The writer's strike earlier this year threw many shows off track but FX's "Rescue Me" has found a way to fill the gap before new episodes return. Five-minute "minisodes" premiere today and run every Tuesday at 10pm EST/PT to keep fans of the long running drama in touch with Tommy, Franco, Sean, Lou and the rest of the cast. Co-creators Peter Tolan and Denis Leary, who also happens to star in the long-running firefighter drama, spoke about the minisodes along with what fans can expect when the fifth season gets underway in early 2009.
First, why minisodes? Leary and Tolan explained they were approached by John Landgraf, the head of FX, to come up with a way to keep the show fresh in the mind of the audience and fuel enthusiasm for the upcoming new season. Shooting 10 minisodes would accomplish this objective and keep fans from forgetting the show. Working in their favor, Leary explained that the dramatic and comedic elements of "Rescue Me" helped in making the minisodes. "The fact that we're a drama that has comic elements in it. If you can get three to five minutes or six or seven minutes and people can get on and watch it, and all of a sudden you go 'I've heard this show was good and I just watched this really funny thing, it's � that's a form of advertising I guess... it may hopefully bring some people to the show that haven't been there before."
Tolan added that that both comedic and dramatic elements are present in the minisodes. "Some of them are just out there for laughs and some of them are � we just shot one that is a little more dramatic. And again, it's interesting � if you watched all ten of them in a row, I think you'd start laughing and then somewhere in the middle you'd go, oh that was an interesting thing." Tolan also hinted that some of the content from the minisodes could feed into the new season. "It's particularly inevitable that we would have ended up writing in little clues and hints, and things like that sort of bridge the gap, you know."
Shooting five-minute minisodes did present challenges during shooting of the regular season, however. Leary said that, "I guess physically we're adding them to the [shooting] schedule and because we're shooting 22 episodes [in the fifth season] we have a lot of work in front of us." Tolan added, "It's a fun challenge and, you know, more than anything we just want to have a good time with [the minisodes] and have them be comedy heavy and really show off our guys."
In some way, though, Leary and Tolan believe that the strike was somewhat helpful for them. Leary explained that, "I really think that the extra time has, for some reason � and the strike � reminded all of us of how lucky we are. And it's really � the [new] episodes are really good � really, really strong and the actors have brought an extra � I think they were on steroids, actually, the actors at this point because they're just � they're better than they've ever been, you know?"
The minisodes that were available for preview were tremendously funny, featured the main characters of the series and delved into the usual "Rescue Me" fodder including sex, women, bar life, gays and the usual hazing of each other. If anything, the minisodes accomplish their goal of making viewers miss the series while also satisfying a taste for more when the new season begins.
Since the last original "Rescue Me" episode aired in September 2007 and the new season is not scheduled to begin until the spring of 2009, there might be some concern that the fans will lose interest during the long wait. Leary and Tolan, however, don't seem to be worried. Leary likens the wait between new episodes to another popular drama that often was off the air for over a year. "I know... when 'The Sopranos' was off for like a year and a half or two years at a time, everybody would complain and say, 'you know, I'm so mad' and I'm so pissed and how can they do this? And I would just go 'yeah, whatever' because it was my favorite show. So, when it came on, I would just � I would watch it. So, look, we wish ["Rescue Me"] was on, too, but I think when it comes back on it'll be such a great bunch of episodes I think it'll be very � hopefully not sated � not completely sated, but somewhat satisfied."
Tolan took a more direct approach by speaking directly to the fans. "What I'm saying to our fans now � and it's not � it's certainly not hyperbole, it's the absolute truth � the first six episodes that we've finished here are some of the best episodes we've ever done in the life of the series."
Leary also talked about the character of Tommy, who has always been controversial for his less-than-honorable actions, including the infamous "rape" of his ex-wife during season three. With season four ending with the death of Tommy's father (Charles Durning), Tommy is surely to have a lot of new emotional baggage to deal with. "I think in a strange way his father's death is kind of the final straw for him because... it's the death that you most expect because it's a person who is old or a person who is ill that can sometimes be the most effective one because it's � you think it's going to be easy and it's not."
Fans of the series can attest to death practically being a cast member of the series since Tommy has lost a number of people close to him -- fellow firefighters including his cousin, his young son and, now, his father. Leary said that he was currently writing a big scene for the current season that includes many of the characters that have died in the course of the series. "I guess it's sort of a tribute to 'The Iceman Cometh' where Tommy is visited in the bar by several of the ghosts." Tolan laughs that, "nobody ever dies forever on 'Rescue Me.'" Case in point, Leary added, "you get to see Charles Durning... and, you know, Dean Winters and Jimmy McCaffrey [who played Tommy's brother and cousin, respectively]... I don't miss them because we know they're going to be around."
One of the members of the "Rescue Me" cast recently received some unflattering press when Tatum O'Neal (who plays Leary's sister on the series) was arrested for attempting to purchase crack cocaine in New York City. Asked how the publicity might effect the show, Leary defended his costar by saying, "Our concern was mostly about her private life and making sure she was okay. But in terms of her work here, she was terrific when she was here at the beginning of the season. We can't wait for her to come back. So we don't have any issue with her."
The Rescue Me minisodes will also be streamed the day after airing on FX on several websites including www.Crackle.com/rescueme.