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March 25, 2008

'Damages'

Damages_2

By Barry Garron

The three creators of FX's "Damages" weren't about to tell the future but they were quite forthcoming about the past.

By the time FX's critically acclaimed legal show finished all 13 episodes last year, several key characters had turned to corpses and another character, Ted Danson's Arthur Frobisher, was seriously, maybe fatally, injured.

"Eventually, every character dies except Patty (played by star Glenn Close)," joked producer Todd A. Kessler, who created the series with his brother, Glenn, and their good friend, Daniel Zelman.

"And, as a bonus, one of us will die," Zelman added.

Jokes aside, Todd promised three new characters for the second season, along with the continuation of some storylines from the first season.

"Is Ted dead?" asked Close. Even Danson doesn't know. "I looked at my agent out there," he said, gesturing to the audience, "and he went (shrugging his shoulders) 'I don't know.'"

The only two characters guaranteed new life are Close's shrewdly manipulative lawyer, Patty Hewes, and her on-again, off-again, on-again legal associate, Ellen Parsons (played by Rose Byrne, who was unable to attend due to a conflict). "To us, it begins and ends with the Ellen-Patty relationship," Todd said.

Queried by Stuart Levine, managing daily editor of Daily Variety, the creators confessed that the idea for their legal series had little to do with law. It was to be "a story about two women and a power relationship and a mentor and a mentee," Todd said.

"We were very much interested in power and the social dynamic of power in the workplace," added Zelman. At the same time, they wanted to explore the issue with women as principal characters. That led them to the legal arena, where it is not hard to find powerful women.

After a 65-minute pitch meeting at FX, the network asked the Kesslers and Zelman how they might feel about Close for the starring role. She was fresh off a season of "The Shield" and FX was eager to have her back. Close was interested, she said, "but I never would have done it if it hadn't been done in New York," near her home with her husband and daughter.

Danson said he joined the cast after hearing Close had been selected for the lead and being impressed by the writing. The veteran of "Cheers," "Becker" and short-lived "Help Me Help You" wasn't interested in another sitcom. "I knew I didn't want to do another half-hour (series) because I stayed at the dance too long."

One of the more memorable characters in the first season was Ray Fiske, Frobisher's lawyer, played by Zeljko Ivanek with a southern drawl. "When I read it," he said of the part, "the voice I heard was James Carville."

Before the season ended, Fiske committed suicide in Patty's office. Ivanek said he learned the specifics around the time the third or fourth episode was being shot but that he had known all along his character would not be around at the end.

For the most part, the actors, including Noah Bean, Tate Donovan and Anastasia Griffith, said they had no arguments over what their characters did and didn't do in the series. Close, however, had some doubt that Patty Hewes would have ordered Ellen to be killed.

"I found it very hard to believe I put a hit out on Ellen," Close said. "It's a very fine line. I didn't want to become a psychopath. I've already done that," she said, drawing laughs from an audience that remembered her in "Fatal Attraction."

Surprisingly, perhaps, for a show this complicated and with so many surprises, "Damages" began production even before all the scripts were completed and all the storylines were plotted. "It becomes very improvisational," Glenn said.

Sometimes, aspects of the story weren't clear, said Donovan, who played Patty's second in command, Tom Shayes. At those times, having Close on stage was a huge benefit, he explained. "She's got the guts to ask really good questions."

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