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So, the long goodbye is almost over.  After a year of talking about the end of “The Closer” and the beginning of “Major Crimes” — the departure of  Kyra Sedgwick and the promotion of Mary McDonnell — the transition finally is taking place tomorrow night (8/13).  Beginning at 9 o’clock, “The Closer” ends with a  heartfelt finale, followed by “Major Crimes’” debut at 10. Will this old-cast-with-new-lead gambit prove a success, as in, say, Kirstie Alley coming aboard “Cheers” or the gang on “ER” moving forward without George Clooney?  Or is that the fin of a soon-to-be-jumped shark out there in the TNT waters?

Luckily for all of us, there is not the slightest hint of an “AfterMASH” type calamity with “Major Crimes.”

Sure, it’s strange seeing our Major Crimes LAPD family-of-sorts being run by Mary McDonnell’s cool, by-the-book Captain Sharon Raydor — instead of the rule-busting super-sized personality, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson.  But by the end of the first smartly-crafted “Major Crimes” episode, it’s clear that creator James Duff and McDonnell are on their way to realizing their goal of making the spinoff “evolve into its own entity,” as McDonnell put it when we talked about the new show.

Pointing out that “Major Crimes” was developed “with Kyra’s blessing and totally at her choice, when she felt she needed to leave,” McDonnell added, “Nobody is going to try, or come remotely close to repeating the iconic nature of ‘The Closer.’”  Still, the beautiful, 60-year-old actress, who won Oscar nominations for “Dances With Wolves” and “Passion Fish,” and became a sci fi icon as President Laura Roslin on “Battlestar Galactica,” is an acting force to be reckoned with.  In a single silent moment of the “Major Crimes” premiere episode, by herself, McDonnell shows us enough of a heretofore unseen Capt. Raydor — Sharon — to win interest and maybe even sympathy.

The chief is gone.  Long live the captain.

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