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San Jose Mercury News

"Rescue Me," the dark, comic firefighter drama broadcast Tuesdays on FX, returned last week for the beginning of the end. The show will wrap up next year, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that inspired the series and has been revisited repeatedly.

"We always felt that if we made it that far, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 would be a stopping point," said Denis Leary, the show's star and co-creator, with Peter Tolan.

Leary portrays Tommy Gavin, the caustic, alcoholic firefighter at the center of "Rescue Me" who is the "most frantic and emotionally undone member of the crew of 62 Truck," according to Ginia Bellafante, a television critic for The New York Times. The character's reckless bravado frequently scuttles his personal life, even as it makes him an exceptional firefighter.

In a recent interview at his production office in SoHo, Leary talked about the final season, his character and the twisted firehouse anecdotes that inspire the show's scripts. The following are excerpts from the conversation.

Q: How will the show handle the anniversary of 9/11?

A: The final episodes will lead up to the anniversary. During the last three episodes the characters are going to these meetings to plan the parades and memorial services.

Q: So you've shot the final shows already?

A: Yes, we're done shooting. It was interesting because we were doing it a year in advance and we have a lot of firefighters on the set, so we got to watch their response. There's a thing in the final scene, where down on the waterfront there's a new boat called the 343, which was just commissioned. The name on the hull of the boat is done in steel from the World Trade Center. It's a $27 million boat, and the only reason they have them is because they realized on 9/11 that they need that service from the water, right down by where the buildings went down. Watching the boat, which the department was kind enough to give us that day, roll in was pretty emotional for a lot of the real firefighters. So for better or worse, I think we did the right thing.

Q: Why has 9/11 remained such a central theme on your show?

A: Because it's firefighters. The show has been the story of the male ego, the heroic male ego. The idea of dealing with life and death every day, and that struggle to fit into real life when you work a job that has no real connection to real life, except in the sense that you may die five minutes from now. Or you may save a life. This event was so catastrophic for these guys. It's still below the surface, but they can't think about it every day because they have to jump on a rig and go back to work and jump into the building. But it's like Vietnam or World War II for them it's something that will never go away.

Q: How did you develop the Tommy Gavin character?

A: He was based on two specific guys. The crew that we created was a smudged version of a real crew that I was very close to; I loved the unit and how everyone related to each other. The guys on the show even tended to look like the real guys the good-looking dumb guy, the good-looking smart guy, the lieutenant who knows everything and has a lot of experience but likes to eat. They're great, rich characters. My guy was a combination of two guys, one who had massive personal problems in terms of his marriage and personal life and one who was a great firefighter who had a different set of problems.

Q: Tommy is haunted literally and figuratively by the people he couldn't save. Is that meant to reflect the psyche of the firefighter, or is there something deeper you're trying to get at?

A: No, that's really it: It's survivor's guilt in its truest form.

Q: With the end in sight, is the show beginning to wrap up the characters' stories?

A: The story of the last two seasons is: Do they have enough to keep at it? Especially in Tommy's case he's old enough that he can take the money and run, and the 10th anniversary becomes that opportunity. You've done it, you're still alive. Take the pension, go home and spend the rest of your life with your family. There's no shame in it. It's just that you're letting go of the life, and it's almost like being a gangster or a retired ballplayer. You're going to be seeing it on the news, but it will be from a distance. You lose the clubhouse atmosphere and you lose the adrenaline.

Copyright 2010 San Jose Mercury News
All Rights Reserved
July 8, 2010

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I agree. I hate to see it end, but it sounds like they are doing it the right way. The last episode tuesday was looking better than the season opener.
Please do...I find it boring and about as realistic as a cartoon.....Just my look....
UUUUUgggghhhh. I'm squeezing really hard trying to squirt a tear. Nope, nothing happening.
There was a show called "Rescue Me"?
After watching the first two episodes, I rescued myself from the TV.
going to miss it !
Well judging by the ratings it must have been pretty popular. I liked it but like all good things they must eventually come to an end.
Me too!

I know this is going to piss someone off but the television program, Rescue Me, did nothing positive for the fire service and I for one am glad to see this inaccurate portrayal of firefighters go away. There is no room in the world of firefighting for alcoholics or drug addicts that see ghosts and have the moral character of an alley cat. Not exactly the perfect image of a firefighter in my opinion.

This is just another example of a television show that was written for ratings, not factual content. Just entertainment at the expense of firefighters reputations... Unfortunately, for many, what they see on TV is reality... Does anyone out there live in a world portrayed by these actors and writers? I seriously don't think so...

The only one who benefited from this was Dennis Leary, who sold out the fire service, creating a make believe world of dysfunctional people that showed no respect for others or themselves... And this is the memory of the NYFD firefighters who perished that we want to share with the world. I think not...

Good riddance!

Mike not sure why this would "piss someone off" LOL. Actually I do see your point and as long as you can keep in the back of your mind that it's "Hollywood BS" and not a real department or a documentary then I don't see a problem with it. The problem I see is two-fold. One is it cements the public's perception of the drunken/party animal/ dangerous/ idiotic firefighters and how we constantly have to be controlled. Two is the firefighters who look at shows like this and think "hey, I need to be like this guy". I happen to like shows like this in general, I got into ER too and let's face it, that's not the best example of how an ER operates LOL. As long as you can separate fact from fiction, I don't see the problem. But then there's a lot who can't and therein lies the problem.
CBz, I think you got a little too wrapped up in the fact that firefighters were in this show. It's not a documentary, a reality show or some sort of exposé. It's a drama with a good dose of comedy. The Tommy character obviously has a drinking problem, but all the other firefighter characters do not. They still put fires out and rescue people. This weeks episode had 5 mins of on the job stuff and they rescued 2 kids from a collapsed building. I don't think that portrays the profession negatively.
Rescue me is less than 10% firefighting. The rest is entertainment based around a guy struggling to come to terms with the events of 9/11 and how it effects his personal life.
Agree with Paul, Oldman, CBz, and others. It needs to go. Unfortunately they put shows like this on and twist the view a bit, but when approached by www.thebattalion.tv to put their series on tv they say no. I'd rather watch thebattalion.tv, which is REAL, like in the essence of COPS. Maybe someday. MHO

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