Creators Shawn Ryan and Karl Gadjusek talk about 'Last Resort'

Posted: September 28, 2012

SHAWN RYAN has never been the kind of TV writer who colors inside the lines.

In the pilot for "The Shield," he had the show's main character, a cop named Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) murder a fellow officer. Ryan's also the guy who put Jennifer Beals in charge of one of the largest police departments in the country in "The Chicago Code."

And in ABC's "Last Resort," which premieres Thursday, he and co-creator Karl Gajdusek bring us Andre Braugher as the captain of a nuclear submarine who, when his government appears to have turned against him, decides to take his sub - and his nukes - and change the rules.

"We don't think the crew's gone rogue, but we feel like we have," said Ryan, laughing, during an interview he and Gajdusek did this summer in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Q. How do you pitch something like this?

Ryan: We presented a very visual pitch. We had these pictures of submarines. A lot of people don't know how big these things are. They're 200 yards long. They're three stories high. "Here's our submarine, here's our crew." You put a picture of Marcus Chaplin [Braugher's character] with a few well-known actors you're never gonna get - you know, Kevin Costner, this is the sort of type that you're after - and this is Sam [Scott Speedman's character], and here's the relationship between these guys. We only pitched it two places. We pitched it to ABC and NBC, at the end of which they both really wanted it.

Gajdusek: I've done a lot of feature [film] pitching and sold a lot of things that way. And it was one of the most slam-dunk pitches I've ever been involved in.

Q. This, as you've said, is a story we haven't seen before.

Ryan: What was great about "The Shield" was we were always able to break [come up with] stories that were unlike anything else on TV because there were no other stories about cops gone bad and really following them in depth. On this show, I don't have to avoid how 'Law & Order' did their nuclear submarine-on-an-island story. You're only limited by your own imagination.

Q. Still, there are elements of "Lost." And maybe a little bit "24"?

Gajdusek: Those are pieces.

Ryan: "Lost" especially. I can't deny that there's a group of people on an island who are trying to find their way home. That is "Lost."

Q. And is it fair to say these people, too, will be creating a new society in the meantime?

Ryan: There's a very Pilgrims and the Indians kind of thing to it. There are people who lived here, who were living a very peaceful life and all of a sudden there's a nuclear sub there and who's going to gain power? I've had Tom Clancy on my mind for the last year and a half and I felt that there really wasn't a Clancy-esque world on TV. I guess "24" probably came closest. That people in small positions can have huge influence on world events is something that Clancy always did well.

Q. When I'm writing about serialized, outside-the-box shows like this, the first question people ask is, is this going to be around? Do the writers know where they're going? Do you have a sense of how your characters will get out of this situation?

Ryan: Yes, we do. And listen, TV's hard. Because are you a three-season show or are you an eight-season show? We certainly have ideas for the whole first season, we do have ideas of how to get out of it. Now, you know, I did "The Shield" for seven years. Did I know the end of Season 7 during Season 1?

Q. But that was a cop show. A different kind of cop show, but still a cop show.

Ryan: Here's what I would say to them, that this isn't a mystery show, where you're asking in [NBC's] "Revolution," do you know the mystery of the power turning on and off? This is a situation show. And I would argue that "The Shield" was a situation show, that the situation there was a cop who's dealing drugs and helping criminals that allows him to control things on the street for his benefit, and to protect himself, he kills a cop in the pilot episode. And that everything over the course of seven seasons stemmed from that.

Look, there's a certain amount of hubris that goes into doing a show like this. Because I remember "The Event," and me sitting there going, "It can't be that special as they're making out to be." And I remember "FlashForward." And so I understand people looking at us and going, "If you think you can do all that, you're crazy and pretty full of yourselves."

Q. The pilot packs a lot into that first hour. Do you think that will help satisfy any skeptics? And can you keep that up?

Gajdusek: One thing we promised ourselves is that while we're going to explore all different aspects of the human experience, that we would not slow down . . . out of the gate.

Ryan: Can you get an episode where there's the personal equivalent of a little nuclear explosion between . . . two of your characters, that isn't quite as important on a global scale, but if you're invested in the show, sends shock waves? That's what "Mad Men" is so good about. We want to go into that as well. And hopefully have the best of both worlds. I know the hubris that that implies . . . and we're either going to do that or fail spectacularly.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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