But if the mind that created Ray Donovan is a product of Miami, the subject matter — a private eye who holds the hands and keeps the secrets of the stars, whose mantra is “I have a way to get you out of this” — is pure Hollywood. The title character (played by much-decorated stage actor Liev Schreiber) is drawn from the tales of any number of real-life showbiz fixers:
Fred Otash, the detective hired by the Kennedy family to sweep the home of Marilyn Monroe clean of anything embarrassing in the hours after her suicide. MGM troubleshooters Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling, who covered up the illicit pregnancy of Loretta Young by her married boyfriend Clark Gable by arranging for her to adopt her own baby. Tony Pellicano, wire tapper to (and of) the stars, whose electronic eavesdropping in celebrity divorce cases eventually got him a 15-year prison sentence.
“This character has been around forever in Hollywood in various forms,” Biderman says. “It’s a huge industry, full of entitlement and money and sexuality, and there’s always been somebody around to take care of every abortion or drug overdose or whatever form scandal was taking at the moment.”
Biderman’s passion for research is legendary — she spent seven months riding with police officers before writing a word of her cop-drama series Southland — but her decades in Hollywood following her graduation from the NYU film school gave her a head start on Ray Donovan.
“I’ve lived here a long time, most of my friends are celebrities, I understand the issues of stalking and privacy,” she says. “I understand the town. So that part wasn’t as hard as Southland. But I did talk to a lot of people. To paparazzi, to defense lawyers, to ex-FBI agents, to tabloid reporters. I talked a lot to the people at SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. [Her detective’s back story is shaped by youthful sexual molestation.]
“But at the end of the day, it’s fiction. As much as you arm yourself with real stuff, you ultimately sail off with your imagination.”
Biderman spent years in Hollywood working on feature films (mostly hard-bitten crime thrillers like the 2009 gangster epic Public Enemies) but has done relatively little television. After she dipped her toe into the TV waters with some scripts for NYPD Blue (and winning an Emmy), her first big project was Southland, a peculiarity even in an industry known for unorthodox business practices.
The show, about the lives of Los Angeles beat cops, made its debut in the spring of 2009 as a mid-season replacement on NBC, winning critical acclaim and moderate ratings success. NBC renewed Southland for a second season, but after shooting six episodes, abruptly canceled the show without airing any of them. The Hollywood press bristled with stories in which unnamed NBC executives declared the show “too dark.”
Southland eventually found a cable home on TNT and ran four more seasons before its cancellation last month, a success by any TV measure. But the subject is still a sore one for Biderman.
“It was a debacle,” she declares. “NBC decided to get rid of 10 p.m. dramas to make room for Jay Leno’s prime-time show, and we were a 10 p.m. drama. We got caught in the middle. It was that simple. Too dark? I’m sure they did think it was too dark for 9 p.m. I thought, when they bought the show, they wanted to push the envelope. ... I might not have been the best candidate for a network show.”
Ray Donovan, with its sexual kinks and explosive violence, will never be mistaken for a broadcast-network drama from any time slot at all. That, laughs Biderman, is what helped sell it to Showtime programming boss David Nevins.
“I don’t want to sound immodest, and I hate this expression, but honestly, he pretty much bought it in the room” right after hearing the proposal, she says. “It was all about the timing. Showtime at the time had lots of shows that were female-centric, with strong female leads and stories, like Weeds and The Big C. I think David was looking for a macho show to mix it up, and there I was in my high heels, pitching this filth, this macho filth.”