LOS ANGELES — “Rescue Me” is more than a TV show to Denis Leary.
The FX Network series Leary and Peter Tolan created three years after 9/11 was meant as a continuing memorial to the 343 firefighters who died in New York the day of the terrorist attack. It’s a reminder that firefighters run into burning buildings when everyone else is running out.
Now, the series is coming to an end Wednesday night.
In keeping with the spirit of the show, the final images will be one last salute to the fallen firefighters.
Leary brought a personal understanding to the show. His cousin, a firefighter in western Massachusetts, was killed in the line of duty in 1999. He saw how firefighters, especially the ones who are still working, avoid dealing with loss and tried to show that through his character, Tommy Gavin — a character Leary says tried “to drink it away or [expletive] it away.”
The show has been a labor of love for Leary, who not only starred in it but was the executive producer and one of three main writers, along with Tolan and John Scurti.
Like a good commander, Leary gives most of the credit to his team — Larenz Tate, Andrea Roth, Callie Thorne, Steven Pasquale, John Scurti, Daniel Sunjata, Mike Lombardi — for making the show work so well. He knew he had a great cast when he heard them read the first script.
Leary says that reading made him realize the show could go from silly to serious and each actor would be able to handle the challenge.
The hardest part about ending “Rescue Me” was coming up with the proper finale.
Ideas ranged from Gavin sitting down in the middle of a burning room in a chair — as either a suicide or a heroic gesture — to having him swim out into the ocean.
The ending they picked was based on one question: Will a man who has survived this great tragedy actually survive it or not?
“I think in the face of seven seasons of television, you don’t want to say no to that question. You don’t want to bring people along on a journey that long and then say, ‘No, he’s not going to survive.’ It’s just a very negative message. So we decided to, at that point, go with something a little more hopeful,” Tolan says.
As has been the case throughout the show, even “hopeful” can come with a lot of dark humor and touching moments. Whether dealing with life or death, “Rescue Me” found the humor in sad situations and the sadness of lighter moments.
Leary had always hoped the series would remain popular enough to stay on the air until the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. It not only survived, it’s such a part of pop culture that Tommy Gavin’s bunker gear was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. That’s when Leary and Tolan realized they created a culturally significant TV show.
“Working in television, that’s the last thing you expect to happen to anything you write. It made me really stop and think about how this show is how we really deal with things,” Tolan says. “This is how people move forward. They continue to live, and they laugh, and they bust each other’s balls. Life goes on.
“You don’t think that when you are starting it. You just think, ‘Oh, let’s do the show, and let’s make it the best it can be.’ And then, all of a sudden, it’s significant.”
10 p.m. EDT Wednesday