Earlier this week, Ray Donovan fans were shocked when Showtime pulled the plug on the acclaimed drama after seven seasons. The story of a high-class fixer played by Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan had been a staple of the cable network for almost a decade, earning multiple awards and nominations for its cast and creators, including nine Emmy nods.
The seventh and now final season saw Ray going to therapy, his brother Terry (Eddie Marsan) struggling with suicidal thoughts, his daughter Bridget (Kerris Dorsey) cheating on her new husband, and his father Mickey (Jon Voight) getting into more trouble than ever as he tried to right a past wrong. Most interestingly, the show incorporated a flashback structure that introduced us to younger versions of Ray and his family, revealing the story behind his sister’s death and Ray’s justified hatred for Mickey. Whereas season six ended on a graceful note with the family healthy and relatively happy — a fitting series finale, if it had ended there — the closing scenes of season seven left everyone divided and alone, clearly setting things up for an eighth season that showrunner David Hollander says he and his writers had already plotted out as the show’s final bow.
Still reeling from such an unexpected cancellation, Hollander got on the phone with Vulture to discuss Showtime’s decision, how he broke the news to the cast and crew, where the show would have gone next, and how he hopes people remember Ray Donovan.
We’re still scratching our heads. We had no indicator that the show was ending. We were behaving creatively as though we were in mid-sentence. And so, there was no sense that this was going to be a completion. This was in no way a series finale.
Why do you think this decision was made?
The corporate elements of show business are complicated and often mired in things that will never be spoken out loud. I think the easiest external impact was the merger [between CBS and Viacom]. Whatever new environment grew from the merger clearly had some impact on their choice.
Had the show been on the bubble before? Did you consider ending it earlier?
Not even remotely. Every other year, it was them dragging us out kicking and screaming. We were so used to it being the other way, where we were burned out by a show that was very hard to make and the network would pull us and cajole us and push us. We were used to being a show that was not canceled. We never thought we would be canceled.
Did you call the cast? How did they respond?
Yes, I talked to everybody after I spoke to Showtime. The responses run the gamut from people being sad and grateful to anger and confusion. It’s a hard road, so sometimes you think, “Well, I don’t have to climb a mountain next year.” At the end of the day, what I was saying to the network is, “Even if we don’t want to come back, we’re obliged to come back.” This is not something that you just let go of narratively, because of our very long and committed relationship to our very loyal audience.
Did you know what season eight would have been?
Very much so.
Are you willing to share?
The pivot we had been making narratively was to move the backstory into the present and run it concurrently. So there were actually two stories to be told: What happened then, really, and how will that impact what happens now? The next step was what happened with Ray and Mickey in the ‘90s, which would have been the creation of Ray Donovan as a character and as a fixer. That’s why we went into such detail to find the right cast.
That [flashback] story was a helpful pivot, at least for me creatively. I felt really good about it. And so, that story was going to run directly against the idea of Ray and Mickey now.
Did you have an endpoint in mind?
Eight was it.
Is there any chance that happens anywhere else?
I never know. This is a big show. To be fair to our bosses, Ray Donovan, for the Showtime model, was a very expensive show. We were going into our eighth season with salaries and all the step-ups for union. And the move to New York was extraordinarily expensive, so there’s that. Is there an audience that wants to see this, that will create a demand cycle where someone will absorb the risk? I would never say never. It is much easier to do in the now. The sets are still standing. The people are still contracted. The mechanisms are in place. Once we tear down the sets and put the costumes away… it’s a lot of actors who are in demand.
What do you hope people remember about Ray Donovan?
I would hope that they remember a long, complex relationship with a family that was surprising emotionally, that allowed empathy and insight into these characters. Every show has a feeling more than a fact. People tend to remember a feeling of a show. Ray Donovan had a poetic inside and a really hard-boiled outside, and that tension is why people stayed with us. The feeling. They knew that they would get emotional stories, but they would also get the explosions, the violence, and the unpredictable behavior of the characters.
What do you want to say to fans?
Thank you, first and foremost. A huge, huge thank you. All we can do is hope that we have an audience that cares. The gratitude is really meaningful to those of us who are feeling a little bit lost by what’s happened.
The other thing that I feel is a bit apologetic. I’m proud of the work that we all did. I’m proud of the way that this year ended. It was powerful and well-acted and they achieved what I hoped they would. However, this wasn’t meant to be [the ending]. You could spin it one way and say that it’s hard to satisfy an audience with a finale, not that I didn’t want to try. I always want the opportunity to try. I just wish I had.
Is there any part of you that wishes this had happened a season earlier? Because if the show stopped then, it would have worked as an ending?
Yes, totally. It totally would have. The end of season six was the completion of an idea. And we were pretty burned out. It felt like the end. I think it would have been an extraordinary series finale because it had enough open and enough closed. When I came back for season seven, it was with the idea that you can’t just take the completion of an arc and then complete it again, so the writers’ room began with building two seasons.
And Showtime knew that?
They knew that was my approach. That’s why this season has some places where we lay up and build plot. There are certain times when you have to refuel. You’re gathering some strands and building for the future. I was shooting for a longer arc, for sure.
It’s complicated. The people who made this decision are the same people who brought this to the air. They were unbelievably supportive creatively. They were always deeply in the artist’s corner, and deeply committed to our success. There was never a moment where I saw any of them negatively charged toward our show. They were always proud of it. They always accepted our indulgences. They put up with the fact that I was demanding a visual template as strong as anything out there. And that’s time and money. They were cool with that — until they weren’t.