How 'The Closer' Redefined Female Roles in Primetime Police Dramas (2023)

For seven seasons, this refrain of Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson would speak volumes on TNT's The Closer. For the unassuming and underestimating, it was a straightforward thanks; to those frustrated at Brenda, it was cool condescension; and for anyone who grew up in the South—well, they knew exactly what it meant. Through it all, Brenda stayed as genuine as the day she was introduced, the fish-out-of-water Georgia native who'd navigated the halls of justice in the federal government now working her way through the live-wire environment and bureaucratic nightmare of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Add to it a squad of officers who gradually learned to respect her, a boss that was just as much a roadblock as an ally (J.K. Simmons, pre-Oscar) and one of television's most underrated and smoldering love affairs (Jon Tenney as the ever-patient FBI agent Fritz Howard), and you've got the makings of a success. Key to this winning formula was a simple yet fundamental principle: Brenda was allowed to maintain her femininity, and use it as a strength. In the process, The Closer helped redefine what was possible for woman in primetime police drama and opened the door for a slew of strong-willed, independent female characters played by top-tier actresses and forever shifting the landscape of television.

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How 'The Closer' Redefined Female Roles in Primetime Police Dramas (1)

Before Sedgwick strode to glory, female officers on screen largely got the short end of the stick. Television's first female police officer debuted all the way back in 1957 in the syndicated series Decoy. Beverly Garland played Patricia "Casey" Jones, a New York detective whose undercover work led her to play any number of roles from nurses to singers to hookers. While only lasting 39 episodes, the show was a hit and featured soon-to-be famous actors such as Larry Hagman, Diane Ladd, and Suzanne Pleshette in early appearances. Most of the show's episodes are in the public domain and easy to find on YouTube, but entertaining as it is, we learn very little about Jones herself; here, it's the work that's the thing.

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It wouldn't be until 1974 that another woman would get the chance to carry a police drama by herself (no disrespect to Peggy Lipton in The Mod Squad)—Police Woman, starring Angie Dickinson as Sergeant "Pepper" Anderson. While the show lasted for four seasons and earned its star a trio of Emmy nominations, Dickinson herself became frustrated with the tendency to over-sexualize her character as a substitute for deeper exploration, stating in a People interview, "I'm tired of appearing in scenes where the phone rings while I'm taking a bath," and later sharing that she regretted doing the show at all.

How 'The Closer' Redefined Female Roles in Primetime Police Dramas (2)

With 1981's Cagney & Lacey, women in police drama finally began to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts when it came to full-on character exploration and life outside the uniform. However, it almost wasn't meant to be. The show cast the role of Christine Cagney three times (first with Loretta Swit, then Meg Foster, then eventual series co-star Sharon Gless) and was canceled twice by CBS, saved only by an intense letter-writing campaign from fans and a change in time slot. Gless and original star Tyne Daly as Mary Beth Lacey proved a hit with critics and fans alike. Here were two women at the top of their game, succeeding in spite of the man's world they were forced to operate within. But far from being defined only by the criminals they captured or valued only for their sex appeal, Cagney and Lacey had real lives with real problems. Mary Beth constantly juggled her work and home life, wanting to be an excellent cop and just as excellent a wife and mother. Christine was stuck between the hard-scrabble life of policing and the world of privilege she'd grown up in, eventually succumbing to alcoholism in perhaps the show's most powerful storyline. The series ran for seven years, and from 1983-1988 Daly and Gless had a stranglehold on the Best Actress in a Drama Emmy Award, with Daly winning four times and Gless two.

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1991 saw the debut of Prime Suspect on the BBC—The Closer's most direct ancestor. Helen Mirren starred as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, a woman determined to succeed in a world full of sexist creeps who consistently threw up barriers and wanted to see her fail. Across seven series, Tennison grapples with cases involving institutionalized racism, child abuse, and prostitution. It also becomes exceedingly difficult for her to maintain relationships; at the end of series three she terminates a pregnancy, and regularly turns to alcohol to cope with the demands of her personal and professional lives until beginning to attend AA meetings in the final series. This template—successful film star transitioning to television, accompanied by a colorful ensemble of characters—would work wonders for TNT, and in 2005 The Closer debuted to an audience of more than 7 million people.

How 'The Closer' Redefined Female Roles in Primetime Police Dramas (3)
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From the start, Brenda Leigh Johnson wasn't your typical female cop. For starters, she was an Atlanta girl in a world full of cutthroat L.A. officers, all of whom believed one way or another that she wasn't worthy of being a Deputy Chief. But instead of ridding herself of any semblance of individuality, she thumbed her nose at the entire system. In the pilot episode, before going to extract the key confession, she's seen trying on a variety of outfits before settling on a skirt and blazer combo. For Brenda (and Sedgwick), feminine sensibilities and appeal weren't a detriment, they were an asset, deployed skillfully and with thought behind them. It soon became the norm that when Brenda showed up at crime scenes, her bubblegum pink trench coat accompanied her. Small flourishes such as these—a flower applique on a shoe, the fit of a wrap dress—made it possible for Brenda to maintain her eccentricities and unique style among a sea of suits and ties. Because of this, the surrounding men often underestimated her—a mistake she'd make them regret again and again.

Furthermore, Brenda is allowed to be more viscerally emotional than any female officer before her. Whether letting loose frustration at perennial busybodies Lieutenants Andrew Flynn and Louis Provenza (Tony Denison and G.W. Bailey, respectively), going toe-to-toe with antagonistic subordinates like Commander Russell Taylor (Robert Gossett), or showering her beloved Fritz with affection, it's Brenda wearing her heart on her sleeve (sometimes to her own chagrin) that endears her to the audience. Take Season 5's "Walking Back the Cat;" ostensibly, Brenda is helping the FBI find a missing person. But in reality, she's being repeatedly confronted with the death of her beloved pet, Kitty—she literally carries the ashes around in her purse for the length of the case. Throughout, Brenda is stubborn, angry, saddened, resentful, and ultimately accepting; she's allowed to do more in one episode than Angie Dickinson was throughout an entire series.

Most importantly, in the ecosystem of Hollywood, it all paid off in the end. The Closer is one of the most successful shows ever on ad-supported cable, and broke several ratings records for TNT. Sedgwick was celebrated by her peers and the television community alike; she would win both a Golden Globe and a Primetime Emmy for her work, and the show would receive multiple Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for both Sedgwick and the ensemble as a whole. It even inspired a spinoff, Major Crimes, focused on Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell), a colleague of Brenda's who takes over the department after she resigns in the series finale.

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How 'The Closer' Redefined Female Roles in Primetime Police Dramas (4)

Since Brenda hung up her badge we've seen a major tone shift in the way women in police drama are portrayed, and megawatt stars are flocking to television screens to play them. Jennifer Lopez came to NBC for Shades of Blue, focused on an NYPD officer forced to serve as an informant on her corrupt boss while simultaneously trying to raise a child as a single mother. Kate Winslet earned multiple plaudits for her stint in the limited series Mare of Easttown, investigating the murder of a teenage mother while trying to hold her own dysfunctional life together. Even on long-running behemoths like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, we've seen more of an effort over the past 10 years to get Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson out from behind the desk and dive into more of her own complicated personal life. The Brits have kept at it too—actresses including Gillian Anderson in The Fall, Olivia Colman in Broadchurch, and Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley have each taken the oath to serve and protect in their projects.

While reflecting on The Closer's success, Sedgwick was asked what she's most proud of. In no uncertain terms, she replied, "Whether we started this or not I don’t know, but after the success, a lot of women in their 40s got great, great roles on television. And that’s the best."

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Thank you. Thank you so much.

FAQs

Why was Kyra Sedgwick replaced on The Closer? ›

One of the major reasons why she left the show was to spread her wings creatively. "I thought about it for about a year, and it finally came down to the fact that I really want to do other things, creatively. I'm an artist, and I want to express myself in other ways and other places," the actress said.

Why did Brenda Leigh Johnson leave The Closer? ›

In the end of The Closer, due to her efforts to capture Phillip Stroh leading her to assault him, Brenda, knowing she will lose her job, leaves the LAPD and gets a new job as Chief at the District Attorney's Office's Bureau of Investigation.

What did The Closer change to? ›

It's a complex switcheroo where star Kyra Sedgwick and two of her most prominent co-stars from TNT's hit crime drama The Closer will say goodbye. But the rest of the cast stays intact, headed by a character played by guest star Mary McDonnell in a series with a new name, Major Crimes.

Who replaced Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer? ›

Kyra Sedgwick is leaving her hit TNT show, “The Closer,” reports Philly.com. The actress announced last winter that this season of “The Closer” would have a serious impact on her character, and with...

What happened to the real kitty on The Closer? ›

The real story behind the scenes of the cat's final episode is just as tragic as the loss of Miss Kitty onscreen. It seems the cat in real life was experiencing kidney failure, and rather than replace the cat that stole Brenda's heart, The Closer decided to put the character to rest, too.

Who turned out to be the leak on The Closer? ›

After the penultimate episode's big reveal that Lt. Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) was the inadvertent department leak through his girlfriend, who had been paid to befriend and gain Gabriel's trust by the notorious attorney Peter Goldman (Curtis Armstrong) and Det.

Did Fritz and Brenda get divorced on The Closer? ›

She is still married to Fritz and appears to have remained in Los Angeles rather than taking the Washington, DC job. Following Stroh's death at the hands of Rusty Beck at the end of Major Crimes, Brenda is mentioned by Fritz to be having a hard time processing the news that her greatest nemesis is truly gone.

Why was Detective Gabriel suspended on The Closer? ›

Despite being told he is Johnson's favorite, Gabriel becomes confrontational with her in one case regarding a former gang member turned politician and another from beating a confession out of a suspected child molester. After the latter incident, Johnson suspends him for 10 days without pay.

Did Brenda ever marry Fritz The Closer? ›

Fritz is an old friend of Brenda's and has known her since at least her time in Washington, D.C. Fritz and Brenda were married in the last episode of Season Four of The Closer.

When did Brenda Lee Johnson leave The Closer? ›

Review: Major Crimes Moves in as the Closer Closes. Brenda Leigh Johnson ends her seven-year reign as Deputy Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes unit in TNT's The Closer on Monday, Aug. 13. Without giving away anything, the finale is a tensely plotted episode that elegantly ends The Closer.

What happens to Brenda on The Closer finale? ›

She retires from the LAPD and accepts a new job as the Chief of the District Attorney's Office's Bureau of Investigation.

Why did The Closer change name to Major Crimes? ›

Duff and his colleagues were so focused on making sure that “Major Crimes” would be as familiar as possible to fans of “The Closer” — same setting (not to mention sets), same music, same writers and directors, nearly the same cast — that they forgot to make Capt.

Did Kyra Sedgwick and Mary McDonnell get along? ›

The actress, whose Closer character is moving on to the spinoff series Major Crimes upon the former's end, reflected on the pair's close working relationship over the past several years. "We had wonderful chemistry and trust," McDonnell said of Sedgwick in an interview with Parade.

What accent does Kyra Sedgwick have on The Closer? ›

But Brenda also represents a reach for Ms. Sedgwick: she is stammery, addicted to sugar, socially annoying and — above all — reflexively but insincerely polite and kind. She also has a big, bendy Southern accent that is not native to the actress.

Why did Corey Reynolds leave The Closer? ›

Though many of Sedgewick's castmates will be returning for the Major Crimes spin-off, Corey Reynolds isn't one of them. Deadline reports that Reynolds declined the offer to return as Sgt. David Gabriel and has instead signed a talent holding deal with NBC.

What is Brenda always eating on The Closer? ›

"It looks like love." That's the famous line that Brenda Leigh Johnson utters in both the first and last episodes of The Closer. But in terms of the character herself, apart from her romance with Fritz, that sentiment also extends to the star's snack food of choice throughout The Closer's run: the humble Ding Dong.

Who was the mole in closer? ›

In the finale of “The Closer,” who was revealed as the mole, and how and why did Brenda Leigh Johnson leave her job? A. Well, the mole was revealed in the secondto- last episode, titled “Armed Response.” It was Ann Mason (Shanti Lowry), the girlfriend of Det. Sgt.

Did Kyra Sedgwick's daughter play in The Closer? ›

Sosie Bacon, who plays Brenda's niece Charlie, is Kyra Sedgwick's real-life daughter to Kevin Bacon.

Was Major Crimes a spin-off of The Closer? ›

Major Crimes is an American police procedural television series starring Mary McDonnell. It was a continuation spin-off of The Closer, set in the same police division, now headed by McDonnell's character, Sharon Raydor. It premiered on TNT on August 13, 2012, following the finale of The Closer.

What episode does the leak get revealed in The Closer? ›

While Brenda returns early after her mother's death to help Major Crimes solve the murder of a security guard, Raydor uncovers the leak in the department from Brenda's Turell Baylor case.

Who was the leak to Goldman on The Closer? ›

After a few weeks, Goldman's mole is revealed by Captain Raydor to be a woman named Ann Mason, who had been and still was dating LAPD Detective David Gabriel.

Does Brenda in The Closer get pregnant? ›

But I have to say I'm disappointed (though my feelings are mixed) that Brenda didn't get pregnant in this last episode. The transition from death to life, as she loses her mother & her career, would have been perfect.

Who did The Closer marry? ›

Fritz and Brenda's romance blossoms in Season 1 of The Closer and becomes more serious during Season 2 in which they decide to move in together in “Blue Blood” and later marry in “Double Blind”.

Who betrays Brenda in The Closer? ›

It was a reveal a year in the making, and one done with a twist on the penultimate episode of "The Closer" (Mon., 9 p.m. ET on TNT). Gabriel was revealed as the informant, but he was just as stunned as the rest of the team that the information was coming from him.

When did Irene Daniels leave The Closer? ›

From 2005 to 2009, Ravera played Irene Daniels during the first four seasons of the TNT crime drama series The Closer and was the only regular cast member to leave the series during its run.

Does Brenda get sued in The Closer? ›

The lawsuit against Brenda also wrapped up, wonder of wonders, as Peter Goldman was using unscrupulous methods to recruit new members for his case, and, in the process, lied while being interrogated. He had the names of five witnesses to Baylor's murder, but didn't give them up. Litigation dropped.

Who is the female lead in closer? ›

Kyra Minturn Sedgwick (/ˈkɪərə ˈsɛdʒwɪk/; born August 19, 1965) is an American actress, producer and director. She is best known for her starring role as Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on the TNT crime drama The Closer.

What did Pope give Brenda for her birthday? ›

jewelers. Gifts from Tiffany are readily identifiable by their characteristic blue box tied with a white ribbon. In Batter Up, Pope gave Brenda a gift of earrings from Tiffany & Co., and later gave Brenda a second, mysterious gift she never opened and would feature prominently in a future episode.

How old was Kyra Sedgwick during The Closer? ›

Sedgwick: I was 39 when The Closer started. It certainly wasn't intentional for me to have a groundbreaking show.

What happened to the first coroner on The Closer? ›

Dr.

Avery): The original medical examiner who Brenda and her team most commonly dealt with (seasons 1 to early 3). He was initially annoyed by Brenda's attitude, much like the rest of the police department. He sustains a serious foot injury and is replaced by Dr. Morales.

What happened to Taylor on The Closer? ›

He does what he can to undermine her at every turn, under the guise of trying to assist in the case. In The Closer spin-off, Major Crimes, Taylor becomes the Assistant Chief of Operations for the LAPD. In the episode "White Lies, Part I," Taylor is killed in the line of duty during a courtroom shooting.

Did Sosie Bacon appear on The Closer? ›

In Season 5 of "The Closer", newlywed Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick) embraces married life while also dealing with the health problems of her beloved cat and tension with a new colleague, LAPD captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell). Kyra Sedgwick's daughter Sosie Bacon appears in a four-episode arc as Brenda's niece Charlie.

Did Kevin Bacon Act on The Closer? ›

Kevin Bacon is a Golden Globe winning actor-director who directed four episodes of The Closer. He is also the husband of series star Kyra Sedgwick, and the star of the Fox Network series The Following.

Who did Kyra Sedgwick inherit money from? ›

Kyra Sedgwick inherited a fortune from her venture capitalist father, Henry Dwight Sedgwick V. Some publications estimate that the Kyra Sedgwick inheritance amounted to around $16 million.

Why did Major Crimes get canceled? ›

Major Crimes is believed to have been cancelled prior to the sixth and final season due to the series' steady decline in viewership numbers. One of TNT's most popular series of the 2010s was The Closer's spin-off series, Major Crimes, which premiered in 2012.

How much is Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick worth together? ›

Kyra Sedgwick is an award-winning American actress who has a net worth of $45 million. That is a combined net worth with her husband of 30+ years, Kevin Bacon.

Are Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon still married? ›

Who is Kyra Sedgwick married to? Unsurprisingly, Kyra Sedgwick is married to actor Kevin Bacon. The pair have been married for 34 years, since 1988. They fell in love in 1987 during the filming of 1988's Lemon Sky and married the following year.

Will The Closer ever come back? ›

Now, TNT has announced The Closer is coming to an end. The press release notes that the decision came from series star Kyra Sedgwick. TNT's long-running, breakout hit THE CLOSER will wrap up its phenomenal run with a final season in 2011.

Is The Closer based on a true story? ›

Los Angeles viewers will especially appreciate that “The Closer” is based on real L.A. crime stories, using the LAPD's fictional “Major Crimes Unit” to juxtapose law enforcement against L.A. culture. Patt takes her show to the set of “The Closer” to talk dramatized crime stories, and of course chocolate.

Is The Closer still being filmed? ›

On December 10, 2010, TNT announced that the seventh season of The Closer, which began production in the spring of 2011, would be the last. The channel said that the decision to retire the show was made by Sedgwick.

Who writes the script for The Closer? ›

The Closer is written by show creator James Duff along with a team of writers who collaborate to develop the season's theme, storylines and episodes. The writing team consists of three to five additional writers, along with at least one story/script editor.

Why did Brenda get fired from The Closer? ›

In the end of The Closer, due to her efforts to capture Phillip Stroh leading her to assault him, Brenda, knowing she will lose her job, leaves the LAPD and gets a new job as Chief at the District Attorney's Office's Bureau of Investigation. While its more administrative, she can still work in the field sometimes.

Why did Ciara Sedgwick leave The Closer? ›

One of the major reasons why she left the show was to spread her wings creatively. "I thought about it for about a year, and it finally came down to the fact that I really want to do other things, creatively. I'm an artist, and I want to express myself in other ways and other places," the actress said.

What was wrong with Brenda on The Closer season 3? ›

Finally seeing a doctor, she is given a preliminary diagnosis of menopause. In the emotional upheaval that follows, Fritz proposes marriage. The following episode reveals that she actually suffers from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, so she undergoes more tests to ensure that it is not cancer.

Did Brenda and Fritz divorce on The Closer? ›

Dialogue in later episodes shows that the two remain married and suggests that Brenda remained in Los Angeles with Fritz.

Are Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick cousins? ›

Sedgwick married actor Kevin Bacon on September 4, 1988. Sedgwick learned in 2012, via her appearance on the U.S. TV show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, that she and Bacon are tenth cousins, once removed.

Does Kyra Sedgwick have a Southern accent? ›

She also has a big, bendy Southern accent that is not native to the actress.

Who is the mole on The Closer spoiler? ›

In the finale of “The Closer,” who was revealed as the mole, and how and why did Brenda Leigh Johnson leave her job? A. Well, the mole was revealed in the secondto- last episode, titled “Armed Response.” It was Ann Mason (Shanti Lowry), the girlfriend of Det. Sgt.

What did Chief Johnson eat on The Closer? ›

"It looks like love." That's the famous line that Brenda Leigh Johnson utters in both the first and last episodes of The Closer. But in terms of the character herself, apart from her romance with Fritz, that sentiment also extends to the star's snack food of choice throughout The Closer's run: the humble Ding Dong.

Did Brenda on The Closer have a baby? ›

But I have to say I'm disappointed (though my feelings are mixed) that Brenda didn't get pregnant in this last episode. The transition from death to life, as she loses her mother & her career, would have been perfect.

Who was the serial killer on The Closer? ›

Phillip Stroh is a defense attorney and serial rapist/killer during The Closer and Major Crimes. Stroh acted as a major recurring antagonist for Brenda Leigh Johnson and the Major Crimes Division until his death in “By Any Means, Part 4”.

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