MR. LEARY IS NO DOUBT THE FACE of Rescue Me (have you seen the posters? neck veins and all?) but the bulk of his energy is devoted to writing the show. He writes, co-writes or rewrites every episode of the show and has for its entire run.
And once Rescue Me finishes shooting the current season’s episodes, Mr. Leary will shift gears to produce Canterbury’s Law, a legal drama starring Julianna Margulies (with a pilot directed by Mike Figgis, set for January on Fox). He and Mr. Tolan also created a cop-show pilot for NBC, Ft. Pit, that didn’t make the fall lineup: “It’s a business, like selling biscotti,” Mr. Leary shrugged.
He’s written a movie he hopes to direct and is also writing a book (“It’s not fair to call it a book; it’s really a printed version of my subconscious”). And he still does stand-up, sparingly, reserving his New York appearances for the annual New York Comedy Festival in the fall. He still reads five newspapers a day, riffing on what he sees: “That’s the great thing about stand-up,” he said. “You’ve got a show at 8. You walk out, there’s a mike—and that’s it.”
There’s no shortage of potential material out there, whether it’s the Presidential candidacy of Rudy Giuliani (“the worst friend firefighters ever had”) or why so much popular entertainment is so terrible: “I believe there’s a reason when you see a really dumb movie or a dumb TV show that are hits. The audience is not being fooled. It’s what they want to see.”
Rescue Me, however, manages to be both smart and popular because FX allows Messrs. Leary and Tolan lots of latitude. There are few taboos with language, sexuality or subject matter: from the fireman who is dating a recently decommissioned nun to, well, that spank-bank discussion. There are still strictures (no frontal nudity, no using the word “fuck”), but Rescue Me doesn’t need them to provoke.
Last season, for example, an Internet controversy erupted over a scene of rough sex between Tommy and his ex-wife Janet (Andrea Roth) that some viewers construed as rape: “That caught us unaware,” Mr. Tolan said. “We thought it was just another trip down Dysfunction Lane with the Gavins.” (To be fair, Janet did utter a few no’s and stop’s before ecstatically consenting.) Meanwhile, in Season 4, Janet has a new baby whose father could be Tommy—or his late brother, with whom she was living after she and Tommy separated.
Still, there was one line FX executives wouldn’t let Mr. Leary cross for the coming season. Fans will be thankful he didn’t.
“I tend to be edgier than most, so I pitched what I thought was a brilliant idea,” Mr. Leary said, with a subversive smile that’s pure Tommy. “I said that, at about the sixth show of the season, the audience should tune in with no previous information about the episode. The guys go to a fire—and everybody gets killed. Which is highly possible. People tune in the next week and there’s no show. Everybody’s dead; the series is over. Now that’s something people would talk about.
“Or how about this, then? Tommy dies. He disappears in a fire and, at the end of the show, they find him dead. And the next week is the funeral. And then the show’s over. Nobody’s ever done that, right?
“They said no. I said, ‘I’ll write you another series.’ But they said no. I guess I don’t blame them.”