While one of TNT's female crime-busters is winding down, two others are revving back up.
On Monday, July 11, "The Closer" and "Rizzoli & Isles" both start new seasons, but at different ends of their respective runs. An Emmy winner last year for her title performance, Kyra Sedgwick is beginning her seventh and final season as police-case "Closer" Brenda Leigh Johnson, while Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander are launching their second round as police detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles.
Many of the other "Closer" characters will continue in the TNT spinoff series "Major Crimes" next year, but Brenda is not going gently into that good night. She has to revisit her past, and in essence her entire arc on the show, when she's named in a civil suit against the Los Angeles Police Department. That makes her the focus of an internal investigation by Capt. Sharon Raydor, played again by Mary McDonnell (who will be a cast regular in "Major Crimes").
Sedgwick made the decision to leave "The Closer," and she reasons that even if the suit should end Brenda's career with the LAPD, "she feels she did the right thing, and I don't think many audience members will feel otherwise."
The outcome has been planned by "Closer" creator and executive producer James Duff for a long time, Sedgwick adds. "He said he knew from the time he wrote the first script how the story would end, even before he was sure he'd be able to end it the way he wanted to," she says. "And I think it's wonderful that he's getting to do it the right way."
So is Sedgwick, alias Mrs. Kevin Bacon, since she's pleased to give Brenda a completely fresh chapter as she makes her exit. "We're always looking for new obstacles for her," she confirms, "and this is a really great, big one. As the season goes on, the pressure just mounts and mounts until it becomes untenable. She loses it a few times, and that's really fun to play."
In the tradition of TNT dividing the seasons of many of its shows, "The Closer" will offer 10 new stories this summer and another five later in the year, then wrap up with six final episodes next summer that will lead directly into "Major Crimes." Knowing that her "Closer" co-stars still will have jobs after she leaves "eases my mind greatly," Sedgwick says. "For sure."
Being succeeded by "Dances With Wolves" alum McDonnell in the spinoff also makes Sedgwick content to depart. "She's a great actress, she's got a lot of power behind her, and she's a lovely person. The guys love her, and I feel good passing the mantle to someone who's gonna take good care of my boys." In the meantime, Sedgwick and McDonnell will share significant screen time as "The Closer" closes.
Harmon and Alexander surely will do the same as "Rizzoli & Isles" enters its sophomore season, which picks up after Rizzoli was shot during a crisis at her Boston police precinct. She gets a medal and something else: the returns of both an ex-beau (Chris Vance) and her newly paroled older brother (Colin Egglesfield). Maura also sees the reappearance of a family member, her adoptive mother (veteran actress Jacqueline Bisset, whose guest run starts Aug. 1).
"There's such a voraciousness to Jane, I think she's just more comfy about it now," Harmon says of the tough-minded Rizzoli. "Before, it was like she didn't know how much strength she really had or who she really was. After something like (the shooting), you pretty much draw your line in the sand on what you're going to take and not going to take. As an actor, it's such fun to have a heroic moment like that and have people come running up to you in airports and say, 'Are you alive?' "
Alexander says year two of "Rizzoli & Isles" starts out strong. "I feel the writing has taken an interesting direction, really using the core characters," she says. "There's a lot of stuff happening between them, and that's what's really driving the story lines. Second to that, obviously, is the crime they're working on that week. It doesn't fall into any of those 'procedural traps,' as I call them, where we as actors feel like we have to go to the same place every week."
Also lined up for a "Rizzoli & Isles" guest stint is Bill O'Reilly, a Harmon friend and -- of course -- the host of Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor." Harmon reports,"He's been in to visit before, and I've been on his show, and my husband (former New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn) has, too. I love talking to him politically, just picking his brain on what he thinks and who he likes."
O'Reilly's turn comes toward the end of the "Rizzoli & Isles" season, but Alexander already has had her experience playing daughter to Bisset. "I was really excited to not only meet her, but to work with her," says Alexander ...who is the daughter-in-law of another international movie star, Sophia Loren.
"(Bisset) is such a beautiful woman, and she is so much Maura's mother. She plays the character sophisticated, cultured, mannered and very worldly. I love that (executive producer) Janet Tamaro writes about the relationships we have with our families and how they affect our lives."