'Mad Dogs' producer Shawn Ryan on his Amazon pilot
Amazon released its latest batch of pilots a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of press tour, so it took me a while to get to them, and I still haven’t had time to watch “Point of Honor.” But I saw all the other adult scripted series, and two clearly stood out as the ones I hope go to series: “The Man in the High Castle,” about a reality where the Axis powers won WWII, and “Mad Dogs,” about four middle-aged friends (played by Steve Zahn, Romany Malco, Michael Imperioli and Ben Chaplin) whose vacation to visit a fifth old pal (Billy Zane) goes terribly awry. Both are adaptations with top-notch U.S. producers involved: “Man in the High Castle” with Frank Spotnitz working from the Philip K. Dick novel, “Mad Dogs” with Shawn Ryan teaming up with “Mad Dogs” UK creator Cris Cole.
Amazon moves at its own pace with these things — this is the fourth batch of pilots Amazon has done, and “Transparent” and "Mozart in the Jungle" are the only shows picked up from the second batch to have already premiered (“Bosch,” also from that group, debuts February 13 — and doesn’t have an established pattern of pick-ups. (Only two from the third group got series orders, and one from the second — Chris Carter’s “The After” — was picked up, then quietly killed without a second episode ever being filmed.) It’s still not clear how much weight Amazon actually gives the crowd-sourced process, since “Transparent” was easily the lowest-rated of its pilot class, while Woody Allen recently made an Amazon series deal that allowed him to skip this process altogether. But if I were a betting man, I would wager on both “Man in the High Castle” and “Mad Dogs” getting pick-ups.
While the various shows wait to hear their fates, I emailed Shawn Ryan (producer and/or creator of “The Shield,” “Terriers,” “The Unit,” “The Chicago Code” and “Last Resort,” among others) some questions about the “Mad Dogs” pilot — which I found atmospheric and engrossing even in its slow-burn plotting, and which looked great courtesy of director Charles McDougall — how he and Cole intend to deviate from the original, how different (if at all) the process has been with Amazon, and even how a TV veteran like him feels about Amazon letting Woody Allen avoid the pilot process he’s currently going through. There are spoilers for the pilot, so if you haven't watched yet, beware.
What interested you in the original series and made you want to be part of a new version?
Shawn Ryan: I loved the tone of it, the unpredictability of it, the way that the character work grew and grew each episode. I had gotten to know Cris and was developing a different show with him when Sony bought the company that produced “Mad Dogs” UK. They asked Cris and I if we would like to do an American version. Cris and I talked. For all that he liked about the UK version, there were also a lot of things he would want to do differently now. Back then, he never thought they would make more than four episodes so he never really thought the backstory through a lot. He liked the idea of starting with the original premise and then quickly splintering off into a completely new version. We also talked about how American men were different than British men and how that might affect the show. He started to get really excited about the notion, which made me really excited.
Adaptations of foreign formats are big right now. Some are very loosely based on the original idea, while some are beat-for-beat (and at times shot-for-shot) from the original, even if the original is in English and aired here in the States. With Cris on board for this version, how different, if at all, are you expecting it to be?
Shawn Ryan: The pilot, while having many similar story beats to the UK version, also has some significant differences and those differences will only grow bigger until episode 5, when it will be a completely new story with only the occasional nod to the original. And, as I mentioned earlier, American men are just different than Brits.