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'Chicago Code' Creator Shawn Ryan Talks About the Show's Demise, the State of TV and What's Next

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 13th 2011 12:45PM
On Thursday, Ryan McGee and I recorded a special edition of the Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast. For the second time, we transformed it into Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan and Ryan -- our special guest was Shawn Ryan, whose Fox show, 'The Chicago Code,' was canceled earlier in the week.

We talked to Ryan for well over an hour, about a variety of topics -- everything from 'Code' to the "tabloidization" of television to 'Game of Thrones' to the chances of a 'Terriers' DVD coming out later this year. I've provided a road map of our conversation below.

"One think that [Fox entertainment president] Kevin [Reilly] said, and I think it's accurate -- he said, 'For some reason, the show just didn't, from the beginning, just generate any kind of controversy or must-see appeal," Ryan noted near the start of our conversation. "It just never became a newsworthy kind of show."

Does a show need tabloid appeal to break through the clutter? Does it need a simple concept that people can immediately identify and hook into (zombies! vampires! zombie vampires!)? Did 'The Chicago Code' do a good enough job of showing people early on that it wasn't "just another cop show"? These are among the topics we discussed with Ryan. (A description of the conversation, with running-time guideposts, is below.)

I should also note that Ryan did not sound downbeat during the chat. Clearly he would have liked for 'Code' to get another chance, but he noted, "In the grand scale of pitfalls in life, this is not that huge a one. I'm very aware of what the country is going through and how lucky I am in my life that I get to do what I do. ...I don't feel bad for myself. I feel bad for the cast members, because I think this business eats up actors quicker than it eats up writers. ...I feel bad for the crew members in Chicago."

We began the podcast discussion by talking about 'The Chicago Code's' ratings and how they weren't quite in line with Fox's hopes and expectations. Also, the show's demographics skewed a little older than the network had wanted. Given that the ratings were never as strong as the network had wanted, Ryan said he wasn't "shocked" by the cancellation. "If [Fox] had more space," the network might have brought the show back, Ryan said.

About 9 minutes in: Was 'The Chicago Code' too serialized? Not serialized enough? "I'd like to think it wasn't too complex," said Ryan, who cited successful shows such as 'Hill Street Blues' and 'NYPD Blue,' which had semi-serialized elements. "But maybe you just go all in," he said, when it comes to a show's mythology, so it can be the program that viewers had to see so they could "talk about it tomorrow" with their friends.

About 16 minutes in: Is it possible for a serialized network show, a la 'Lost,' to succeed in this day and age? Have reality shows replaced scripted shows as must-see, watercooler TV? "Mass audiences do show up for 'American Idol,' they do show up for 'Dancing with the Stars,' they do show up now for 'The Voice.' There seems to be a preference, which I hope is temporary, for that kind of stuff," Ryan said.

About 22 minutes in: How television is following the template the film industry has been following in the last several years. "There's a desire -- I don't mean this in a bad way -- for a simplicity of concept," Ryan said.

About 24 minutes in: No spoilers, but Ryan talks about whether fans will feel satisfied by the last two episodes of 'The Chicago Code.' He then talks about his new overall deal at Sony's TV studio, which will have him developing new shows and working with a variety of writers to develop projects. He says he enjoyed his time working for the 20th Century Fox TV studio, but he said the fact that he had to offer his projects to Fox first made things more "difficult," given that the network, which programs fewer hours per week, has a "shelf space" issue.

About 30 minutes in: Ryan says he's done with cop shows, at least for a while. We also talked about the process of creating and running a new TV show, and what it's like to work on a show with serialized and semi-serialized elements, and how that's harder than creating a program with somewhat interchangeable standalone episodes.

About 44 minutes in: He wants TV fans and 'Chicago Code' to know two things: First, he understands and respects the anger they feel about the show being canceled. But he hopes that people who are curious about a particular program don't sit on the sidelines to see if it will succeed: "People do feel gun-shy and they're not committing right away... and that prevents the shows from succeeding. What I would say is, just accept that some shows are going to get yanked from you prematurely. But don't be afraid of investing in these shows early."

About 55 minutes in: How do shows get the kind of buzz that reality shows have these days? "I think you need to nail not just the execution [of a show] but the concept. And that's tough to do because we live in cynical times where people feel like they've heard and seen everything."

About 57 minutes in: Is a 'Terriers' DVD set coming out this year? Does Ryan have any new Twitter wars planned? This section segues into a discussion of 'Game of Thrones.' [Apologies: Ryan's audio began to break up a bit during this section, though the audio improves within a few minutes.]

About 1 hour, 9 minutes in: We revisit a couple of Ryan's TV-industry pet peeves, which he discussed last time he guested on the podcast.

You can subscribe to the Talking TV podcast on iTunes. This week's podcast is also available here, as are full archives of every 'Talking TV' podcast. The entire 'Talking TV' archives are also available on iTunes as well. Our RSS feed is here.

The photo above is of actor/director Adam Arkin, Shawn Ryan and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on the set of 'The Chicago Code.'

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Unbelievable, the best show on TV and its cancelled. I look forward to each episode more than any other, even more than Closer, Bones, CSI, Mentalist and my other cancelled favorite Lie to Me. Guess I'm in the out of touch "older" demographic. What a shame.

June 24 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a shame... I guess Fox is just stupid.
How they can justify keeping Bob's Burgers or The Cleveland Show while cancelling Chicago Code is beyond me.

May 28 2011 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The chicago code was a great show, the problem was it never should have been put on fox. It is a shame it did because so many of us are again disappointed. They are showing the reruns over the summer but during the summer alot of people are going on vacations or involved in other activities and others don't want to see reruns so soon, so again it is set up to fail. The chicago code should have started in fall and started on another station that offers programs to both younger and older viewers. Stations need variety to get a wider audience but fox just disappoints those that don't fit into their targeted group. I'll get the dvd's when they come out and save them for the days when nothing worth watching is on.

May 25 2011 at 10:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I cannot believe The Chicago Code was cancelled. It is one of the better shows on tv. The cast the writing it is all very
good. I would like tofind out what the last scene with Teresa at aHotel Bar saying shewas in town for a convention and she will be going back to Denver.Whats with that ? We need another season.

May 25 2011 at 10:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Chicago Code is great!!! Just needed a different time slot. It was put up against Hawaii 5-0
and Event. Please try one more season.

May 24 2011 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jacquelyn's comment

Hawaii 5-0 came on at 10, Code was at 9...

May 28 2011 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cesar from Vegas
I for one do not watch any cop shows because I like Sy-Fy, until The Chicage Code that was. This show is simply amazing with great writing, great acting, great production value(for someone who has never been to Chi town) and anything else you want to point out. Absolutely no doubt that the show would have kept on picking viewers because of the pacing, not too fast, not too slow. Just perfectly laid nuggets every episode, a little more today, a little bit less the next one. It goes to show that ratings do not reflect the quality or the impact of a show on its viewership, but it iappears to be the only tool used by the tools making decisions on its future. Can't wait for another network to pick it up. Hurry up somebody, before its too late!!

May 24 2011 at 4:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They should not cancel Chicago code. It isn't the viewers its just that there are too many shows on tv. It seems all the good shows are getting canceled. Why keep bob's burgers, and Terra Nova looks weak. I wonder do they count all the people that watch the show on dvr or on hulu, because I always watch on hulu.

May 23 2011 at 4:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to t3's comment

I agree, why the hell is Bob's Burgers still on television?

May 28 2011 at 7:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


May 23 2011 at 9:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Frederique Rickenbac

I simply can't understand how a very good show as Chicago Code did not make the cut. If this is, and I am sure it is, an indication of what the majority of americans watch on tv, then I have to wonder about their intelligence. There are so many reality shows it is ridiculous and as far as I am concerned they are junk. My husband and I had come to enjoy several shows that were not on any time at all, before they were axed....this show was one of our favorites.

May 22 2011 at 12:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fox doesn't know it's @ss from its elbow. The Chicago code is the 1st show in a while that had me watching ANYTHING on fox. I will just go back to only watching CBS....

Someother network needs to pick this up, it's a hit in the making

May 21 2011 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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