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The Chicago Code – Executive Produce Shawn Ryan on the intersection of politics and its citizenry

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The Chicago Code - Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Jennifer Beals and Shawn Ryan
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn visits the set on Thursday, September 16 in Chicago. Also pictured: Jennifer Beals and Executive Producer Shawn Ryan © 2010 Fox Broadcasting

Executive Producer/writer Shaun Ryan has enjoyed a successful career in television working on such shows as Nash Bridges,
Angel, Lie to Me and Terriers. He created and executive produced the critically acclaimed series The Shield, accepting a Golden Globe and Peabody Award for it.

His new show for Fox is The Chicago Code which centers on Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke), a local legend and veteran of the Chicago Police Department, and his relationship with his ex-partner Teresa Colvin (Jennifer Beals), who is now the city’s first female superintendent.

Both fight crime and corruption on the Chicago streets, and they will stop at nothing to bring down their powerful adversaries, including Alderman Ronin (Delroy Lindo), a building-magnate-turned-politician who has ruled his district for over two decades.

Can you talk about genesis of the show? What was the original concept, and how did it grow and develop?

The Chicago Code - Jason Clarke
Chicago Detective Jarek Wysocki (Jason Clarke) takes on crime and corruption in the new fast-paced drama © 2011 Fox Broadcasting

The original concept was to try to do a police show in Chicago that kind of made the viewer feel as if they were in the police car with the cops. And it evolved greatly over time. It became a show that I realized I wanted to be about a lot more than just police officers.

So police officers are who we use to look at the city and look at the intersection of politics and its citizenry. It became much more than I originally intended it.

This is a real turnaround – in The Shield the cops were solving the crimes and the people at the top in the police force were getting in the way. Now you’ve got a really heroic police commissioner. Can you talk about that?

Yeah, I didn’t want to repeat myself on The Shield. This was a character that didn’t exist on that show. And I like the idea of approaching crime from the top. And I liked the idea of approaching it from the perspective of a female character.

There would obviously be some curiosity and resistance to a female superintendent being the boss of 10,000 cops. I liked the friction of that.

The title of the show changed, why was that?

The Chicago Code - Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Shawn Ryan and Jennifer Beals
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn with Executive Producer Shawn Ryan and Jennifer Beals © 2010 Fox Broadcasting

I did reexamine the title of Ride-Along. At the time the network was asking me, ‘Okay, we’re getting ready to go forward. Is this the title we want? Is there something else?’ I started to realize that this show had evolved into more than just being in cars with police officers.

It has really come to represent a city, to represent a code not only amongst police officers, but a code between people and their politicians, that trust, that mistrust. And so it did lead to the title change, which I’m ultimately very happy with.

You’re portraying Chicago as a great city on the one hand, and yet still kind of rife with that old-school corruption. How far do you want to go with that?

I think the thrust is that there are pockets of corruption that exist that are firmly entrenched within the city, that are historically based and continue on. And you only need to look at the front pages of the various Chicago newspapers to know that that does continue. And yet I consider it one of the great cities in the world.

So I viewed this 12-episode season as a storyline that deals with this. Maybe if we are lucky enough to get a Season Two, we can change directions just slightly and do something a little bit different. We’ll have to see. But I don’t think you can do a show about Chicago politics and how the police interact with them without acknowledging that this is an element that has existed and still does exist.

Can you talk about Delroy Lindo’s character?

The Chicago Code - Delroy Lindo
Alderman Ronin Gibbons (Delroy Lindo) © 2010 Fox Broadcasting

Delroy and I spoke a lot at the beginning of the process about really showing the fullness of this character, Alderman Ronin, not just some of the bad things he does, but as an alderman he is someone who cares about this community, cares about his constituents.

We delve into, in some of these episodes, the good side of him. We see all sides of him. The character grows fuller and richer and more complicated as the series goes on.

There is some very creatively euphemistic language in this. What kind of constraints are you under, or are you self-censoring?

It was an interesting dilemma, especially coming off The Shield, where we had a certain amount of freedom. But I understand the difference between cable and network, and we came up with a few colorful words. We couldn’t really use ‘jag-off,’ and we couldn’t use a**hole,’ but we found a way to use ‘jaghole,’ which sounds so much worse. So we did find creative ways!

Is it going to be hard for the audience to ignore that Jennifer Beals is hot?

(he laughs) Yes. It’s very, very difficult to de-hot Jennifer Beals. But if you know anything about Jennifer’s life story, you know what an accomplished, educated person she is in real life. She grew up in Chicago. She was raised there. She took herself to great heights academically and professionally.

So I have no problem at all thinking that she could be the Superintendent of Police of Chicago right now if she had decided that was the route she wanted to take.