Tonight's "Lie To Me" episode not only features a compelling chance to see the self-assured Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) doubt himself when he wonders if a man executed for crimes committed earlier in Lightman's career is possibly innocent but also features a slew of guest stars from Shawn Ryan's landmark series "The Shield." David Marciano, Catherin Dent, Benito Martinez, Kenny Johnson, David Rees Snell and Cathy Cahlin Ryan all appear in various roles in tonight's episode, 'Pied Piper' but the episode also spends time focusing on the complicated relationship between Cal and his ex-wife, Zoe (Jennifer Beals) when the case crosses into personal territory.
Our Jim Halterman talked with Executive Producer Shawn Ryan on Friday about fleshing out Roth's character a bit more in this episode, the future of Beal's character since the actress is moving to Ryan's new midseason series "Ride-Along" and how he approaches developing a new series without looking too much into his successful television past.
Jim Halterman: What inspired the story that we see in the 'Pied Piper' episode?
Shawn Ryan: This was an idea that Sharon Lee Watson, who wrote the episode had. It's based loosely on a real-life case that I think still remains unsolved about somebody who was leaving these creepy messages with people saying 'I'm gonna get you! I'm gonna get you!' and then their child was abducted. She did a lot of research on this particular case and we sort of fictionalized it to make it work for our show. She wanted to do essentially a bit of a horror episode. What's really fun about a show like 'Lie To Me' is you can do many different episodes. You can do some comedic episodes, dramatic, family stuff, government conspiracy and she said we had not done a truly scary, creepy episode of the show so she set out to do an episode like that.
JH: Was it important to show Cal doubting himself in this episode when he's usually very sure of himself?
SR: Yeah. One of the things that Dr. Paul Ekman, whose science the show is based on and is a consultant on the show, he talks all the time about how his science is never a 100% science and you've got to take a lot of things into consideration. He's always very careful to say 'He's lying!' We certainly do that with Cal Lightman on the show but that was an important element that we wanted to deal with. Dr. Ekman also says all the time that his biggest fear that he's going to give a recommendation that someone is telling the truth or lying and it's going to lead to certain consequences and then he'll learn he made a mistake. That's something that terrifies him and it's not an exact science. That was something we wanted to get across in the episode.
JH: How do you balance out the many sides of Cal Lightman? You have one scene where he is berating suspects (Martinez and Dent) by tearing up their house and then there's another where he has this tender heart-to-heart with his daughter (Hayley McFarland).
SR: The audience forgives Cal Lightman for his idiosyncratic behavior because they know he's trying to get to an important truth so what is fun about his character is that he can make a complete ass of himself but because you understand his motivation you kind of forgive him in a way and the scene you're talking about is a perfect example. He is acting like an ass but it's because he thinks that something might be gained by doing it. When he learns 'Oh, this guy didn't react the way I thought' he'll apologize and move on and that's fun to write.
JH: You're taking Jennifer Beals to your new show 'Ride-Along'...
SR: I stole her away!
JH: Do you know how it's going to play out with her character on 'Lie To Me?'
SR: That's more a question for the new showrunners - Alex Cary and David Graziano - and I haven't asked them that specifically. They're more than capable in taking over the show and they did some great work last year. Cal and Zoe share a daughter, Emily, who is a very important part of the show and that way Jennifer's character really hovers over the show in spirit oftentimes. We're making 12 episodes of 'Ride-Along' in addition to the pilot and we'll be done in December. If 'Lie To Me' gets the back-nine and they want to use Jennifer, I'm sure they will. In the meantime you still have the daughter who can be used to channel things through.
JH: The scenes in the 'Pied Piper' where Cal goes into the mental ward made me laugh because he sometimes feels like he's really one step away from a mental ward!
SR: [Laughs.] That was something that I know Tim had a lot of fun playing. The idea of him manipulating this doctor to get him admitted so he could get access to the ex-girlfriend and find out what he needed to was fun. What was also fun for us was playing 'OK, we need the angry ex-wife to get him out' which is a fun dynamic. So much of Tim's performance in any given episode seems to be on the edge of insanity. 'Why didn't we think of getting him in the loony bin early?' we said. It seems so obvious!
JH: In creating a new series like 'Ride-Along' or even your Executive Producing duties at 'Terriers,' do you find yourself kind of looking over your shoulder at the past since 'The Shield?' is such an iconic show?
SR: It's something that's very much in my head. I'm always trying really hard - and sometimes I'm successful, sometimes I'm not - to be original. I tried very hard with 'The Shield' to feel different than any other cop show on the air and I was acutely aware that given the chance to make a different cop show it would be invariably compared to 'The Shield,' which is tough to live up to. I tried to write very different characters, ground it in a very different city - Chicago is very different than Los Angeles - and I talked to my director Charles McDougall about filming it in a completely different way from 'The Shield' and wanting it to feel different. I'm aware people will be scrutinizing the show and scrutinizing of how it doesn't live up to 'The Shield.' I probably won't be able to avoid them all but I'm willing to give it my best shot.
JH: You've been doing a little of both for awhile now but do you see a big difference in working for broadcast and cable networks?
SR: You know, I think it might get to me a little bit if all I did was one network but this past year I've been lucky enough to work on 'Lie to Me,' do 'Terriers' for FX and now to do 'Ride-Along' so the fact that I get to go back and forth...I actually like the restrictions on cable. There's nothing wrong with writing a Haiku and sticking to the number of syllables that they tell you to. I know what the network rules are, I know this is the best avenue to reach a mass audience and what's the best story I can tell within these guidelines. I have no problem with that all. I didn't have a problem with that on 'The Unit.' If all I did was [broadcast] network, yeah, but when I get to do a show like 'Terriers' and get to break the rules I get that out of my system. I cherish the challenges that working on the network brings.
JH: Why did you pick Chicago for 'Ride-Along?'
SR: I was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois and we used to travel into Chicago and I'm a big fan of the Chicago sports teams...except for the White Sox!
JH: Go Cubs!
SR: Yeah, I'm a Cubs fan! I was always intrigued by the politics and the original [Richard J.] Daly machine and the fact that the son [Richard M. Daly] has been in power there for a long time. I wanted to do a show that sort of mixed police and politics, which is sort of a challenge because we did some of that on 'The Shield' and a show like 'The Wire' did that very well with Baltimore. There's something I felt that the midwestern experience has been something that has been sorely underserved on network TV. There is something specific and unique about the Midwest and also in a place like Chicago. Most shows that take place in the Midwest don't embrace it. The only one I can think of that embraced it was 'Roseanne.' I am very fond of my upbringing there, the people and the values that they have -both good and bad. I think it's always better when you can be very specific about a place. I'm not always a fan of shows that could be placed anywhere and so just starting off with the celebration of the good and the bad about Chicago was what really intrigued me.
"Lie To Me" moves to its new time of Mondays at 9:00/8:00c tonight on FOX.