: Right now, well for the past two seasons, at least, you've had kind of
guest film actors be there for the whole season. Last season Glenn Close was
the police captain. She was terrific. And this season, Forest Whitaker as
investigator from Internal Affairs, who's investigating that murder that Vic
commits in the pilot. And Forest Whitaker's just really extraordinary in his
performances each week. I know at first he's just really kind of ingratiating
and likeable to people who he wants on his side, he wants to win over. And
then he can just, like, on a dime just, like, turn around and be, like, so,
just kind of tough and mean and unpleasant.

Mr. RYAN: Manipulative. Yeah. And...

GROSS: What?

Mr. RYAN: Manipulative.

GROSS: Manipulative. Exactly. Manipulative. Yeah. But it's...

Mr. RYAN: But what you have is you have a guy who's an Internal Affairs
detective, who plays by the rules, who's trying to bust a cop who killed
another cop and who beats suspects, and yet who does our audience root for?
They still root for Vic. And they have found themselves justifying that by
really hating Kavanagh, the character that Forest Whitaker plays. But it's
been fascinating for me to watch. And what's been so unique about this, I
mean, you know, it's easy to get bored after a number of years working on a TV
show if you're writing the same thing. And we're always looking for what's
something new to write. And what has been fascinating for us is we have this
great anti-hero in Vic Mackey, you know, who you root for some of the times,
root against other times. You know, you like what he's doing and then you
don't like what he's doing. But we've brought in this character played by
Forest who, I've heard somebody term him as an anti-villain. He's trying to
destroy your hero. He's doing what he can to do that, and yet, under most
circumstances, he would be the hero and Vic would be the villain, in almost
any other piece. And so we've been able to sort of take him and show his
flaws and show his good side and his ugly side. And yet, it's completely
turned around for the audience. You know, people want Vic Mackey to get away
with this. And it's just intriguing for me to see that.

GROSS: The main character, you know, Vic, this corrupt cop that we're talking
about, he has a couple kids who are autistic.

Mr. RYAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And he does his best to support them, even though he's divorced from
his wife. And part of what he does is through the money he gets through his
corrupt practices. So did you know right away that he'd have a couple kids
who are autistic, and why dramatically did you create that for him?

Mr. RYAN: There were two things that lead to that. I did not know when I
wrote the pilot that that would be the case. That was all of a sudden,
you're, OK, they're making a pilot. Now you have to fill out 12 more
episodes. What stories are you going to tell?

There are two things. One, this will sound very strange, but, you know, I'm a
big sports fan, and I noticed that there were a lot of famous NFL quarterbacks
who had kids with special needs. I found it really odd. You would think
statistically it wouldn't happen, but, you know, Dan Marino had an autistic
son, and Doug Flutie, you know, has a son with some issues, and Jim Kelley.
And I thought, `Boy, we don't put anyone more on a pedestal in this country
than football quarterbacks, and yet a lot of them have these children with
special needs.' And it was just intriguing to me, you know, why that would be.
These men who are sort of known for their strength and valor on the field and
who we just look up to. And it seemed to humanize many of these guys in ways
that was interesting to me. So that was the first thing. I thought about
that for a number of years, `Why is that?'

And then in our personal life, my wife Cathy and I, we had friends who had
kids and we knew their kids, and suddenly the parents were there telling us,
`Well, our son has been diagnosed as being autistic.' This happened with two
couples who were friends of ours in the space of a few months. And I sort of
had heard the word "autistic," had a vague notion of what he meant, but
suddenly I found that affecting people that I was close to. And I suddenly
started doing some research, and I combined those two things and wanted to
really sort of humanize Vic and show how a guy who could handle any sort of
problem on the street, how he can't just slap away this sort of problem at
home, and how does a guy like this deal with his child? And eventually he
learns a second child of his is autistic as well. You know, how does he deal
with this? So it proved to be fertile dramatic ground for us.

GROSS: And it also brings out one of the likeable things about him. I mean,
he cares about his kids.

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. Although, once again, I kind of feel that he has his head
in the sand a little bit. It's really Corrine, his wife--now ex-wife--who's
the one who really gets down and dirty and takes the kids to the occupational
therapists and takes them to school and makes sure they're going to the right
place. You know, I think Vic is a guy who feels that way and gives a lot of
lip service to it, but at the end of the day, like many families in this
country, it eventually falls upon the mother.

GROSS: Now, your wife plays the part of Vic's wife.

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. Corrine.

GROSS: Or ex-wife now.

Mr. RYAN: Yes.

GROSS: Did you write the part for her?

Mr. RYAN: Well, it wasn't a very big part in the pilot. It was only four or
five lines. And once again, I really wasn't thinking beyond the pilot. You
know, Cathy is someone who I'd seen in a number of plays and I knew that she
was good and knew that she hadn't really been given an opportunity. And I
just consider it, `Hey, do this part in the pilot, you know. It'd be a good

She also had--what I liked is, coincidentally she grew up with Michelle
Chiklis, Michael Chiklis' wife. They've known each other from the age of
three down in North Miami Beach, Florida. And she had known Michael for well
over a decade when we made the pilot. So there was a familiarity there
between the two of them that I thought would be good. But I was just thinking
in the pilot, here's an opportunity, you know. I've got a show, I have a
chance to put you in something. I want to do it, and I did it. And then all
of a sudden the series is picked up. And then you start thinking, OK, well,
what are we going to do with the show now, and the role has sort of
eventually, you know, grown, and gotten bigger. So it wasn't something that I
necessarily wrote specifically for her, but it's been a role that as the
show's gone on and as the roles got bigger, we've sort of tailored for who she

GROSS: So, now I understand that she was pregnant when you made the pilot?

Mr. RYAN: She was not pregnant when we made the pilot, but after the show
got picked up, she was pregnant for the filming of the second episode, and
then all the episodes in that first season.

GROSS: So I'm sure you probably didn't expect that, either. First the series
got picked up. Yeah.

Mr. RYAN: No, so we had cast her in the pilot, she had been cast in the
pilot, she had done that. And now we're getting ready and, you know, and
we're about to shoot episode three, and Cathy comes to me and says, `You know,
I'm pregnant.' I'm like, `Oh.' Well, I'm thrilled and ecstatic on a personal
level, but within five seconds I started thinking, OK, well, what are we going
to do about the show? So I had to figure out, you know, do we want to write
that in? Do we not want to write in, hide it? We eventually chose not to
write it in and by the time the filming ended, she was, like, five months
pregnant. We never had to, like, try to fake her at eight or nine months
pregnant on the show.

GROSS: When the pilot was accepted by FX, this was before "Nip/Tuck," it was
before Dennis Leary's series was on the air.

Mr. RYAN: "Rescue Me."

GROSS: "Rescue Me." And people weren't thinking, `Oh, FX, that's a real,
like, happening network now for new shows.' So was it hard to convince actors
that it was a good idea for them to get started in an FX series?

Mr. RYAN: Oh, absolutely. I can't, you know, there were actors that I had
never heard of who refused to come in and read for the role of Vic Mackey. In
all seriousness. Or it was an offer only. `If you want to offer me the role,
maybe I'll consider doing it.' And I'm like, `Well, who is this person again?
Have I even seen him in anything?' And I know for a fact that there were
agents who were steering actors away from doing this. I know that that there
was an actor that we were seriously considering for the character of Shane who
I know through back-channel things that his agent essentially convinced him,
you know, it's not worth doing this show on this network. And so that person
never sort of came in for final consideration, you know, for the role. It was
difficult. But in the end, it turned out to be a blessing because what
happened was that we only got people on the show who desperately wanted to do
the show. And there was an excitement and energy that I think really
translated to the screen because of that.

GROSS: My guest is Shawn Ryan. We'll talk more about his series "The Shield"
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Shawn Ryan. He's an executive producer of the new CBS
series "The Unit." We're talking about "The Shield," the cop series he created
and executive produces for FX.

You are now working with David Mamet on the series, "The Unit." You're both
executive producers of that. This is a CBS show, so that's on broadcast.
It's about a unit within the special forces. "The Shield" is on FX. So it's
cable, it's not regulated by the FCC in terms of language or the amount of
violence you can show.

Mr. RYAN: It's not officially regulated.

GROSS: Is it? Yeah, go ahead. What is the story? Yeah.

Mr. RYAN: But to act as if the FCC isn't having an effect on the content of
cable would not be accurate. You know, there's something scarier going on I
think, than official FCC regulation, which is there's the threat of
regulation. There's the threat of taking away things. It's a different
environment than it was in 2002 when the show premiered. Now, I don't think
it's changed what we've been able to air, but I do think it's changed what
will come on the air for the first time. You know, the fact that we
established what kind of show we were has allowed us to continue and maintain
making that show.

But, you know, but there's been a little bit of a cultural war in the last,
you know, four or five years, and one side is winning at the moment in terms
of having power. You know, one side is winning to the extent that, you know,
they've got the votes in Congress, they've stacked the FCC with the people
that they want, and it's democracy in action. You know, I'm not complaining
about it, really. It's just a reality. You know, I think networks and the
cable industry is skittish. It is a little bit sad to me because I think
there's a place in television for shows that appeal and speak to adults about
serious subjects, but right now there seems to be an element in this country
that wants to subject every show to the criteria, `Is it OK for a six-year-old
to watch this?'

GROSS: Now you were explaining before how when you worked on "Nash Bridges"
there were certain rules as a writer that you had to follow to keep the
character consistent and to keep him appropriately heroic, and you broke a lot
of those rules when you created your series "The Shield." Does "The Shield"
have its own rules that you have to present to new writers who come on board?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. There are certain things. You don't want to box them in
too much. And what's interesting is no matter--and this really his a credit
to Michael Chiklis, who plays Vic. You know, Michael has such charisma and is
so likeable, but what I've found over the years is there's almost nothing that
we can have Vic do that many of our viewers won't find a way to forgive him or
apologize for him. And I found that fascinating. The audience has become an
enabler of Vic Mackey in that they will provide the excuse for why he had to
do something for which there really is no excuse. And it's one of the reasons
why in this current season, this fifth season, that we only have, as we talk,
we only have two more episodes left to air, I wanted to bring back that
murder. Viewers, I think, had sort of driven it to the back of their mind,
and he's done so many good things and closed so many cases, and brought so
many violent criminals to justice. You know, in the interim, it's easy to
sort of forget that, well, yes, but, this guy also did this. And, you know,
wanted to bring that back to life.

GROSS: Do you know where "The Shield" is going to end? Are you thinking
about that now?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah, I've been thinking about it for a while. We're just, you
know, we've just completed filming 11 episodes, the 11th of which will air
March 21st, and we're taking a little break and the writers and I are working,
and we're going to make 10 more episodes. We'll start filming those in April,
and they will air either in late 2006 or early 2007, depending on what FX
wants to do with them. And at some point in the middle of making those
episodes we'll come to a determination of whether the show will end after
those 10 or whether we want to go another season. I can't imagine it going
another season beyond that. And it really just depends.

It's really going to be a creative thing. Do we still have stories to tell?
Can we keep the quality of the show up to the standards that we've set the
last couple of years? You know, I like to think that the show is as good or
better now than it's ever been. And if I feel that we can't maintain that, I
would end it before I would continue it. You know, we've all been blessed to
work on this show. It's been great critically. We've been able to
artistically do the things that we want. A lot of us have made a good living
off of it for the last four or five years. There's no reason in my mind to
sort of, you know, ride a sick horse, you know, just for the sake of, you
know, earning some more money or anything. So as we get into these episodes,
these next 10, we'll figure out whether we want to end it then or whether we
see opportunities for it to continue.

GROSS: So you don't know yet whether, like, Vic will live or die or go to
prison, or what? I mean, do you already have in your mind what his ultimate
fate is going to be?

Mr. RYAN: I have a few notions. But notions are just that and they're
subject to change. You know, we always come up with a plan at the beginning
of each season of where we want to go and what we want to do. But we always
allow ourselves the option to change the plan midstream should we discover
something. So, for instance, you know, there's some pretty big events at the
end of this 11-episode season, you know, the March 21st finale. There's some
big events that we had in our head all the way back to last July that we knew
we wanted to get to. But it wasn't until maybe a couple weeks before filming
the last episode that I absolutely in my mind committed to doing those things.
So I do have a couple ideas of things might end for Vic, but I always leave it
open for a better idea to come along. So there's nothing set in stone in my
head yet for how it will end.

GROSS: Shawn Ryan, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. RYAN: My pleasure, Terry. Thank you very much.

GROSS: And good luck keeping up the pace of "The Shield" and "The Unit" at
the same time.

Mr. RYAN: I'm not getting much sleep, but I'm trying. And it's a good life.

GROSS: Thank you.

Shawn Ryan created the FX cop series "The Shield" and he's an executive
producer of the new CBS series "The Unit." New episodes of both will be shown
tonight at different times.

Coming up, Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD featuring pianist Geri
Allen performing compositions by Mary Lou Williams. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Geri Allen's "Zodiac Suite: Revisited," a remake of Mary
Lou Williams' "Zodiac Suite"

Jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams came up in Pittsburgh. Pianist Geri Allen grew
up in Detroit. Williams came to prominence in the 1930s, writing for Kansas
City swing bands. Later she got involved with hip New York modernists, like
Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Nichols and Cecil Taylor. In the 1980s and '90s, Geri
Allen worked with hip New York modernists like Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, and
Ornette Coleman. Geri Allen's new trio CD is a set of Williams' tunes
recorded under the name "The Mary Lou Williams Collective." Jazz critic Kevin
Whitehead has a review.

(Sound bite of "Scorpio")


Buster Williams on bass and Billy Hart on drums, with pianist Geri Allen. The
tune is "Scorpio" by Mary Lou Williams from her "Zodiac Suite." It's from the
CD "Zodiac Suite: Revisited" on Mary's records, run by Williams' old manager
and watchdog over her legacy, Father Peter O'Brien. He's often tapped Geri
Allen to interpret the composer's works, though musically she's not an obvious
choice. Both are African-American women from the industrial heartland, and
Allen did see Williams perform and once lived in her old Pittsburgh
neighborhood, but Williams was a two-fisted pianist who loved rocking
barrelhouse rhythms. Geri Allen has a more airy and linear concept. She's
almost one-handed by comparison.

(Sound bite of music)

WHITEHEAD: "Zodiac Suite: Revisited" is heavier on dreamy stargazing than
Mary Lou Williams' 1945 trio take, which is in print at the moment. Like
other remakes, this one's longer and softer than the original. Williams'
writing had a brisk economy typical of early jazz composers whose recorded
masterworks were limited to three minutes or so. The best of her "Zodiac"
pieces are as vivid as caricatures, brimming with catchy blues and boogie
baselines. In stretching those vignettes out to five or seven minutes, Geri
Allen and company know better than to lose those hooks. Here's a long clip
from "Gemini," which has base vamps enough for three tunes. Williams built
the melody the way a kid built a castle: one block at a time.

(Sound bite of "Gemini")

WHITEHEAD: Mary Lou Williams' 60-year-old tunes still sound hip and fresh and
prompt a bluesy economy in Geri Allen's own playing. Elsewhere, she drifts
back toward her more typically romantic side which does bring a fresh slant to
the material. She makes "Aquarius" sound even more like Gershwin than
Williams did.

(Sound bite of "Aquarius")

WHITEHEAD: If this revival of the "Zodiac Suite" doesn't beat the original,
well, what jazz remake ever did? But "Zodiac Suite: Revisited" does
something Mary Lou Williams no longer can: makes the case her tunes are
living music that deserves to stay in circulation. Much the same can be said
for a new CD of her big-band charts by the Dutch Jazz Orchestra called "The
Lady Who Swings the Band." The CD's more slick than inspired and can't match
Williams' own recordings with the Andy Kirk Band in the 1930s, but the Dutch
Jazz Orchestra does play some rarities, like previously unrecorded
arrangements Williams wrote for Duke Ellington, and this band version of
"Scorpio" from the "Zodiac Suite," which takes us out right where we came in.

(Sound bite of "Scorpio")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches English and American studies at the University
of Kansas, and he's a Jazz columnist for He reviewed "Zodiac
Suite: Revisited" by "The Mary Lou Williams Collective," the new trio by Geri


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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