Series pulling in good ratings as second season winds down
It’s just after noon at Garson Studios in Santa Fe on a recent Friday.
Phones are ringing in the main office, conference calls are taking place in other offices and production assistants are racing around.
As crew members set up scenes with stand-ins on the set of A&E’s drama, Longmire, the show’s cast and directors find ways to pass the time.
Robert Taylor, decked out in a cowboy hat and brown coat with a sheriff’s badge, plays lead character Sheriff Walt Longmire. He is sitting in a director’s chair and running through his lines for the next scene.
Adam Bartley, who plays Deputy “The Ferg” Ferguson and is Longmire’s goofy sidekick, offers up some comedy for the crew while getting his hair and clothing retouched.
Meanwhile, Katee Sackhoff, who plays Deputy Victoria Moretti, jumps to reach the top of a door frame and begins to do pull ups.
(Lou Diamond Phillips, who plays Henry Standing Bear, wasn’t on set this day.)
“It’s just another day on the set,” Bartley quips. “Aren’t we an amazing bunch.”
It’s the second to last episode of season two – Episode 212 “A Good Death is Hard to Find” to be exact – and one of the last weeks for filming. The episode will air at 8 p.m. Monday and the season finale will air on Aug. 26.
It’s still up in the air whether a third season is in the offing – the show’s producers say A&E had changes with the top brass and are expecting to hear soon.
But the ratings remain strong. Since its premiere last summer, Longmire has averaged more than 4 million viewers, making it the highest rated show filmed in New Mexico and beating out the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad by 1.5 million viewers on average.
“It’s been a great ride this season,” says Bailey Chase, who plays Deputy Branch Connally. “This season has been full of great writing and some great acting.”
Production is based in Santa Fe and films on location in northern New Mexico, which doubles for Wyoming.
The show follows Walt Longmire, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyo. Longmire is an old-school type of sheriff, one who drives an older vehicle and doesn’t have a cellphone. It is based on the Walt Longmire series written by Craig Johnson.
During the course of the show, Longmire has had to solve cases while dealing with life after his wife’s death.
He’s also dealing with Connally – a new and flashy type of deputy – wanting to challenge him for his sheriff position.
Chris Donahue, a producer of the show, says the success of Longmire is due partly to viewers connecting with the Longmire character – he’s worn but not worn out.
Chase believes people have embraced the show because it fills the void of the American cowboy fantasy.
“Everyone wonders what the Wild West was all about,” he says. “This is an updated version.”
An interesting season
Producers and directors scouted more than 13,000 miles in New Mexico and employed a crew of more than 150 people, of those 85 percent are local.
“What we’re ideally doing is creating a temporary home for 150 of our workers. They need to be able to work and be safe,” Donahue says.
A typical work week for cast and crew is to shoot for seven days – which was two days on stage and five on location.
But Mother Nature threw a monkey wrench into production midway through the season.
In June, the Thompson Ridge Fire burning in the Valles Caldera National Preserve slowed production due to the smoke and the fire coming within feet of where crews shoot on location at Longmire’s cabin. That was in addition to the Tres Lagunas Fire burning a few miles away in the Santa Fe National Forest, just north of Pecos.
“We have plans for every situation,” says Donahue. “The fires made us think in new ways and even had to use new plans.”
But Donahue said production took second place to the safety of the firefighters and the residents who were displaced.
“Ultimately, we would have been able to continue with the show,” he says. “We were just making sure that everyone else was safe. We also didn’t want to be in the way of any of the responders.”
New Mexico is home
For nearly six months, the cast and crew find themselves becoming part of the community.
Chase says he finds plenty to do in the area.
“That’s one of the perks,” he says. “When I’m off, I get to go for a hike with my dog, hit Jemez Springs for a soak, ride on my bike or go out and play some golf. I’ve found some great spots in the area.”
Chase says he’s already become a huge fan of the food in Santa Fe.
Some of his favorites include Maria’s, La Choza, The Compound and Santacafe.
“I’ve been blessed with a good metabolism,” he says as he points to his stomach. “I do like enchiladas.”
Like Chase, Bartley hits the trails with his dog in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
He’s also an avid ping pong player. And Bartley could often be found singing jazz music at Vanessie in Santa Fe.
“No one really knew who I was,” he says. “That’s the great thing about it. I was able to get up and perform and just be a singer. I wasn’t the guy on the Western show. I was Adam the singer, which I’ve been doing since I was younger.”