When "The Shield" premiered on FX in March 2002, it was entering a prestige-TV landscape that was still relatively young. "The Sopranos" had just begun its HBO run three years earlier, and AMC shows like "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" — with protagonists cut from the same antihero cloth as Tony Soprano — had not yet arrived on cable TV. And they might never have done so if "The Shield" hadn't paved the way first. Michael Chiklis won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of corrupt cop Vic Mackey in season 1 of "The Shield," but for series creator Shawn Ryan and company, it took some convincing to even get "The Shield" on the air, and there was a lot riding on its success.

In 2022, for the 20th anniversary of "The Shield," Entertainment Weekly dug into the background of the show with an oral history featuring Chiklis, Ryan, and other cast and crew members. The show's development was overseen by former FX president Peter Liguori and former FX executive Kevin Reilly, and apparently, both their jobs were on the line. FX was just coming out of its "Fox Gone Cable" relaunch circa 1997–2001, and Fox co-founder Rupert Murdoch didn't have much more patience for failure.

Actor Kenny Johnson, who played Vic Mackey's fellow Strike Team member, Curtis "Lem" Lemansky, recalled that, at the time, "[The 'Baywatch' spoof show] 'Son of the Beach' was the only original series" on FX. He said, "The rumor was that when they chose to go with 'The Shield,' Rupert Murdoch told [Liguori and Reilly], 'If this thing fails, you're both gone.'"

'Every Page Was Electric'

As the network's president, Peter Liguori had a vision for what FX could be beyond the disposable "Son of the Beach." He didn't believe that premium channels should be the only province of edgy dramas like "The Shield."

"Our strategy was 'Why should HBO and Showtime have a monopoly on premium, challenging content?'" Liguori said. "We wanted to come out of the gate with something that announced that FX was different." In "The Shield," Ligouri found a script where "every page was electric," though it had been buried "in a stack of other spec scripts" and almost "never should have happened."

Shawn Ryan, who penned the pilot, added, "We were having trouble getting people to consider us. There was a lot of skepticism about original programming on FX. There was a real belief that this is going to be some cheap cable thing. Frankly, I think a lot of it was driven by agents."

Catherine Dent, who played patrol officer Danny Sofer, the future mother of Vic Mackey's child, said, "My agents told me to turn it down. Nobody knew what FX was, the money was not great. But I'd been pounding the pavement for years and it was a big deal for me."

"The Shield" immediately proved the skeptics wrong by earning the highest ratings for a scripted premiere in the history of basic cable. The Emmy win for Michael Chiklis was also a major get, but that was just the start. As A-listers like Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker joined the cast of "The Shield" in subsequent seasons, it paved the way for other network breakouts like "Sons of Anarchy" and "Justified," helping transform the idea of cable prestige from a dicey prospect to the way of the future.

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The post FX's The Shield 'Never Should Have Happened' Yet Changed The Network Forever appeared first on /Film.