Exclusive Interview: Shawn Ryan on THE SHIELD and LIE TO ME

     November 16, 2009


If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Shield, The Unit, or Lie to Me, you’ve enjoyed the work of Shawn Ryan.  That’s because he created The Shield and The Unit, and he’s currently the showrunner on Lie to Me.  As you can see by his resume, the guy knows how to make shows people like.  So with The Shield getting a new DVD box set that includes all the episodes ever produced, I recently spoke with Ryan about his work on the show.  Of course we also talked about Lie to Me and the pilot script he’s currently writing called Ride Along.  If you were a fan of The Shield, or just curious what’s up with Lie to Me, you’ll really enjoy our conversation.  You can either read or listen to it after the jump:

As always, the transcript of our conversation is below, or you can listen to the audio by clicking hereThe Shield: The Complete Box Set is currently available wherever DVDs are sold.

Shawn_Ryan_image (1).jpgCollider: So what’s this day been like for you?

Shawn Ryan: Today?


Ryan: Well, I came in and had to go to the editing room on Lie To Me and was in the writers room trying to find out some script things there and now you’re the 3rd call I’m doing to pump The Shield DVD, and I’ve got more ahead of me.

I understand.

Ryan: So, you know, it’s a great job. I can’t complain at all. I get to do something that’s pretty fun and get to make shows that millions of people watch. I’ve got no complaints at all.

You look over your IMDb profile and you’ve been pretty much non-stop for almost a decade.

Ryan: Yes. I mean it’s actually been longer than that. I got a staff job on Nash Bridges in May of ’97 and I haven’t been unemployed since then.

Yeah, it’s a tough life.

Ryan: So, well you know listen, you can’t complain in these economic times that you have a job.

No, no totally. Believe me, I’m teasing.

Ryan: I know but at the same time part of me goes well geez it would be nice to take like 3 months off at some point. I was on-strike for awhile, maybe that counts. But even then I was on the negotiating committee and I had all these responsibilities, so.

Well, jumping into…yeah I can only imagine. I have some friends who are writers and being on-strike is not all easy going.

The Shield TV Show image Michael Chiklis (1).jpg

Ryan: No, it’s more stressful than having a job.

I’m a big fan of Lie To Me, and I’m definitely going to ask you about that, but jumping into The Shield when you look back at the show, do you feel that…I mean do you have any sort of regrets of things that you weren’t able to accomplish or are you sort of looking back and everything is…you’re walking away completely satisfied?

Ryan: I look at it like you look at the wife you really love. Maybe she’s not perfect but she’s the best you could hope for, you know? I made some mistakes on the show and there are things I would go back and change, but I know that nothing was due to lack of effort. That we did everything we could in the time we had with the budget we had and both time and budget were short on that show. And I’m really proud of it. If anything, my fear is I’ll never be able to do anything as good as it.

I asked the people who follow me on Twitter for some questions and one of the questions that came up from a few people was do you think that a Shield movie would ever happen or will ever happen?

Ryan: Well, I can’t say it will ever happen. It’s something that occasionally some people talk about. It would have to be done, I think, in a very specific measured way. The show was never popular enough to justify making a real big budget movie out of I don’t think. But there’s certainly is interest in the world and in the character and it’s something that Michael Chiklis and I talk about occasionally, so I don’t want to say never and then something happens. But I also don’t want to raise people’s hopes. It’s something that’s within the realm of possibility but I don’t think I see happening in the near term.

Have you ever met any police officers along the way maybe getting pulled over for a speeding ticket-whatever-find out that you’re the guy behind The Shield and interesting things might come up?

Ryan: I wish that happened when I was pulled over. (laughter) The last time I was pulled over and given a ticket, I have a Shield badge on my keychain and I was hoping he would see it. He either didn’t or he didn’t care. I still got my ticket. I did have a director of ours though, by the name of Felix DelCara, who was driving I think he said through like Alabama and got pulled over and he was wearing a Shield hat and they guy was like “oh The Shield. I love that show.” And Felix was like “Oh yeah I directed on that.” And the guy let him go, so I know it’s possible. I just haven’t benefited from it yet. And when you’re a behind the scenes guy like me I think it’s less likely to happen. I think it’s more likely that an actor on the show might get recognized and get some favorable treatment.

Well, have you ever specifically talked to police officers, not related to the show, and gotten any sort of honest feedback?


Ryan: Oh yeah. I just last month spent a couple nights in Chicago riding around with some Chicago homicide detectives because I’m researching a new show. And I knew them because a couple of them were big Shield fans and one of them had won an auction thing and was out here and got to visit the set. That’s how I got to know him. And, you know, they tend to love the show. They will tell you which aspects are a little unrealistic in terms of well, that used to do it for dramatic purposes, you know accelerate this and they’re like where’s all the paperwork that we have to fill out! But they all gave it very favorable grades. And I think they really liked the interactions between the people-you know these guys are good cops not law breaking cops. So it’s a little bit different from their lives in that way too. But they really dug it. I was driving around with them and they were like oh there’s this one guy he’s even a bigger Shield fan than me-just totally nuts. And they brought me by to say hi to him as a surprise. They didn’t tell him I was coming and he totally freaked out. He was just talking how into the show he was and how he’s into Chiklis and everything. I was like “oh let me get him on the phone” and I call up Chiklis on my cell phone and put him on the phone with him. And it just made this cop’s day. So, I’m sure that there are cops who don’t like the show, but I don’t hear from them.

Okay, since I know I have limited time I want to ask you how Lie To Me is going and I know you recently got an order for 3 additional scripts.

Ryan: Yeah, I don’t think that means much. I think that’s just a step that they have to take to be ready. We’ve only had 4 episodes air. We have a 5th one airing tonight and my guess is they’re going to want to see 6, 7, 8 episodes air and see how it’s doing and see the trend line before they make a decision on the show’s future.

Where are you in the production schedule, like what episode are you up to?

Ryan: We’re filming episode 9, probably episode 10. We had an initial 13 episode order. We’re finishing up the scripts for 11, 12 and 13 right now and we just got this order last week for 3 more scripts, so we’re starting to think about what those episodes are going to be. And so there will be time. If they decide to pick us up, we’ll be ready to continue filming and we’ll be ready to do what we need to do.

I’m going to come back to this but I want to ask you, you said you went to Chicago to research another show?

Ryan: Yes.


Can you talk about what show you’re working on?

Ryan: Yeah, I sold a pilot idea to Fox that’s a Chicago cop series. I’m from Illinois originally and spent a lot of time in Chicago and don’t want to say too much about the specifics but it’s a Chicago cop series.

And it’s going to be on, you said Fox. So that means…

Ryan: Well, if they decide to make it and put it on the air, yeah. Right now their commitment is just to a script and I’m working on the script and they’ll decide probably in December or January whether to make it.

Oh I get it, so this is a pilot for next season? Could be a pilot.

Ryan: Could essentially be a pilot for next. Right now it’s a script to be considered to be made a pilot for next season, yeah.

Do you have a title for the show?

Ryan: Ride Along.

There we go. Jumping back into Lie To Me if you don’t mind, where exactly…do you like mine the newspapers for ideas? Where do you pull…I’m just curious about where you might grab some of the characters or ideas for the future?

Ryan: Occasionally we’ll take things or worlds or situations that we read about and use them. The danger in doing that is that there are a bunch of other shows that are reading the same headlines as you. So I either try to look for more obscure headlines or more likely what I prefer is just to challenge my writers imaginations. That really worked for us well on The Shield because then I think you’re more likely not to have stories too similar to what other shows are doing. But we also approach it from a character point of view so a lot of times we’ll just say we want to do an episode where Lightman gets in real deep with Reynolds. What’s a story that would allow us to do that? And let’s come up with something that would allow us to do it, so it’s not easy and it only takes an hour to watch these episodes but it takes weeks and months of talking to figure out what should be in those episodes.


Tonight’s episode seems like it’s a very fun one with like the Mafia and him having to go underground like that. Could you talk about…are there future episodes that are sort of like in that…maybe it’s not a fun episode. I could be wrong. I haven’t seen it.

Ryan: I think it’s a fun episode, but it’s a serious episode too. I think this is probably Tim Roth’s favorite episode of the season. He really loved the script. He had a blast making it. He really liked the story and the story really is that one of Whiteman’s best friends from 20 years ago comes in and you learn that Lightman and this guy as played by Lenny James, that they had a very mischievous and criminal background when they were young. And Lightman has obviously gone one direction in his later years and this guy has stayed on that track. And yet there’s this real friendship and depth that exists between them that Lightman can’t turn his back on and Lightman gets sucked into a situation that’s not entirely good. So that’s the episode. We all think it’s really great. Tim really loves it. But we’re always looking for stories that are personal to our characters in some way to reveal theirs. We just turned in an episode that I think is the network’s favorite one so far this year, where Lightman and Reynolds…where Reynolds becomes the subject of an investigation that Lightman has to do and what’s Reynolds big secret and what’s he hiding? And what’s the thing in his past that’s causing danger in the present for some people? And that episode turned out pretty spectacularly.

And I want to ask you about Twitter. You’re on it. What’s been your…are you enjoying it? Could you talk a little bit about your interaction with it?

Ryan: Yeah, I think I enjoy reading it more than writing it. When you’re a professional writer there’s kind of an obligation to be entertaining on Twitter, and so I think about what I want to write and sometimes I try to entertain. Sometimes I just want to give people an insight into what this job is like and the challenges we face. And other times I’m just aware of things going on in the industry and I can talk about those as well.  But it’s a way to talk directly to the fans and to remind people that for instance tonight we’ve got an episode on. So go ahead and watch and it’s also little small sample size. People write back afterwards about what they think about the episodes and everything. So I enjoy it. I’ve only been doing it for a few months. Will I, you know, a year from now will I be doing it this much? We’ll see. But right now I really like it.

I was going to say, do you have a program that allows you to see what people are sending you and do you try to respond to a lot of them?


Ryan: I don’t really have a lot of time to respond to all of them, but I can check out, you know, the people who write @shawnryantv. I see what those comments are.

And jumping back into The Shield, am I wrong about this? Is it available on Blu-ray?

Ryan: It’s not and right now there are no plans to. We filmed in a very basic Super-16 film, and I don’t understand all the technologies and all the techno-speak but my understanding is that right now it’s not an ideal candidate to be put on Blu-ray because of the quality of the film. I think they don’t feel there’d be enough distinction between the shitty grainy look that was intentional of the show that you achieve just through basic DVD. At least that’s how it’s been explained to me, so for the moment anyways it’s not available on Blu-ray.

I’ve heard this from other show people-from show runners-who has said that not everything is an ideal candidate for Blu-ray and it depends on the way it was shot as to whether or not…

Ryan: You have to understand it’s not my area of expertise. I’m not into film stock and all that kind of stuff, but I was just told that, you know, that they think the highest quality, for now anyways, they can achieve is just a pure DVD and they wouldn’t be giving any added value by putting it on Blu-ray.

Cool. Well, I want to thank you so much for giving me your time today and I really hope that Lie To Me gets picked up.

Ryan: Oh me, too. I really appreciate it. Keep watching!