MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
The Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes Division is the setting for one of cable TV's top rated shows. For five years, "The Closer" has been Brenda Leigh Johnson. She's the division head, a dainty Southerner who closes nearly every case.
Johnson drips honey or venom, as an interrogation warrants.
Ms. KYRA SEDGWICK (Actress): (as Brenda Leigh Johnson): Now, you can continue to lie about what happened between you and Catherine Landis(ph) and Ill have you prosecuted for selling children. Or you can be a cooperating witness and tell me why Catherine Landis really came to see you.
KELLY: "The Closer's" sixth season begins tonight and NPR's Neda Ulaby visited the show's brand new set.
NEDA ULABY: "The Closer's" cast and production team are hard at work in their new homicide HQ, with murder boards and evidence files scattered across desks. Everything looks really clean and freshly purchased.
Mr. ANDY SACKS (Producer): The LAPD in reality moved to a brand new building, so thats why we wanted to mirror that.
ULABY: Producer Andy Sacks admits not many people know what the inside of the LAPD Homicide Unit actually looks like. But a new set is like a facelift for an aging show, says actor John Tenny.
Mr. JOHN TENNY (Actor): You know, it's not the rundown, beat-up set that we had before. In the first episode of this season it becomes a character.
ULABY: A character that gives nothing but trouble.
Ms. SEDGWICK: (as Brenda Leigh Johnson): Look, this place may be state of the art but it wasnt designed by anyone who understands interrogation. Im the resident expert here on making people talk.
Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Dont see much proof of that lately.
Ms. SEDGWICK: (as Brenda Leigh Johnson): That is completely unfair...
ULABY: The tightly wound deputy chief, Brenda Leigh Johnson, is played by 44-year-old Kyra Sedgwick, now also "The Closer's" executive producer.
Ms. SEDGWICK: It means I get to be more controlling and not have to apologize for it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SEDGWICK: Which is kind of great because that's Brenda, I mean, she's got a lot of power but she doesn't apologize for it. And I think as women, you know, sometimes we apologize for our power.
Mr. JAMES DUFF (Show Creator, "The Closer"): Here's something that drives me crazy...
ULABY: Creator James Duff is also interested in gendered power dynamics.
Mr. DUFF: I play cards with women often and especially like, with my mother. And they win, they apologize to me. It's like, oh, I'm sorry. As if they shouldn't be happy that they beat the crap out of me.
ULABY: Brenda rarely apologizes. When she does it's strategic.
Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) I think an apology might be in order.
Ms. SEDGWICK: (as Brenda Leigh Johnson) I am sorry.
ULABY: She manipulates assumptions about her fluffy blonde Southern Belle affect.
Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) I can bet you're...
Ms. SEDGWICK: (as Brenda Leigh Johnson) Mr. Andrews, I am sick. You listen to me and right this second, because we are trying to figure out how your second wife ended up at the bottom of the harbor with your daughter tied to her waist. And it is your duty to help us.
ULABY: TV critic Eric Deggans is a fan of "The Closer" and the wave of strong dramas starring women over 35 that followed its success.
Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (TV Critic): You know, Jada Pinkett Smith has a series and Holly Hunter has a series, and Laura Linney, and Toni Collette. We've had a lot of great series follow from that.
ULABY: For her part, Kyra Sedgwick credits the show "Prime Suspect" and even the campy 1970s drama "Police Woman" for paving the way for "The Closer."
She also credits her husband of over two decades, actor Kevin Bacon, for persuading her to take it.
Ms. SEDGWICK: You know, I said to Kev, you know, I really like it but I can't do it. And he said why can't you do it? And I said, well, because of the kids and it's just not going to work out. He said, well, I think you should do it and Ill be home with the kids. And not only do I think you can do it, but I think you should do it.
ULABY: Paying attention to the nuances of families may be the secret to "The Closer's" success. Show creator James Duff started by writing plays about families, some of which made it to Broadway.
Mr. DUFF: If you write family drama long enough, you will eventually be drawn, inexorably, towards murder. I think you can look over many Thanksgiving dinners, and afterwards you will be viewing a crime scene, even if no one's died.
ULABY: Maybe family dramas are a logical first step, says Duff, to a cable TV police show where a woman has the last word.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
KELLY: All right. If you're hooked and you'd like a sneak peek of the new season of "The Closer," we've got a few scenes for you at NPR.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And Im Renee Montagne.