"I want to walk away from this as clean as possible, but I'm not gonna sugarcoat it."
"Tolan said that Denis had a problem with my moving my head in a certain way. I said, 'Are you fucking kidding me? Tell the director to tell me and I'll stop doing it. It made George Clooney a million dollars.' I laughed about it with Peter.'"
McGee says he isn't surprised that Leary never had a face-to-face discussion with him about the decision to write him out, because "that would take a real man to do that. Denis doesn't know how to do that. His persona would make you think he's straight-up, he's honest and he's forthright. But I never got an indication of that. The truth is, if he knocked on my door right now, I'd be able to look him right in the eye. I don't know if he could do that."
Peter Tolan has a different version of events.
Tolan, who has been Leary's co-writer and co-producer since the short-lived but critically acclaimed ABC cop series The Job, says, "Jack is being disingenuous if he says nobody explained to him what was going on. The difference he's drawing is, apparently he wanted to hear [the bad news] from Denis, when the fact remains that Denis is wearing about eight different hats on the show and doesn't have anything to do with the hiring and firing of actors."
Asked to justify Reilly's death from a dramatic standpoint, Tolan says it was about violating audience expectations. He refers to the third-season episode in which Reilly suffered a heart attack and Johnny got shot three times in the back.
"Last season, we realized we were gonna kill Johnny in one episode," Tolan said. "What we wanted to do was throw the audience off a little bit. We wanted to make it a bit more jarring than it would be otherwise. We wanted to have Jack have a heart attack -- 'Oh, my God, is he dead on the floor or not?' -- and then go to Johnny being killed. It was a one-two punch. The audience is thinking, 'Oh, my God, they're gonna kill two people in one [episode]."
And then they didn't. Johnny died, but the chief lived.
Then, during the hiatus between seasons, Tolan and Leary "decided thematically what the fourth season was gonna be. It's about loss for these firefighters over time, because of their difficulty maintaining relationships with families and friends that have nothing to do with their jobs. They really have no lives without their jobs. We said, 'Let's do The Ghost of Christmas Future [from A Christmas Carol]. Let's see what the future is going to be like for Tommy and these guys if they don't change their ways. We had to have that affect a member of the crew. We decided that crewmember would be Jerry Reilly. One of the things we threw out was, 'Maybe he fails the physical [and] he kills himself.' As soon as we came up with that, we said, 'That's what we're gonna do.'"