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Causing ‘Damages’

12 Jan, 2010 By: John Latchem


From “The Sopranos” to “Battlestar Galactica,” and “24” to “Lost,” the past decade has seen cable television and DVD usher in a new paradigm in long-form programming.

One of the prime beneficiaries of the shift is the legal drama “Damages,” which has garnered critical acclaim and award recognition since its debut in 2007.

“Our desire was to capture a legal thriller show that didn’t have many scenes in a courtroom,” said co-creator Todd A. Kessler. “We wanted to explore character dimensions and aspects of the law that are rarely seen.”

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases Damages: The Complete Second Season Jan. 19 as a three-DVD set at $39.95.

With tightly written story arcs, a flash-forward narrative structure, and a cast led by Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, the series boasts production values more akin to a theatrical feature than a television series.

“Glenn Close first described it as a 13-hour movie,” said co-creator Daniel Zelman. “These types of shows are engaged in a different kind of storytelling.”

Zelman said the need for cable to differentiate itself from broadcast television has created a richer creative environment. Adopting a shorter run of 13 or so episodes per season, as opposed to the network standard of 22, facilitates serialized storytelling, Zelman said, as it helps the writers keep track of the story arcs and lets the audience keep up.

Zelman and Kessler agreed home video distribution methods such as DVD and electronic download have only made it easier to sell audiences on the notion of serialized television.

“I’m constantly approached by people who’ve watched the show in a weekend on DVD,” Zelman said. “It’s a totally different viewing experience. For our show DVD in many ways is the best way to watch it.”

“Damages” stars Close, who has collected consecutive Emmys for her work on the show as ruthless veteran litigator Patty Hewes, and Byrne as young attorney Ellen Parsons. The second season also features Tate Donovan, Ted Danson, William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden and Timothy Olyphant.

“The first season began with Patty deep in the Arthur Frobisher case,” Kessler said. “The second season starts with Patty just finishing that case, when Daniel Purcell (Hurt) steps into her life. She has a history with him, and we learn more about Patty’s personal life through her relationship with him.”

The case itself starts as a domestic murder mystery and leads into a vast government conspiracy. Meanwhile, Ellen continues her quest to bring down Patty by acting as an informant for the FBI.

Extras on the DVD include cast and crew commentaries on select episodes, deleted scenes, a recap of the first season, character profiles and a post-mortem of the second season by the creators.

Zelman said he’s most excited for audiences to check out the deleted scenes.

“We’d love to put them in the show, but we didn’t have the time and the story didn’t need them,” Zelman said. “They’re like big story fill-ins for die-hard fans of the show. Some of the extra scenes explain the origins of some of the stories.”

The creators also were glad to include commentaries from Byrne and Danson, who couldn’t participate in the extras of the first season due to scheduling issues.

The DVD release of the second season dovetails nicely with the premiere of the third season Jan. 25 on FX.

Zelman said the new season will focus on a storyline inspired by the recent financial crisis, as Patty works with a government trustee to recover money lost in a Ponzi scheme.

Guest stars include Lily Tomlin, Martin Short and Campbell Scott.

Zelman said the writers always think about the long-term possibilities of where the show could end up, but their focus is always on the current season.

“We always have end points for the season arcs where we want the story to begin and end,” Zelman said. “Half the story is told in flash-forward, but we leave ourselves room for improvisation.”

The creators express nothing but praise for the “Damages” cast and crew, saying it’s a tremendously rewarding experience to work with so many people who are “unbelievably good at their job.”

“It begins with Glenn Close,” Zelman said. “She’s an inspiration to everyone who works on the show. It’s gratifying to have an actress of her caliber saying the words you write.”

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