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'Damages': Its future is still in question

October 17, 2007 |  2:23 pm

Damages1 “Damages” may not have drawn the hordes of viewers FX had hoped for when it launched the legal psychodrama this summer, but stars Glenn Close and Ted Danson said today that the low ratings haven’t eroded the satisfaction they’ve gotten from the series.

“It’s one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had,” Danson said during a conference call with reporters to tout the season finale, which airs Oct. 23.

Playing corporate chieftain Arthur Frobisher, who is locked in a bloody litigation fight with Close’s steely attorney, Patty Hewes, “has reinvigorated my desire to act,” he added.

As for Close, “I have not put myself through the ringer worrying about numbers,” she said. “I do know we’ve created something to be really, really proud of, and it would have an exciting future if we get that chance.”

That remains to be seen. As producers make the final edits on the last episode, FX executives are pondering whether to bring the show back for another season.

John Landgraf, president of FX Networks, sounded anguished at the thought of canceling the complex thriller, but he said the growing number of viewers using DVRs to watch programming has put pressure on the network’s business model.

“I would say I’m cautiously optimistic,” Landgraf said. “There are still some things that could derail the renewal of the show. As magnificent as the show is creatively, it has struggled somewhat” in the ratings.

During its first nine weeks, an average audience of 4.66 million viewers tuned in to various airings of “Damages” throughout a week, a figure that grew by 18% when DVR viewings were added in. But not all advertisers have been willing to pay for audiences who watch the show later and, presumably, fast-forward through commercials.

The densely plotted format of the series, Landgraf said, “in some ways doesn’t suit the current environment,” in which sports events and reality shows hold on to the most live viewers.

The FX chief said he fears that as more and more people begin using DVRs, the production of complex serialized programs will decline.

“There are going to be dozens or hundreds of shows that are either not produced or canceled because of the DVR,” he said. “That is a fact of life.”

But the network hasn't ruled out a renewal for “Damages” yet. Creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman said they had incorporated some clues about a possible second-season story line into next week’s finale, which they promise will resolve the remaining questions about this season’s murder mystery.

“By the end of the finale, I think it will be quite clear what the direction is for a second season and that there’s a great story to tell,” Zelman said.

While the writers are considering plotting out more than one legal case for Hewes to fight in a sophomore year, allowing for shorter story arcs, they said they remain committed to the show’s complexity.

“The idea is to expect the unexpected,” Todd Kessler said.

The show’s convoluted storytelling has been challenging at times for the actors. Close said she was glad to have one of the writers on set throughout production to help her remember details about her character that were unveiled earlier in the season.

“I very early on realized that this whole process for me was going to be basically, bring it on, because there was no middle or end,” she said. “That was a new kind of proposition, and one that I’ve really grown to thrill in .... It really forces you as an actor to be totally in the moment, to totally trust the writing.”

As for the resolution to this season’s mystery, the writers downplayed the notion that they drastically switched gears midseason as they plotted the ending. Rather, Todd Kessler said, the show’s great actors helped “further inspire us to write into those characters.”

“We had a series of possible endings in our mind, all of which essentially derived from the characters,” Zelman said. “For us, it wasn’t like we shifted.... It was more like, ‘That ending over there feels like it’s the best one.’ ”

-- Matea Gold

(Photo courtesy FX)

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