The USA Network without "Burn Notice"? Seems inconceivable, as the spy drama remains one of the cable network's most successful and loved series. But with the second half of Season 6 unfolding now and only 13 episodes ordered for Season 7, the exploits of burned spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and his loved ones have also made for one increasingly expensive show.
That, "Burn Notice" Emmy nominee Sharon Gless says, may be what leads to the series' ending, despite its continued success. Gless, who plays Westen mama Maddie (a woman every bit as smart, tough, and resourceful as her son), talked to Yahoo! TV about losing one of her TV sons this season, about the future of the season and the show, and about the possibility of reteaming with her old "Nip/Tuck" pal Ryan Murphy on "American Horror Story."
So, when you got that script that said Maddie was planning to move away from Miami after her son was killed … panic? We were a little worried that Maddie was really leaving.
I know! [Series creator] Matt Nix called me and said, "Now, listen. You're going to be getting a script where it says you're moving away, but you're really not. We're not firing you." I said, "OK, good!"
This has been a tough time for Maddie. Michael and his friends are going through a lot, obviously, but Maddie lost a child, and her other child has some responsibility in that … double emotional whammy for her. Does she also blame herself for Nate's death?
She does. In her defense, she did the best she could to keep the boys alive, but she never left her husband, which she probably should have done. [Back then], women very seldom left, abused wives. We did an episode on it on "Cagney & Lacey." It's because they don't know where to go, and the men would follow them and beat them somewhere else. So [Maddie] stayed to try to keep peace for her sons. But Michael's character apparently would chase after the father and try to protect his mother, and then he would get beaten, whereas Nate never got involved on that level. He was just a sweet boy. He never had Michael's angst. But yes, she does blame him for Nate's death. And she blames herself. It's a very, very complicated family.
Were you shocked when you found out Nate was going to be killed? "Burn Notice" is a drama, but that was a bit of a tone change for the series.
Matt told me that I'd be losing my boy before I had to read it in the script. Because you do become very involved with these people, and it's just sort of rude to have the mother of a son [learn] that her youngest son is blown away [by reading the script]. So, he did take the time to tell me. But I was shocked, as we all were. I'm sure Seth [Peterson, the actor who played Nate] was. But that's show biz, folks. They sometimes do that to shake up a show. On "Cagney & Lacey," they killed off my character's father, who she was very, very close to. And they did it just to shake up the show and to force Cagney to grow up a little and force her alcoholism to come to the fore. And sometimes you lose a beloved character to go to that next level with the rest of them.
She decided to stay in Miami, at least partly, to help Michael and his friends as they try to straighten out the mess with Card's death, but has she, or can she, really forgive Michael?
I do. She had that scene with him, where she told him she was going to stay, where she said eventually I have to forgive you or I'll lose you too. I think she can do that because she feels she also has responsibility in Nate's death.
But she is angry with everyone. They are her family, all of those people. But in dealing with all of that for her, losing her child, her youngest … we [filmed] just a brief scene of the funeral, and I didn't want to stand at the coffin with the [other actors]. I sort of lost it on the set. I said, "Why? I don't want to do this. Let [Maddie] say goodbye to her son and walk away." And they said, "No, Sharon, this is the family standing there together." And I said, "The family? Every one of them is culpable. I don't want to stand here with these people. My son is dead because of these people. My son is dead because of me. I don't want to associate with them."
So we had to find other ways [to address her anger]. They were wonderful, the writers. They came up with stuff for me. Don't forget, "Burn Notice" isn't about her, but you have to deal with the mother. It hurts worse losing a child than losing a brother. That's what those guys have to deal with over there, and they have beautifully.
You once described Maddie as the mother from Hell, early in the show's run. Do you think that's still true?
Well, it depends on which day you get her. I don't think she is now, but I know Michael sees her that way sometimes. Obviously their relationship is tumultuous. It's a roller coaster, but there's love there, and, as you'll see, it's going to get even better.
And what will Maddie be up to the rest of the season?
I don't want to ruin it for you, but I will say that the end of the season has a big twist. They continue to be on the run, though, and Maddie is a part of it. They don't leave me behind at all. As for next year, I have no idea what they're going to do with us and with me.
Have you finished filming completely on Season 6?
Yes, and then we go start Season 7 in Miami in March.
Season 7 has been confirmed for 13 episodes. Do you think that will be the end of the show, then?
I do. Yeah, it's a short order. It's a short order because we've become too expensive. We're still [a hit]. And you think, well, gee, then wouldn't you want to keep us on for 20 years? But each year comes along, everybody becomes more expensive. Not just the actors, [also] the writers, the producers, everybody.
It'll be interesting to see how they end it. I hope they don't end it like it's an ending. Always leave the possibility open that there's a life for these characters after this.
You earned an Emmy nomination for your role on Ryan Murphy's "Nip/Tuck," playing psycho fake agent Colleen. Has there been any talk of you sinking your teeth into another juicy role on his "American Horror Story"?
Well, there's been talk from me. [Laughing.] And talk from my camp. "Nip/Tuck" was a great show. They were so sick, those writers. Ryan told me [the Colleen story] was the most twisted arc he'd ever written. My agent called Ryan, and Ryan said, "Oh, I love her. I love her. I have to think of something [for her on 'AHS']."
That sounds promising.
Oh, I don't know. Producers always say things like that. But I was on Rosie O'Donnell's cruise -- well, Rosie doesn't do it, her [former] partner Kelly does now -- and some of the ["AHS"] producers were there. And they said, "Sharon, you should come and do 'American Horror Story.'" I didn't know what it was at the time, so I said, "What is it?" And they said, "It's one of the best shows on TV!" So I said, sure, I'd love to be on it, because I love anything Ryan does.
"Burn Notice" airs Thursdays at 10 PM on USA.