Shawn Ryan on ‘Last Resort’

 The creator of “The Shield” tells us about his new submarine drama on ABC.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Shawn Ryan’s return to TV will always be news. Even when it doesn’t last more than a season, the TV world will always check out the next series from the creator of “The Shield.”

This season’s Shawn Ryan show has gotten a lot of buzz. “Last Resort” is about a submarine crew who forced to seek sanctuary on a tropical island after refusing an order from the military. It’s got a prime spot on ABC’s Thursday night schedule, and Shawn Ryan spoke with us about the series at the Television Critics Association press tour.


CraveOnline: How technical can you can be on “Last Resort” and how technical would you like to be if you could?

Shawn Ryan: We want to be as realistic as we can. Most information about U.S. nuclear submarines is classified. There is a positive and a negative to that. The negative is when you want to find an answer, you don’t always get it. The positive is it allows you to make some stuff up and who’s going to say you’re wrong because it’s classified?

CraveOnline: As far as tech talk, how into their business can you be for the audience?

Shawn Ryan: We had two consultants that helped us out on the pilot. We have a new one that’s helping us out on the series that our writers ask questions as they’re breaking the stories and writing the scripts. When the scripts come out we get notes from the tech consultants. I guess submarines, a lot of stuff gets repeated.

We don’t always have time to do that so it won’t always be accurate in terms of that but we want to be as accurate as possible as we can be and keep within the time constraints of the show so we want to be as accurate as we can be.

CraveOnline: How many episodes is Martin Campbell doing?

Shawn Ryan: He just did the pilot for now and he’s got a movie he’s doing. We’d love to have him back at some point but I don’t know if or when that will happen.

CraveOnline: What was it about him that made you want to have him set up the aesthetic for the series?

Shawn Ryan: I love the idea that the same guy who directed the “Three Men and Adena” episode Andre referenced, which is one of my all time favorite episodes of television, is also the same guy who reinvented Casino Royale, reinvented James Bond. That just totally reinvigorated that franchise.

So I love the idea of a guy who could view an episode that was just three people in a room because a lot of this pilot is just these people on the comm waiting for a phone call to come in, waiting to see if they’re going to be attacked, waiting to see what’s going to happen. It was very important, that tension. Also it’s a pilot of great scale. It’s a big, ambitious pilot so someone who had done Goldeneye, Casino Royale and Mask of Zorro was someone that I felt was up for that. And he connected with the material and impressed us.

CraveOnline: How do you balance the scale in the rest of the series?

Shawn Ryan: We have the interior of the sub that we’re going to continue to use. Now that our visual effects company has built the exterior of the sub, it makes it cheaper and easier for us to do that underwater stuff.

Some episodes will be bigger than others. We joke that we somewhere in our future have the ultimate bottle episode, the bottle being the submarine, that we’ll do at some point to save a little money. So some episodes will be bigger than others but the studio is really allowing us a very healthy budget by new show standards. We’re going to put a lot on the screen in terms of the show.

CraveOnline: Will the crew be back on the sub often?

Shawn Ryan: Yes, oh yes. Yeah, you can’t just leave a sub parked, A to always get attacked, B to allow your crew to stop drilling and learning how to do it. There’ll be drills, there’ll be missions, there’s various things. We’ll be on the sub a fair amount.

CraveOnline: Since the pilot has so much plot to establish, do the second and third episode really establish what the show is going to be?

Shawn Ryan: It’s a great question because I always vowed that I would avoid premise pilots but this clearly is a premise pilot. It’s always better when you can just drop into a world and do it, so the show will be discovering it. Hopefully we’re inventive enough that in the same way “Lost,” what’s a typical episode of “Lost?”

So I hope that we never get into a rut where you know what a typical episode of “Last Resort” is. Some will I think feel very internal and personal. Some will feel very epic in scope and we’re going to have to figure that out. It’s a high wire act. We’ll find out.

CraveOnline: What did you think about fitting in with ABC’s lineup, which is often more female driven?

Shawn Ryan: There were a lot of conversations that I had with Paul [Lee] and Channing [Dungey] about it. I spent time with Jeff Bader who’s the head of programming over at ABC just to pick his brain about what he thought ABC’s audience was, where we could fit in and ultimately what we discovered was, first of all, what women aren’t going to want to watch Scott Speedman and Andre Braugher and Daniel Lissing? [Lissing] plays James King, our SEAL.

We got that but really what I think women like are good stories and relationships, and that Marcus/Sam relationship is really interesting. Sam and his wife Christine, will they every be able to get together, interesting. Grace trying to prove herself on that submarine is something that they can probably get to. We have as many female series regulars as we do male series regulars on this show.

So it’s really pointing the show not so much in a strictly plot [direction.] If we try to do “24” style just plot, I don’t think that’s going to work on ABC. But if you tie the plot into the emotional lives of your characters, that’s something that could work for men and women.

To me, there’s a flip side of that question because a lot of shows ABC has done in the last couple years, in some ways seem like they only appeal to women. I think the hope is in this show that women are going to find the emotional hook to the show, and it’s a show that their husbands will gladly watch with them. That’s the ultimate goal. We’ll see what eventually happens.


CraveOnline: For fans of your work, how is “Last Resort” a Shawn Ryan show?

Shawn Ryan: Well, I think a lot of my shows have had at the basis a group of men and women who find themselves struggling with duty in the job in dangerous circumstances and I think that definitely applies to the submarine crew here.

For those people who love “The Shield” and like the strike team, the crew of the U.S.S. Colorado is engaged in things on a far larger scale. “The Unit” about this group of special forces struggling under the pressures of their missions, that’s something that would appeal to people as well.

CraveOnline: How has developing “Last Resort” been different from other shows you’ve developed?

Shawn Ryan: I had a true partner in Karl Gajdusek. I had David Mamet on “The Unit,” but he wrote that. This is sort of us working together which has been great. I’m at a new studio now which probably doesn’t mean a lot to you guys but it’s been a different, new experience to work at Sony.

They’ve been fantastic. The stakes are higher in many ways. “The Shield” was such a low cost gamble when it came out. We made that show so cheaply and nobody watched FX so if we were going to fail, we’d fail relatively anonymously. This is a big deal.

CraveOnline: How much edge can you bring to “Last Resort” and keep it appropriate for ABC prime time?

Shawn Ryan: “The Shield” was very, very rough around its edges, intentionally so. This is a network show. I think I understand the difference, having done “The Unit,” having done “The Chicago Code,” having worked on “Lie to Me” for a year. I understand the difference.

It’s finding that sweet spot of what appeals to an audience and yet finding those things that are different about your characters. You can have flawed characters on network TV. I think that’s a misnomer that flawed characters only exist on cable. Yet I think there is a slightly more heroic bent. Obviously Vic Mackey did some awful stuff that would be tough for some of the characters on this show to do.

But it’s finding that balance and it’s essentially aiming for, a lot of great shows I love going back. “Homicide, NYPD Blue, The West Wing, Lost,” they were all network shows that delved into very sensitive areas. They showed characters with extreme flaws and dealt in very adult sophisticated content. So that’s our goal, to do something like that.

CraveOnline: Have you felt pressure from the shows subsequent to “The Shield” that they were “FROM THE CREATOR OF ‘THE SHIELD?’”

Shawn Ryan: Listen, “The Shield” had 2-3 million really hardcore followers and outside that “The Shield” doesn’t mean anything to anyone. It just doesn’t. So no. I think I put much more pressure on myself than I’ve ever felt anyone else put on me.

I’m a perfectionist. I want the stuff to be great. I don’t ever want to be embarrassed with something with my name on it. So there’s no external pressure that can be put on me that is greater than what I put on myself. So I’m aware at the beloved nature that “The Shield” holds with a lot of people and amongst a lot of TV critics and know that it’s going to be hard to ever eclipse that, and yet I could crawl under a rock and never try or I could keep trying. I’m going to keep trying.

CraveOnline: It’s also that every single episode of “The Shield” held up.

Shawn Ryan: Thank you. There’s one that doesn’t for me, but I appreciate that.

CraveOnline: Which one is that?

Shawn Ryan: There’s one in the first season where I felt we were still finding our way, and it’s as I like to call the appropriate titled “Throw Away.”

CraveOnline: Was that the flashback episode?

Shawn Ryan: No, I actually defend the flashback although it’s a controversial episode. It was an episode, I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but it’s not up to the high standards for a variety of reasons. There were some script issues, we hadn’t yet developed a language to educate the directors on what we were after. The show hadn’t hit the air yet.

We didn’t really have episodes to show the director. The actors were still figuring things out. There were script issues. We covered it up and polished it up as best we could, but for me, once again, I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere if you’re not a tougher critic on your own stuff than other people are. So that’s just me and my attitude.

There were varying degree of episodes, but we never wanted an episode to feel like a filler or a stepping stone to something coming later. We wanted every episode to be enjoyable to work on, so I’m glad you think that way. I’d have to go back and watch them all to see if I still think they hold up but we worked hard to strive for that. I don’t mean to single anyone out. It’s not the director’s fault. It’s the whole process and listen, I may be being harsh.


CraveOnline: Creatively, how excited are you to have a special effects element to “Last Resort?”

Shawn Ryan: It’s pretty great and Fuse is the company, Dave Altenau, he had done special effects on “The Unit” but we didn’t have as much call for them on that show as we do here. One of the great things about Sony, our studio, was they allowed us to get an early start even before the pilot was picked up. They really believed in it and they allowed us to hire this special effects company way back in December so while most pilots were doing their special effects in February, we were already doing ours in December and it made a big difference.

So right now what we’re doing is we’re getting scripts in really early… Because like anything, the more time these craftsmen have to do what you ask them to do, the better the job. I thought the special effects in the pilot were pretty spectacular for nothing that had to do with me. It had to do with this company and having a vision and having the time to do it.

The stress in the series will be to maintain that and with air dates, there are a couple sort of hard ones where there’ll be a couple episodes where we probably don’t do too many special effects because of the time from the end of filming to when it airs won’t allow us to do a good job. So we’ll just craft the stories to be less special effects dependent in those episodes while hitting them harder in others.

CraveOnline: How much research could you do on classified military procedure?

Shawn Ryan: Well, Karl read all sorts of submarine books as a kid so he has a lot of it. I rely on him more than he relies on me for that kind of stuff. Then you talk to your submarine people. What’s great is you’ll be asking questions, you’ll ask them questions and then you’ll ask, “What’s the maximum depth the boat can go without crushing itself?” “Well, that’s classified, I can’t tell you.”

So what’s great is you get all these answers from your experts and then, “No, I can’t tell you that.” They still won’t tell us what the depth is that a sub crushes. Wikipedia will give you… I’ve watched every submarine movie imaginable in the past six months. I’ve had the DVD for Das Boot for years and I hadn’t watched it. It’s pretty spectacular.

CraveOnline: Which version did you watch?

Shawn Ryan: I watched the four and a half hour [version] for American TV so I guess there’s a slightly longer version. This was three and a half or four, I forget how long. It goes on a while and you’re in that little boat. I remember thinking, because I always used to talk on “The Shield” about the idea of perspective.

If you spend enough time with Vic Mackey, you find yourself rooting for him even when he’s doing something bad. I found myself in Das Boot rooting for them to sink this American boat and I had to stop and go whoa, wait a second. I am rooting for the Nazis to sink this American boat. That’s crazy but it’s a real testament to that movie that they make you feel like that, they make you care about that crew that much.

CraveOnline: What was the most obscure submarine movie you watched?

Shawn Ryan: I wouldn’t say it’s obscure. This is just embarrassing in terms of my own lack of knowledge going in. I wasn’t aware of On the Beach, and I’m friends with Daniel Voll, a writer on “The Unit” with me and we actually grew up in the same hometown. He’s married to Gregory Peck’s daughter Cecilia and he was the one that said as I was doing this, “Have you seen On the Beach? Have you seen Gregory’s film On the Beach?”

Man, that’s a depressing film. Jesus. I didn’t know what to expect going in and it just started bad and got worse and worse and worse, but it’s pretty great. So we watched the classics, Crimson Tide, Hunt for Red October, Das Boot. Those are the sort of holy trio.

CraveOnline: Run Silent Run Deep?

Shawn Ryan: I haven’t seen that one. I need to watch that one.