'Ray Donovan' Season 2: Producer Mark Gordon On What's Next For The Show And Cable TV

'Ray Donovan' Season 2
"Ray Donovan" returns on Sunday to Showtime. Showtime

Season 2 of "Ray Donovan" premieres Sunday on Showtime, and fans will learn what's next for their favorite fixer and his family. International Business Times talked with veteran producer Mark Gordon, whose work includes "Grey's Anatomy" and "Criminal Minds," about what's next for Ray -- and for storytelling on cable and network television in general.

The first season of "Ray Donovan" was a hit, as was the premiere episode, which earned record ratings. the show improved on those numbers with its second episode and garnered solid reviews from both critics and fans. Showtime is anchoring its Sunday block of original programming with "Ray Donovan" at 9 p.m. EDT and "Masters of Sex" at 10 p.m. EDT.

Although the show's first season was a success, Gordon said he feels plenty of pressure to build on the series' achievements.

"I think when you have a successful first season, there is always the pressure of 'How do we both make it more exciting and, at the same time, not screw up what we created to begin with,'" Gordon said. "I think that's always the challenge with any show, but [it's] especially one [when] there are such high expectations for the second season."

Without revealing too much about what's going to happen this season, Gordon said he believes the series' creative team, led by show creator Ann Biderman ("Southland"), achieved its goal of upping the excitement without straying from what makes the show a success.

"I think we've done it," Gordon said about the second season. "Ann and the staff of writers have created a season which takes us, really, right from where we ended the first season, almost literally, and allows us to follow Ray as the circumstances that he's found himself in and the circumstances his family is in continue to plague them and continue to create for problems for them."

The "Ray Donovan" Season 1 finale was not a cliffhanger; it featured Sully's death and new sexual abuse revelations, leaving fans wondering how the show will explore new areas of Ray's life and family next.

Gordon believes "Ray Donovan" is benefiting from the current golden age of long-form TV drama, which was nurtured to maturity by U.S. cable networks, as opposed to the major broadcast networks. As such, he thinks the series is at the vanguard of a new way of watching TV. 

"What we are doing in 'Ray Donovan' Season 2 is continuing to explore, on every level, what would naturally progress after what we've seen in Season 1," Gordon said. "So yes, Sully is killed, and the priest is no longer there, and there all kinds of things wrapped up, but were they really? And what are the ramifications of Sully's death and the priest's death? And what are the ramifications of the different things that have happened to our characters?"

For Gordon,  Season 2 of "Ray Donovan" continues where the previous season left off -- as just one part of a much larger story. Instead of looking at each season as its own chapter, Gordon said, viewers are beginning to look at a show's bigger picture, or its long-term story arc, before evaluating it after just one or two episodes. In other words, today's TV viewers are giving show's like "Ray Donovan" a chance to develop and unfold with complexity and depth, unlike the TV dramas of the past, which tended to have each show's main conflict resolved by the end of each episode. 

"What's interesting about cable television, in particular, is [that] we are starting to experience hours of television like chapters in a book," Gordon said.

While that may different from what viewers were once used to, Gordon said that audiences are beginning to accept and find comfort in this way of viewing a TV series.

"They are learning to reserve judgment, so to speak, and allow themselves to be enveloped in the entire season of a show," said Gordon. "When we read a book, we don't say 'Oh, Chapter 3 was good and Chapter 4 was pretty good. Chapter 5 was great but Chapter 6 wasn't that good.' It's all a process of a continuing story and allowing the characters to grow throughout each season. [We're] thinking of each season as a book, and [of a] television series [as] a series of books [made for] the new way we are learning how to watch television."

In  Season 2 of "Ray Donovan," Ray's story will progress in the same way that most people's lives progress, facing new challenges and events that result from and build off his past decisions.

"What doesn't happen in good storytelling, and in life, is that something literally comes to an end and we start all over again," Gordon said. "Which, to me, is exciting television, and [it] will be exciting for the audience to see how we continue to progress the stories already started."

As a veteran of long-running network television shows like"Grey's Anatomy," which is entering its 11th season, and "Criminal Minds," which will start its 10th season in October, and other cable TV dramas, Gordon said that each situation is different. Network television should not try to imitate cable television, or vice versa, he believes. For any good show, it's about staying true to the format and the way it's told, Gordon said.

He also pointed out that TV is pretty exciting right now because of the relatively large number of opportunities for long-form dramas on broadcast and cable TV.

"It's different," he said. "It's changing and allowing for all different kinds of storytelling. And the beauty with cable is that you're not required to get 16 million people to watch your show. If you're getting 2.5 or 3 million eyeballs on your show, you're doing great.

“'Criminal Minds' is a procedural, it's a different story every week," he added. "I don't want to say it's easier or harder, but it's different. When you have a close-ended show, the hard part is that you have to have a new case every week. The easy part is that you don't have to deal with the intricacies of character on a week-to-week basis."

In “Grey's Anatomy,” the drama is an ongoing story that's serialized. "You're dealing with these characters over the course of 22 episodes, you are parsing out certain information," Gordon said. "You are parsing out certain kinds of story and character progression because it needs to have a season arc."

Cable TV can let storytellers pack each episode with great character moments, details and important event, or it can slowly unravel a larger story. The first method can quickly hook viewers, but the second has also been incredibly successful in recent years, whether it's "Ray Donovan" or "True Detective."

"If you look at something like 'Homeland,' I actually thought last season was really excellent, but at the same time, on the second or third episode, I was feeling it was a little slow," he continued. "I came to realize, and [what] I hope the audience came to realize, is [that] without some of the slow build in the first few episodes, the climax, [which] they obviously knew was [going to happen], wasn't going to be able to pay off."

To explain the differences between cable and broadcast TV another way, Gordon likens network TV to Broadway, which features large productions and spectacles, and he compares the cable networks to off-Broadway.

"Those [big] shows wouldn't work off-Broadway, and they shouldn't, and that's not what off-Broadway should be doing," he said. "If you look at cable television, well, you need a smaller audience, which means you can make programs for fewer people that are incredibly pleasing to those people [who] are watching. There are a lot more opportunities to find an audience for the story you want to tell."

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