Exclusive: Phillip P. Keene Opens up About 'Major Crimes' Final Season

In 2005, Phillip P. Keene debuted as Buzz Watson on TNT's The Closer. Thirteen TV seasons later, he's still playing the character in the final season of Major Crimes. The 51-year-old Keene isn't completely ready to say goodbye to the character.

phillip keene
(Photo: TNT/Facebook)

Aside from his role on Major Crimes, Keene has a fascinating background. Before finding success as an actor, Keene was a globe-trotting Pan-Am flight attendant. Although the company folded in 1991, Keene keeps it and the iconic logo alive with one of the largest personal collections of Pan-Am memorabilia. Keene also married James Duff, the creator of The Closer and Major Crimes, in 2013.

In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, Keene talked about the ending of Major Crimes.

Although Major Crimes has been a cornerstone of TNT's original programming, the network's move away from traditional procedurals influenced its decision to end the show after season six. While the writers had a heads-up on the end, Keene said it is not reaching a "natural conclusion."

"I know that at some point earlier this year, the heads at TNT asked for specific changes with some of the characters and in anticipation of this possibly being the last season, I know the writers and producers got on board with that because they really didn't have a choice," Keene explained. They "made certain changes to the story lines in anticipation of this possibly being the last
season."

Keene also realized that when the show was scheduled up against the World Series, This Is Us and other popular shows, the writing was on the wall.

"This was the third time they changed our night and time in the last 18 months," Keene said. "We're sort of the red-headed step-child."

One of the biggest changes TNT asked for was cases that didn't wrap up neatly in 60 minutes. Although Major Crimes has featured two-parters in the past, the first case of season six unfolds over five episodes. Keene said that was a "directive from TNT."

Over the course of 13 seasons, viewers have seen Buzz go from a character stuck behind a monitor to reserve detective in the field. Keene teased some big developments for his character.

"This season, Buzz really needs to make a move or he's never going to make detective and that's really what he wants to do," Keene explained. "He does a couple of things this season that may seem out of character for him, but are necessary for him to move forward... Still within the world of the rules and regulation that he's very fond of, but very much like Brenda [Kyra Sedgwick's The Closer character] did."

Keene said he looked forward to the changes his character experienced over the years. It's been exciting to get Buzz out into the field.

"Being able to get out into the field and actually do some detective work and then closing that cold case of his father and of his murder was a real step forward, both for me professionally and for the character," he said. "I really enjoyed that."

The actor also showed no signs of getting tired of playing Buzz. When asked if he'd love to see the character on another show, he said it would be great.

"I would love for him to come back as a full detective," Keene said. "I don't know that I would enjoy sitting behind the monitors anymore. That was necessary in all of those years, but once you got a taste of the real world, being able to do some other things, I don't think there's any going back."

Since Major Crimes is one of the dozens of crime dramas on television, the show's writers have taken extra effort to make it stand out from the pack. Major Crimes is different from shows like Law & Order and Criminal Minds because every episode was different after the first act. They didn't try to follow a formula for every case. That's also how the show retained an international fan base, Keene said.

"The point was how we were going to the perpetrator or uncovering a mystery, trying to get the charges to stick, those kinds of things and also, its more about the relationships between the people and the cast," Keene explained. "The crime, of course, is very important but it's more about how that mirrors into people's personal relationships and work relationships. I think there's a great sense of community there and it's evident with our worldwide fan base."

The show has also had kept an eye on current events. The first case in season six centered on the disappearance of three Hispanic boys, and touched on illegal immigration and racism. Keene noted that the show has a habit of completing episodes on these topics before they dominate headlines.

"I think it was last year or the year before, where the neo-Nazis come in and play a big part of all that. That happened on our show before this huge resurgence of this white supremacist movement," Keene said. "If you can believe it or not we got a lot of flack for that episode from fans saying, 'You know, not all Nazis are bad.' "

Outside of acting, Keene donates his time to three charities. He has worked with the Sunshine Kids Foundation, which helps children with cancer, for 14 years. Keene is also active with Covenant House, which helps homeless youth in the U.S., and he's on the board of the Pan-Am Museum Foundation.

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Major Crimes airs on TNT Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.

Photo: TNT/Facebook