The cable spy drama "Burn Notice" is coming to an end, but it's certainly not being burned itself.
The USA Network series — still strong in the ratings and popular with fans after seven seasons — gets a big finale Thursday.
Set and filmed almost entirely in South Florida, the series has centered on the exploits of superspy Michael Westen, who was framed for crimes he didn't commit, unceremoniously kicked out of the CIA and dumped in his hometown of Miami.
Over more than a hundred episodes, Westen, his friends and family have hunted down those who got him burned, brought his enemies to justice and helped many innocent victims along the way. Now, the cast and crew members who brought "Burn Notice" to life are saying goodbye.
Series creator and executive producer Matt Nix said he and the other writers have been planning the finale since last year.
"One thing I'm really grateful for is the opportunity to go out on our own terms and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion," Nix said. "Knowing that this was our final season, it gave us the opportunity to really tie things up."
The term 'Burn Notice' hails from the world of espionage as notice given by an intelligence agency to other agencies that a person has become unreliable and his information should be "burned" or dismissed. In short, it's a way to put a spy out into the cold, whether merited or not.
The series has always balanced a story of the week with the larger narrative elements of who burned Michael and why.
"The show is about Michael Westen learning to be a human being," Nix said. "Reconnecting with his family and friends and romantic relationships is a big part of that."
But all the progress Westen has made in rebuilding those relationships has been strained to the breaking point in the final season. The stories of the week have taken a back seat to one, big 13-episode arc. Once again working for the CIA, Westen has been trying to infiltrate an international terrorist organization. The problem is that Westen has started to lose track of who his real friends are and whether he's fighting for the right side.
Westen's choice and the subsequent consequences will be revealed in the finale.
"I think it's a fitting ending because it's what I know the fans wanted," series star Jeffrey Donovan said. "It's very fitting for what the show started as in the beginning."
While the ending may be appropriate, that doesn't mean it will be completely happy. Donovan's co-star Gabrielle Anwar, who plays Westen's on-again-off-again girlfriend, said she was satisfied with her own character's fate but felt differently about another.
"There's one character in particular that I'm sort of still devastated by," Anwar said. "I'm reeling; I'm grieving; I'm in mourning."
Executive producer Terry Miller acknowledged that seven years is a long time for a crew to stay together in the television business, but he couldn't help feeling a little sentimental.
"We've had babies born. We've had people pass away," Miller said. "We've had marriages. We've had divorces. It's like a family."
B-movie legend Bruce Campbell, who plays Westen's best friend, said he wasn't so sentimental, noting everything comes to an end. Still, despite his status as a horror icon thanks to the "Evil Dead" trilogy and other films, Campbell considers "Burn Notice" the most successful project he's ever been part of.
"We're going out strong, and that's exactly how you want it," Campbell said. "We're all geniuses right now. That's how you want to go out, as a genius, not an idiot."
Consistently good writing has led to solid ratings over the years, Campbell said. That's led to a string of well-known guest stars swinging down to Miami for a week or two to be bad guys on the show.
Past villains include Eric Roberts ("The Dark Knight"), John Mahoney ("Frasier"), Lucy Lawless ("Xena: Warrior Princess"), Tricia Helfer ("Battlestar Galactica") and Danny Trejo ("Machete"), to name a few. Though not a villain, Burt Reynolds also guest-starred as a former Cold War spy.
"Burn Notice" has averaged between 4 million and 5 million viewers since it began, with a handful of episodes topping 6 million viewers. The series premiered in 2007 as the top, new, scripted cable series. In 2009, it became the most-watched, scripted series ever on basic cable in the coveted 18-49 demographic.
Alex Sepiol, a senior vice president at USA (part of the NBC Universal group of companies), said the network immediately took notice of "Burn Notice" as a way to revive an old genre. "Burn Notice" felt very much like a throwback to 1980s action series like "The A-Team" and "MacGyver."
"We loved that it was a contemporary update of those kinds of shows," Sepiol said. "And we knew if there was a way to put a fresh spin on them, then audiences would appreciate something that was missing from the TV landscape."
And while the network had already seen success with humorous detective series like "Monk" and "Psych," the success of "Burn Notice" showed USA executives that action-oriented series — like "White Collar," ''Covert Affairs," ''In Plain Sight" and most recently "Graceland" — could be made on a cable budget.
Besides the success "Burn Notice" has brought to the USA Network, the show has been instrumental in growing the South Florida television industry.
Graham Winick, the city of Miami Beach's film coordinator and a past-president of Film Florida, said "Burn Notice" reignited South Florida as a TV production destination. It became the first scripted series made there since "Miami Vice" went off the air in 1989 to last longer than two seasons. And at seven seasons, the production of "Burn Notice" actually surpassed "Miami Vice" by two years.
"'Burn Notice' was our signature show for the last seven years," Winick said.
Though several film productions came to South Florida in the 1990s, "Burn Notice" was the starting point for the area becoming a major television destination, Winick said.
Since then, Fox Television Studios, which produced "Burn Notice," also brought the A&E series "The Glades" and USA's "Graceland," which is actually set in Southern California, to South Florida. The Starz Network filmed two seasons of the period drama "Magic City" in Miami, and ABC tried to revive "Charlie's Angels" with a short-lived reboot two years ago.