Mary McDonnell, left, G.W. Bailey, Michael Paul Chan, Phillip P Keene,… (Darren Michaels / TNT )
Capt. Sharon Raydor, one of the highest-ranking women in a fictional TV version of the Los Angeles Police Department, is the ultimate "Lean In" type of gal.
Played by two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell on TNT's hit drama "Major Crimes," this top cop spends her days putting away bad guys, following the letter of the law and corralling her rogue detectives. And she's not trying, even for a moment, to be anyone's best friend.
"She's concerned with doing what's right, not with what people think about her," McDonnell said recently during a break in filming this season's expanded order of 19 episodes. "It's more of a male energy."
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So if Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg hadn't written the bestseller "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead," maybe Raydor would have? The unflappable cop will continue to thrive in a male-dominated world when "Major Crimes" returns Monday to TNT, where it planted its flag as the No. 1 new drama on cable last year with an average 7 million viewers.
James Duff, creator of "Major Crimes" and its predecessor, "The Closer," said he wants viewers to respect and relate to Raydor, the politically savvy chief of detectives.
But like her? It wasn't his goal, even as he took her from guest player on "The Closer" to the center of the "Major Crimes" ensemble. And that helps illustrate how far TV, especially cable, has come in its portrayals of women, he said.
"You wouldn't have seen this character 20 years ago," Duff said. "Instead, it was Joan Collins and Linda Evans having a catfight on 'Dynasty.' Now we can do something more substantive. And Mary wants a morally complex role."
McDonnell, who has appeared in such dramas as "ER" and "Grey's Anatomy," said TV has become the go-to place for complicated female characters. One of her best-known characters has been President Laura Roslin, who ruled the Twelve Colonies while fighting breast cancer in the sci-fi series "Battlestar Galactica."
"There's something about this medium that's allowing women's stories to be told, finally," McDonnell said. "TV has been the heart song of my career for the past 10 years."
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While some critics may see "Major Crimes" as a by-the-book crime procedural, Duff thinks it's unique — and not just for starring an iron-willed female in a powerful job.
McDonnell, Oscar-nominated for her roles in the blockbuster "Dances With Wolves" and the indie flick "Passion Fish," is, at 61, not the typical female TV lead. And one of her closest relationships on the show is with a gay teenager and former street hustler whom she takes under her wing.
"If I'd pitched it just like that, no one would've ever put it on the air," Duff said. "It has an unexpected edge to it."
In the upcoming season, audiences will get a glimpse of the emotional side of Raydor, including a visit from her not-quite-ex-husband, played by Tom Berenger. And her surrogate son, Rusty, played by Graham Patrick Martin, will continue to have a significant role in her life.
"She deepens," McDonnell said. "It's not inconsistent with who she is, but we'll see more layers."
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