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Where to Next? Southland Boss Chris Chulack Previews What's to Come

Southland Greg Williamson/TNT

It's our favorite cop show. It's coming back for a fourth season. It just survived a major downsizing.

So what does the future look like for Southland, TNT's verité gem of a cop show?

We just chatted up TV veteran Christopher Chulack about why the cast shrank so noticeably this season, and what's in store for Michael Cudlitz's beloved Officer John Cooper, now that he's been busted himself:

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Q&A with Southland Boss Christopher Chulack

Can you explain who came and who went this season, and why?
The departure of Kevin Alejandro, the Nate character, was a product of the transition from NBC to TNT—because TNT was gracious enough to give us a chance and pick us up, we did have to make some financial considerations because the license fees are smaller on cable.

So, the worlds of broadcast television and basic cable television are still different as far as production budges go?
Absolutely and hopefully that won't change. As far as I can tell, adult dramas are headed [to cable], so hopefully the financial paradigms will catch up to that. But [the move to TNT] hasn't seemed to hurt the show has it?

But there had to be some cutbacks from the NBC version of the show to the TNT version?
Yes, between the time NBC cancelled and TNT picked it up, we weren't sure what was going to happen and the actors were waiting around, they had a hold on their contracts but eventually they were going to have to go out and get work when the date came up that they were free to do it.

Kevin is a family man, he has children, and he's married and an opportunity came up for him to go to True Blood and to be a series regular there. He came to us and said, "What do you think?" We frankly didn't know what was going to happen with the show, and we felt that it would just be wrong to hold him not knowing what was going to happen. So we said, "Go ahead and take it." But we made a side deal to say if in fact we did get picked up, Kevin would commit to at least do four episodes on whatever the order pickup was.

So it worked out and Kevin loves the show, so when TNT picked us up he was committed to do four episodes so we had this story of his demise, which was based on a true story, a cannibalization of a true story that happened to an officer, years ago in the '90s.

So we just applied that to his character and we knew that it would be great story for Shawn Hatosy, his partner, and that was really cool because it would send his character off and we had a lot of story for this 10 episodes.

Southland, Arija Bareikis , Michael McGrady , Tom Everett Scott , Ben McKenzie , Regina King , Michael Cudlitz , Shawn Hatosy , Kevin Alejandro NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

And on a similar note, what's behind the departure of Tom Everett Scott's Russell and the addition of Josie Ochoa (Jenny Gago) as Lydia's (Regina King) partner?
Well, that goes back again to the financial considerations. We knew that we had to cut the episodes down to a place where we could make them because we had a budget. Unfortunately, we had to cut down what was eight series regulars down to four, Michael Cudlitz, Benjamin McKenzie, Regina King and Shawn Hatosy. Unfortunately we couldn't promise every episode to the other cast, but we love them all and we brought them back when we could and they were willing to come back.

I want to make that clear, these actors didn't have to do it, but they love the show so much and we're so grateful that they did come back as guest stars to continue to embody the characters that they had established early when they used to be series regulars. As tough as that was for them, they were gracious enough to come back.  So it felt like everybody was in it, so it didn't feel like we lost anybody. And that was an asset for us.

Tom Scott was part of that. He again came back and was going to do four episodes and that storyline was something we came up with, was powerful and really germane and fell right in line with what Regina's character, the Lydia character and the Russell character, who loved each other, had established, and the betrayal was the drama. And we came up with that story and that was the way we were able to let Tom exit. Whether he comes back or not, I don't know. He won't be coming back as an officer, because he was fired for his actions, but we love Tom Scott, and we think he is terrific, and we'd like to see him again.  If that could be worked in, I just don't know.

Will Josie be back as Lydia's partner?
I don't know. We just got picked up. The writers and myself will get in the room probably June or July and start pounding out the story, and we'll find out what everybody's feeling in terms of the writing staff and see where that takes us. I'm not trying to be secret—I just don't know what's going to happen. We left it up in the air where she walks away from her and says, "I don't know if we're going to be able to work together." So we'll see, we'll see.

Michael Cudlitz, Southland NBC Photo/Mitchell Haaseth

Do you have any sense of where John Cooper will be when we come back?
No sense at all. I think that the storyline for that character was effectively played out—it was very poignant and very complicated position for that character to be in. Because as much as he loved the job, to be in that pain and to be in that downward spiral—that was making him not a good cop. And I think at his core, John Cooper is one of the best cops out there. Personally, I'd like to see him come back fixed and unencumbered. I'm not saying that that's going to happen, that's just Chris Chulack's personal opinion. I really like his character, and it would be cool to see him in a different light and see where that takes us.

What was the story reason for moving Sammy out of the detective corps back to being a patrol officer?
I don't know that it was a story reason, I think that the show is about being on the streets. Certainly that one episode where he got back in uniform as they often do, that episode just lit up the screen in uniform and the black and white and in the street as a first responder, so I like that.

It wasn't a calculated thing. I think there was always this subtext of him and children and being on the gang unit and interacting with these very young gangmembers, and now that he's a father, I think it fell right in line for him to say he wanted to get back out on the street.

That great scene he had with Michael McGrady at the end of the last episode, he wants to teach the younger cops how to do it, to be out there and to maybe intervene that way and save cops.

So I think we're going to take him out, and he'll go back on patrol, he'll take a bit of a pay cut but he loves it—the character loves it—I'm not quite sure where that'll take us but I think it's just going to enhance the show. To me the guys in blue make the show sparkle to me. When they're out there, you see the city, and they are in these blue uniforms and to me, being a native myself, it's very familiar and I just think there's a lot of story to be told.

We've done a lot of gang stories with Nate and Sammy and maybe it's time to do something a little different. I think that'll always be integral to cops in Los Angeles because that's a lot of gangs on the streets. We'll never get totally away from it but maybe this'll broaden his horizon in terms of stories he gets told.

SOUTHLAND, Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz Doug Hyun/TNT

And Ben Sherman still has a lot of growing to do as well, right?
Yes, he is just a P2 and he's still not fully formed, but I think he'll be much more independent now that's he not a boot and he's not on probation.

Who's who behind the scenes at this point? What's the relationship between you, John Wells, Ann Biderman and everybody else?
It's funny, we've only done 23 episodes. We just completed our third season, so it's been protracted, but 23 episodes used to be just one year. The evolution of the show was that John Wells and I had worked on ER and other shows together, and ER was coming to a close. I had been wanting to do a police show about Los Angeles because it hadn't been done for years and years and years, and being a Los Angeles native I was interested in that.

I was talking to John one day, and he said, "I think that cop show that you've been talking about could sell. We should try to sell it. We just have to find a writer." So we found Ann Biderman, she was in New York, and we pitched it to her, pitched her the concept that I wanted it to feel like we were on a ridealong with these cops, and it was pulled from their point of view. She liked the idea. She flew out and met with me and John—and then the writers' strike happened. So she had a lot of time to sit around and do interviews, because she couldn't write and went on ridealongs and got her feet wet in the city of Los Angeles.

Then our writers' strike was over after four months and we got all this material and these stories and we just sat in a room for two weeks and wrote stuff on the board and said, "Let's take that, and let's take that, and that sound like a character" and we just build these characters, Lydia, Russell, John Cooper, blah blah blah.

Ann went and wrote a script, then NBC said, "OK." So now, Ann's doing other stuff. She left after we were canceled. John Wells is in the writer's room at the head of the table, he's pretty involved in the breaking [of stories]—he sits at one end of the table, I sit at the other, and we have four or five writers come and go and we break the stories and then we go shoot. 

With all of the changes, and so many closed storylines—Cooper in rehab, Sherman graduated—will we be looking at whole new series when we return?
I don't think it'll be a whole new show, I think it'll hopefully be the natural evolution and delving in deeper into the characters. The crimes are a backdrop, the show is really just the study of these men and women who work on a police force in a city that is so spread out and diverse. The policing is a little different than if you were a cop in New York or Chicago. The show is really about the human condition of these people who do this job. Sometimes it's a very dangerous job, and the show is about how it affects them as citizens, in their domestic and professional lives, and how they interact with their coworkers, how they interact with their families and their mates, and their spin on the world and how this job colors their worldview. That's, to me, the essence of the show.

I think that as we go on and they encounter new people and new partners and new interactions with the people on the force, that'll it just broaden the study of that and at it's core I think that's why fans like the show.

Southland is very real, it's not about who found the hair in the bed. There are procedural aspects to it, but it's not about that. 

What was your favorite part of season three? What do you want to see happen in season four? Hit the comments!

VIDEO: Ben McKenzie's big move up to The O.C. to Southland

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