TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles — as in Jane and Maura, played by Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander — closed their final case together on Monday, before leaving the Boston PD behind to embark on new, separate adventures.
As the detective and M.E. went about divining who was behind the internal decapitation of an abusive husband, Kent surreptitiously recorded goodbyes from Korsak, Angela and Frankie (whose accidentally spilled the beans about his and Nina’s engagement when the camera was running). At episode’s end, the montage — Jane’s own farewell message included — was played for all at The Dirty Robber, before a final twist revealed that Quantico-bound Rizzoli would be joining Isles for the first several weeks of her new life in Paris.
TVLine invited Jan Nash, RizzIsles‘ showrunner for the last three of its seven seasons, to share her thoughts on putting the procedural to bed.
TVLINE | At the timeRIZZOLI & ISLES (TNT) that you found out that Season 7 would be just 13 episodes, did you know it was also the final season and were able to arc it out accordingly?
We didn’t know, but we certainly suspected. And when we started thinking about the stories, we did sort of think about them in the context of “If we tell these stories, will they lead us to something that could be an actual end to the series? And if it’s not the end, could we pull back from it and have an additional season?” We felt like we had arcs that would allow us to do that — though obviously we would have made some adjustments to accommodate another year.
TVLINE | Was this all your design or did series creator Janet Tamaro leave behind a dusty envelope that said “Open in case of emergency”?
[Laughs] She did not leave behind a dusty envelope. To Janet’s credit, when she decided to leave the show and put it in other people’s hands, she in a very decent and I think probably difficult way allowed us to do what we needed to do.
TVLINE | Sasha and I had an interesting conversation about the decision to either leave the characters where they’ve always been, doing what we’ve known them to always do, or you can do what you did and send them off in new directions, demonstrating growth. What were the pros and cons as you decided how to approach it?
You could do exactly what you said and just let it sort of be the same, but from the perspective of both the actors and the writers, it makes for potentially a lot of stories that feel very much like the ones that came before. And that doesn’t give the actors the opportunity to stretch new muscles and do things that make a show that has run for a very long time continue to feel alive and vibrant and new to them. So we fell on the side of allowing the characters to have challenges that change then, and hopefully those experiences help inform the relationships that they have.
Also, this is a very rare thing, a rare bird, in the world of television. This is a show that has been on the air for seven seasons, we made 105 episodes, and things have happened on this show that don’t happen on other shows. This is a group of people that lost somebody [original cast member Lee Thompson Young, who died in August 2013] who was very, very dear to them. We the writers and, I think, ultimately the actors felt like they had things that they wanted to say about this experience, so we really wanted to give them a chance for the characters to talk about what this time has meant to them.
TVLINE | So that video isn’t just Korsak saying goodbye to Jane and Maura, it’s Bruce McGill saying goodbye to me, the viewer.
That is exactly how we saw it. This is not just characters saying goodbye to characters. These are actors saying goodbye to the experience of making this show, to the audience, but also to each other. Some of what Korsak says is specific to that character, but some of those words are about how Bruce McGill feels. The words Sasha said are about how Sasha feels. We tried to craft each of them to reflect where they were on the show.
TVLINE | That little “button” at the end, with the surprise plane ticket — was that your way of appeasing any fans who might be upset that Maura and Jane were going separate ways? To say that no matter where they may be geographically, these two friends who always find their way to each other?
You used the word “appeasing,” which wouldn’t have been my word. We went toward the finale with the idea of showing that these two women are best friends, and no matter what happens in their lives, that will never change. You have these two strong women, these incredibly compelling characters, that have been engaged in this relationship for a very long time, and yet the characters are people who should be allowed to grow, to move forward in their lives. And despite that, when the show goes to black, you can rest assured that these two people will be in each other’s lives forever.
TVLINE | Did you consider any alternate destinations for any of the main characters?
Obviously when we started talking about the final season, we talked about a lot of things. Ultimately, over the last three years, and even in the time before that, we laid in various things that set up these arcs— Korsak retiring, Frankie and Nina getting engaged, Angela moving forward as an independent woman, determined Jane making the ultimate choice about how to protect the people she loves, and Maura realizing that “hiding” in the medical examiner’s office wasn’t a choice she bound to. All of those things had been set up in the show over these seven years, and they felt like the right choices to us. We were always thinking about the finale and ensuring that it would have laughter and tears, and these stories allowed for that.
TVLINE | Did yourizzoli-isles-jane-barry always intend to find some small way to acknowledge Lee Thompson Young (who played Detective Barry Frost) in the finale?
We wanted, to the best of our abilities, to allow for things that had been important in the show to live in the final season. There had been characters that for reasons of clarity and story direction that had not been as prominent as they had been in earlier seasons, but we wanted to make sure that we honored Tommy and T.J., we wanted to make sure that we honored Hope, and we wanted to make sure that we honored Lee. I wasn’t here [when he died], but it feels to me that Lee’s death is one of the most powerful parts of this experience for this group of people, that the experience of loving him and losing him and grieving together really made this group of people the family that it ultimately was. It would have been wrong not to reflect on that.
TVLINE | Who got most emotional on set as this was winding down? Because Angie’s tears near the end looked very real.
Because of the videos, I think that everybody really had a sense of something coming to an end. But because we knew it was happening, which was a real blessing, we in fact had the opportunity to really celebrate the show. The fact that the 100th episode was so close to our finale gave us the opportunity to celebrate that achievement, and then spend the next five episodes getting ready to say goodbye. So, I would say that everybody got emotional. I think I cried three or four times on the final day of shooting.
TVLINE | Lastly, was there anything you just couldn’t fit into these final episodes, anything that got cut for time?
The finale did end up being very long, and we cut three scenes — and to be honest, they are three scenes that if you’d been short and couldn’t have cut them you would have wished you could, because they seemed to get in the way of the emotional flow. They were mostly case-related, informational, so we ended up cutting that. But in terms of the emotional structure of the episode, I hope — and like I said, I haven’t been here from the beginning — that the actors felt like their characters had had an opportunity in Season 7 to explore some new things, to grow, and ultimately to say goodbye. Every single person involved, from the writers to the producers to the actors to the crew to the people in post-production, gave it their all. To use a sports metaphor, they “left it on the field.”
TVLINE | And you left the door open for a TV-movie down the road, where you can show us those four weeks in Paris. Because you just know Jane and Maura will stumble across a dead body….
We’re ready! Let’s go to Paris.
The TNT drama signed off Monday after seven seasons with a literal farewell party for Jane (Angie Harmon), who was about to depart Boston for her teaching job at Quantico. But the show, naturally, could not end with Rizzoli and Isles (Sasha Alexander) apart, even if they were going their separate ways: Jane surprises Maura in the final moments by announcing she's going to spend her extra vacation days with her in Paris, where Maura's moving for a month to finish her novel.
"I think the most important thing for me is no matter what happens in these two characters' lives, they will continue to be best friends forever," showrunner Jan Nash, who joined the show in Season 5, tells TVGuide.com. "That relationship will be unchanged by circumstance. That's what we were going for."
But is this really the end for Rizzoli & Isles? Nash answers our burning questions about a reboot, how she approached the finale and what you didn't see in the finale.
Last time we talked, you said the finale was half-written and it wasn't your half that was done. How did you go about writing it? What did you want to accomplish?
Jan Nash: [Laughs] As we thought about this season -- they ordered 13 episodes and we had a feeling this would be the end -- what we really did think about was [not only] how to best say goodbye to the show but also give the actors the chance to say goodbye, the characters to say goodbye. So we came up with this idea to basically have a party that would be a goodbye party that would essentially encompass a lot of them and then using these goodbye videos as a way for the actors to articulate their feelings, obviously through the characters, but it's their own feelings about what it's been like to have done this for so long.
We backed up from that device to how you could structure a story that would hold that. We came to the conclusion that it should have some sort of a crime in it -- a very small crime -- but it gives a little bit of a story to hang these more emotional elements on. And then we simply went through all the pieces we had left that we felt like we needed to honor in the finale. We felt like we needed to give a final end to the Frankie (Jordan Bridges) and Nina (Idara Victor) story, we felt like we needed a moment for the end of the Frost (Lee Thompson Young) story and give a nod to that [with Jane giving Frost's robot to Frankie]. We wanted each of the actors to end those relationships with the characters. We really did just think about how many different things that needed to be honored.
There was a lot of closure in the episode and I don't think anything that happened comes as a surprise. You set it up in the previous episodes.
Nash: The 100th episode we used as a linchpin episode. It started with Maura's brain injury at the start of the season. The 100th became the linchpin on which we built a lot of these character decisions that would play out the rest of the season. I don't think anybody would be surprised by the way the finale ends. The nature of finales of long-running shows, they have passionate audiences and those audiences intensely like or intensely don't like the way the show ends. But that's as much as because the show is ending, I think, as anything else. There will always be things that are left unsaid or things that are said that they disagree with. That's really just a reflection of how much they care, which is a lovely thing to have when you have a television show with a passionate audience.
Did you get any pushback from network or higher-ups when you pitched the ending?
Nash: No. We pitched it at the beginning of the season ... and I ran them through what we were thinking, not necessarily in specifics because we hadn't broken the stories yet, but what we thought the general arcs would be, starting with Maura's injury, getting to Jane's decision that would carry us to the end, and all of the arcs related to the other characters. We had very little pushback about the decisions we were making for the characters. They said what they've always said, which was, "Please make sure we leave enough room for all these characters to be in relationships with each other." They always remind you about what is great about the show. They were very, very supportive. They've always been supportive. At least in terms of what they've said to me, I think they're pleased with the way the finale turned out.
Was it difficult writing the final scene knowing you wanted to honor their relationship?
Nash: The truth is it wasn't hard only because more than any other person involved with the show, I had been living with the ending of the show for a very long time. Ultimately, it was my responsibility to make sure we were prepared to end it if we needed to. I started thinking about how it might end before it was clear that it was going to end. It is ultimately my responsibility that this arc makes sense. ... When I finally got to the end, I think I was more concerned about if it would be satisfying and not so much if it was sad for me or anybody else. And, for me, I think it's satisfying.
What I took great comfort from was that final moment -- those final three or four lines -- was ad-libbed by the actors. I took that as being a really good sign. We created a moment that was consistent with these characters and that these actors, who had embodied them for so long, knew what to do with that moment was even beyond the finish that I had given it. I liked what they did so much that we left it in the show. I think that's really appropriate. The show actually ends with what these actors think these characters should be saying, not necessarily what just the writers think they should be saying.
How important was it to have Jane and Maura pursue new careers since they were so tied to their identities as a cop and medical examiner?
Nash: "Important" is a tough word. I think for me -- and again, the passionate fans of the show can disagree with me whether this was the right choice or not -- but I wanted to show how important this relationship was to these two women. You can do that in many ways. For me, it seems like just leaving them in exactly the same place didn't allow them to talk about how they felt about each other. It would just be them going on and having similar experiences to what we've seen. Whereas if we put them in a situation that would make them make different choices, then they got to talk about what all of this was, what it meant and what their relationship meant if their situation changed. The opportunity for that discussion is what we wanted. We wanted them to celebrate what has been and be excited about where they're going.
I think the most important thing for me is no matter what happens in these two characters' lives, they will continue to be best friends forever. That relationship will be unchanged by circumstance. That's what we were going for. I do believe that there is value in growth. I think Jane and Maura had been the same for a very long time. Great same. It was wonderful same. But I wanted to allow for the possibility that these two incredible women might have new acts that allow for their lives to be even more exciting. These are great characters, they're strong women, they have so much more to give.
I liked how you took two avenues dealing with change. Maura was almost forced to because of her injury. Jane chose to give up her job.
Nash: Yeah, I feel like both characters have made changes that are consistent with who they are. Ultimately, Jane Rizzoli changed because she wanted to do what was right for the people she cares about. She didn't want them to be in danger any longer. She was willing to give up something she loves to make sure all of these people -- Maura, Angela (Lorraine Bracco), Frankie, Nina, Korsak (Bruce McGill) -- would be safe. And Maura realized that she was more than just her mastery of a world of knowledge. I like to believe that 10 years from now, these two women are being amazing, dynamic, successful people in a whole new way that allows them to grow too.
There's a whole segment of fans who want them together romantically. Did you write the ending to be somewhat open-ended to leave that option on the table for those fans?
Nash: I wouldn't say that. I would say that we purposely did not put either of them in a relationship at the end. They don't end up in any relationship. They're their own strong people. I think the fans who want them to end up romantically will ultimately not be satisfied with anything that wasn't exactly that. And I understand that. We weren't trying to sort of allow for that possibility as much as we were trying to allow for everyone who loves the show to have a sense of what they wanted for these characters could be true. Every woman out there who wants them to be strong women achieving their dreams, they can believe that. People who want Jane Rizzoli to be saving the world can believe that's happening. People who want Maura Isles to be the smartest person in the world doing amazing things, they can believe that. However you love the show, hopefully you can find that path just for you. We really were trying to service the idea that this was a profound experience for a large group of people, including the people who spent the most time living it.
How did you decide for Frankie and Nina to get engaged a couple weeks ago?
Nash: From the moment they started interacting with each other, we felt like they had an interesting chemistry. There was something about her that grounded him and something about him that brightened her. We started early on sort of sprinkling in opportunities for them to be together to see if what we were seeing was real, and it was, and so we decided they would be together. And then when the show was ending, we just decided they'd be getting married. The engagement itself was an outgrowth of their early stories and we sort of ended up there because we had already set it up. And we thought it'd be fun for the reveal [of their engagement to everyone else] to be in the finale.
Were there any scenes that were cut from the finale?
Nash: There were some scenes that were cut. None of them were character-related. They were all case-related or transitional scenes. We were very long and it's such an emotional episode that we didn't want to lose any of that heft, so we cut those three scenes. I don't think if fans saw them you would even notice [a difference]. They weren't that important. We kept the important stuff.
Was there anything you wanted to do that you never got a chance to?
Nash: Oh, that's an interesting question. If you asked me that question last year, before they decided this would be the final season, I probably would've said, "We're only making 13 [episodes]. I wish we could make more." I love the experience of making this show. I love the actors. I love the cast. I love the whole crew. But now that we've gone through this experience, I feel like we've told a lot of stories that were terrific stories and so I don't know [if there's something I wish I could've done]. I'm sure if someone came to me and said, "Let's do another season," we'd come up with stories to tell, but we left it all out on the field. I feel very good about what we did. We told good, emotional stories. I think we told good crime stories. I think we had a nice balance of drama and comedy. At this point, having lived with the ending for so long, I guess I've reconciled myself to the fact that it's over, so I don't really think about it.
Would you ever do a reboot?
Nash: Of course! If everybody wanted to do that. Honestly, this is such a wonderful group of people, you'd never turn down a chance to work with them again. So, yeah, if somebody wanted to make a movie or whatever, I would totally be open to it.
You guys have a die-hard fan base. What do you have to say to the fans and what do you hope they get out of the finale?
Nash: Our goal for the finale was that people would laugh and they would cry, and that they have an opportunity to go along the process of saying goodbye. I hope they will see the finale and feel like they got the chance to say goodbye to characters that meant a great deal to them. I would just say thank you. The television business is a tough business. You rarely get an audience and you rarely get an audience that is as passionate about what you do -- for the good or the bad -- and this was an audience that was really passionate about this show. I'm really grateful for that audience and I'm grateful for their passion and I'm blessed to have been part of it. I feel them. I know how I feel every time some show I love ends. It's a sad thing. I remember how I felt when The Wire ended. I was sad! I was sad! I was like, "C'mon! Just make a few more Wires!" [Laughs] But I get it. I hope somebody would make another show about strong women and all these people who love shows about strong women can go to it. But like I said, I'm just grateful.
What's next for you?
Nash: I have no idea! I'm going to take a little vacation. ... And then I'm doing some writing that's not Rizzoli-related and we shall see. I'm not sure. This was three years. We made 49 episodes in three years, which is a lot -- two network seasons. So battery-recharging is probably in my future.
On a recent Monday morning, Angie Harmon was in her makeup chair on the “Rizzoli & Isles” set at 6 a.m. Forty-five minutes later, the former model was ready to take on her role as Boston police detective Jane Rizzoli, who teams up with a medical examiner to track down killers. Not only has Angie proven there is life after professional modeling, but she has also shown there is a powerful woman inside this Texas-reared beauty. Raising three young daughters (Finley, Avery and Emery) bi-coastally, Angie spends nine months filming her TV show in Los Angeles while her kids go to school in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I tend to exist at a very high level of stress,” she says. “I’ve learned to adapt to—I would even say excel at—a very high level of stress.”
So, is her life organized chaos? “No not really,” she laughs. “I think organized chaos sounds heavenly—I would love that.”
DISCOVERING THE RECHARGE BUTTON
The self-described energetic and courageous woman knows that taking time to refuel is important. Harmon defines multi-tasking as “cooking dinner, helping with homework, planning next week’s events and putting a birthday party together—there is so much to being a woman.” With early morning starts and 12- to 15-hour workdays, Angie begins her recharge with a cup of coffee. “I can’t do anything before coffee,” she says—and throughout the day she feeds her energy reserves with a banana or protein bar. She also re-energizes with daily vitamin and mineral supplements. “I have a full pharmacy in my trailer: brain support supplements that help with memory, acidophilus, garlic extract for overall health, hair, skin and nail supplements—I’m surprised I still have hair after what it goes through.”
She also considers cooking her signature teriyaki salmon dish with roasted broccoli and brown rice as taking time to recharge. “Dicing and chopping is very therapeutic. I’ve got music on, I’m having a glass of wine and the house smells like food. The girls and I are always talking—we talk about everything.”