Tag Archives: Universal Television

Heroes without capes

Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki tell DQ about starring in Dick Wolf’s CBS procedural FBI and explain why they’re keen to represent the often hidden work of the law enforcement agency.

After six seasons starring in Canadian police drama Rookie Blue, Missy Peregrym was looking for a change of scenery – and uniform. Reading scripts, she found herself turning away from procedurals and even looking to try her hand at comedy.

Cameos in series such as Motive, Hawaii Five-0, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Saving Hope followed, before Peregrym landed recurring roles in mystery drama Ten Days in the Valley and sci-fi fantasy Van Helsing.

But the lure of law enforcement – and working with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf – saw the actor return to the front line in the veteran producer’s latest series, FBI.

“Clearly I’m attracted to crime shows because I said yes,” she tells DQ at the Monte Carlo TV Festival, “and I care to represent the FBI. I take that as a great responsibility to do that properly, because we never hear about them unless something terrible has happened. They save us from so much stuff, things that I’d rather not know about. But I do know and I have to be positive about that. We’re dealing with really heavy content – sex trafficking, terrorist attacks, bomb threats, shootings – the threats are never just going to go away. So we need these people to protect us from this stuff happening, and I’m proud to represent that as closely as possible because I think it’s a really hard job.”

FBI, which launched on CBS last September and will return for a second season this autumn, is described as a fast-paced drama about the inner workings of the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is produced by Universal Television in association with CBS Television Studios and distributed by CBS Studios International.

CBS drama FBI stars Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki as a pair of the bureau’s special agents

Peregrym plays Special Agent Maggie Bell, who is deeply committed to the people she works with and protects. Her partner is Special Agent Omar Adom ‘OA’ Zidan, a graduate from West Point Military Academy who spent two years undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency before being cherry-picked by the FBI. Working with a crack team of analysts and investigators, they face down all manner of threats, from terrorism and organised crime to counterintelligence.

Peregrym says it was a “big deal” to take on the role, noting the real-world parallels to the show’s stories and situations and the people she would be portraying.

“It’s not a sci-fi show. It’s not weird and made up. These things happen. That’s why I have to be careful even reading the news because I see things and I can’t stop thinking about them,” she explains. “Obviously, a death of a child is such an intense thing to start a show. It’s so heavy.

“As a cop, you don’t really know what you’re walking into. You get a call but you don’t know what you’re really going to meet. As an FBI agent, you’ve been doing so much research, you know exactly who you’re chasing. So to live with that information is a very different thing, to know that these [criminals] are out there.”

With the series filmed in New York, the first episode was particularly poignant as the opening scene sees a child die when a building is blown up in a cloud of dust, echoing the still-startling images of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the city.

Peregrym is known for TV roles in shows such as Reaper and Rookie Blue

“All I could think about was 9/11 or people around the world who are in devastating situations like this,” Peregrym says of filming the scene, “and this [filming a TV show] is this is nothing compared with the trauma other people have gone through. There was a woman who was there, she was really upset. She lost somebody on 9/11 and this brought up some things for her. I was like, ‘You can cry. It’s OK.’ I got her some tissues and I was like, ‘If you need a minute, no problem. That is so much more important than what this is right now.’

“That’s why I think there’s a huge responsibility that, when we do things like that, we do it correctly and we’re not glamorising it, because these experiences are too close to home for a lot of people. It’s good to talk about, but what’s the end narrative? For us, I hope it’s hope, and that we believe in these people looking after us.”

Peregrym says she is particularly proud to be playing a character that can inspire viewers, having previously received letters from women who joined the police after watching her in Rookie Blue.

“I just want young girls to be really proud of who they are because, no matter what, we’re gonna have to deal with the bullshit. Everybody deals with bullshit,” she says. “Everybody deals with insecurity. Everybody deals with rejection. It’s everybody’s own personal work to find their worth, and if I can help anybody do that then I’m so happy. I also hope I can be a teammate and inspire somebody else to be their best self and feel like they’re worth exactly what they are.”

Peregrym’s co-star Zaki landed the role of Zidan at a time when he had less than US$200 in his bank account and was looking at taking real-estate classes to help him get a job that could supplement his acting career. Until that point, he had scored recurring parts in action series 24: Legacy, Six and Valor, but FBI represents the actor’s breakout role.

Zaki landed his part in FBI when he had just $200 in his bank account

The show, he says, takes Wolf’s tried and tested case-of-the-week format but sets it within an organisation that takes a path with which viewers are less familiar.

“It’s just really exciting to see what goes on behind that veil,” he says of opening up the inner workings of the FBI. “We get to bring that to light. It’s nice and important to give these people some representation – and hopefully we get to represent them in a positive light. We get to see why these people are superheroes in the real world and they sacrifice what they sacrifice – family time and relationships and everything. Our job is to bring that to the people.”

The actor admits some of the storylines used in the series are “terrifying” because they are based on or inspired by real-life incidents. But he also takes pride in the fact that people can see an Egyptian American leading a US network primetime drama.

“It’s just been crazy to be able to have a kid see himself in a hero on a TV show, and think, ‘Oh, I can do that. I can be that,’” he adds. “It’s kind of like when Black Panther came out and how African Americans finally had a superhero they could become, because otherwise you had to be the black Superman or the black Batman. With that sort of shift in the representation narrative that’s happening in today’s world, it’s an honour to be at the forefront of it and I’m really excited about being a part of it.”

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Adi Hasak: An arresting new take on cop shows

Shades of Blue creator Adi Hasak tells Michael Pickard how he merged star power with bold storytelling to bring a fresh angle to the tried-and-tested cop drama

While crime dramas remain one of the most popular genres on television, the question for any new show is always the same: how can it stand out from the competition?

With Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta heading the cast and a storyline focusing on a New York cop who is forced to turn informant, it’s clear NBC felt Shades of Blue had a concept and the star power to help it compete in the schedules.

Lopez plays Harlee Santos, a single mother and an NYPD detective who is forced to work with the FBI’s anti-corruption task force to take down her boss, Lieutenant Matt Wozniak (Liotta), all while dealing with her own family and financial problems.

NBC’s faith ultimately paid off, as the series launched to more than eight million viewers in January and the US network quickly renewed the show for a second season after only five of the 13 episodes had aired.

But while Shades of Blue, which debuted on Wednesday in the UK on Sky Living, did enough to differentiate itself within a crowded genre, series creator Adi Hasak had to put aside some of his bolder story ideas and pen a show that played to popular tastes to get on the air.

Adi Hasak
Hasak: ‘It was time for me to get a show on the air’

With brutal honesty, Hasak admits: “It was time for me to get a show on the air. I was known as a guy who wrote very eclectic television shows. They were extremely well received to the extent that I was always working but unfortunately they were so eclectic that they were never put on the air. I like to say I was a writer that they loved in June when they bought my ideas but they never called me back in January when they picked up the shows.

“In the past, executives and heads of studios have always said to me, ‘Why can’t you write a lawyer show, a cop show or a doctor show?’ and I said it was because I just have zero interest. There’s nothing new to say about it.”

Determined to get a show on air, Hasak began to explore what new crime stories could be told and explored ideas of corruption – institutional corruption, personal corruption and how people fall into corruption.

“I don’t think anyone is born corrupt, it happens slowly and gradually,” he explains. “I was very much a student of the movies of the ’70s, of Serpico and so forth, and I decided to study corruption through the cop genre.

“What was interesting to me about the cop genre was that, overall, policemen are decent people and if they can fall into corruption, then any of us can.”

Hasak wrote the pilot script on spec and soon teamed up with Barry Levinson (Homicide: Life on the Street) to pitch the show to the networks, who had ideas of their own.

“I was asked at some point, ‘Why can’t we just make the corrupt cop an undercover FBI agent?’” he recalls. “And I said we couldn’t, that would undermine the entire show. That would mean she wouldn’t be corrupt. So I decided to stand firm and not change it.

“We had offers of getting it made if we made it like Donnie Brasco and if we made her an FBI agent from the beginning, but we stood fast.”

But once Lopez came onboard, the project took off. NBC went straight-to-series by placing a 13-episode order, and soon afterwards Liotta signed on.

Shades of Blue
NBC took Shades of Blue straight to series once Jennifer Lopez had signed up

The cast also includes Warren Kole as Santos’ FBI handler Special Agent Stahl, Drea de Matteo, Dayo Okeniyi, Hampton Fluker, Vincent Laresca and Sarah Jeffery.

Straight-to-series orders are becoming increasingly common, despite bypassing the traditional pilot system US networks continue to favour, and they come with many benefits for series creators.

“It’s a wonderful model in the sense that you know the show is being embraced and you have the opportunity to completely plot it out,” Hasak says. “It gives you a lot of time to prep. The only problem, which luckily I have not encountered, is if you go straight-to-series, there is no ability to tweak a show.

“Whether it’s creatively or with casting, there’s no hiatus between doing the pilot and testing it, which puts a lot of pressure on the executive producers and the showrunner to get everything right because there is no redo. There’s no shooting a character out and recasting a character once you’re locked into your cast. That’s who you’re going with. But it’s been really rewarding and wonderful, so this is a model we’re embracing and we welcome the opportunity.”

No tweaking was needed, however, as Lopez (who is also an executive producer) and Liotta both embraced the series and their characters.

Ray Liotta Shades of Blue
Hasak believes Ray Liotta gives an award-winning performance in the show

Hasak believes Liotta deserves Emmy recognition when the award nominations are announced today. And he says of actress-singer Lopez: “Jennifer was very hands-on in such a classy way because she’s a huge international star and she could have very easily come in and started throwing her weight around. But it was so nuanced, so beautiful. Her hand was in everything, from the music to the clothes they wore to the scripts. It could have been intimidating but she made us her partners and was involved in all aspects of the role.”

Another character ever-present in the series is New York City, and Brooklyn in particular, where the action is centred. Shades of Blue was always going to be set in a big city, which at first was Chicago, but the Big Apple won out.

“Everyone felt New York would be a wonderful setting for it, especially Brooklyn,” Hasak notes. “The other thing that was very important was diversity and setting it in a diverse precinct, and I’m really proud that, if you look at our cast, the cast majority is diverse. There have been network shows set in a cop station in New York and everyone’s white, so I think diversity was extremely important to Jennifer, as it was for the rest of us, and what was important was that it was authentic.

“If you look at cop shows that work, they all have to be authentic. Look at NYPD Blue, Homicide, The Wire – there just has to be a level of authenticity to the genre. You have to be able to smell the streets, so that became part of the conversation in New York, where Jennifer’s from. It immediately became clear we should make it in New York and everyone embraced it.”

Shades of Blue is produced by Universal Television, Nuyorican Productions, EGTV, Ryan Seacrest Productions and Jack Orman Productions. It is distributed worldwide by NBCUniversal.

Hasak was a co-showrunner on season one with Jack Orman but has stepped back from the forthcoming second season as he oversees post-production on USA Network’s Eyewitness, an adaptation of Norwegian drama Øyevitne. And he admits that showrunning is “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”

“The job of showrunner is a job five people should have. It’s extremely stressful. It’s being involved in production, post-production, prep and writing the scripts. It’s extremely challenging and at the same time extremely rewarding.

“Shades of Blue began with me in a room by myself. Barry Levinson came onboard, Jennifer Lopez came onboard, Ray Liotta came onboard and all of a sudden, this machine came together. It was amazing. It’s almost like an army coming together and going to battle – and the machine needs to be fed constantly by the scripts. So it was almost jaw-dropping for me to see it come together, and it was one of the highlights of what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years. It taught me what to do and what not to do and set me on course to be a showrunner on Eyewitness.

Shooting on season two began in June, with Breaking Bad and Gracepoint lead Anna Gunn joining the returning Lopez and Liotta in Brooklyn – another star name that adds weight to Hasak’s claim that Shades of Blue “is a huge network show.”

Viewers in the US will have to wait until early 2017 to find out how this story continues.

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Anthologies continue Amazing advance

The original Amazing Stories series was created by Steven Spielberg
The original Amazing Stories series was created by Steven Spielberg

In DQ’s recent look at the growing number of drama anthology series being launched, we observed how most of these shows are season-to-season anthologies like True Detective, American Horror Story and Fargo.

This contrasts with the classic series of the 1950s to 1980s, which were episode-to-episode anthologies, such as The Twilight Zone.

However, it now seems there is a mini-revival in the latter group. After Netflix’s decision to support Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller is planning a reboot of Amazing Stories, an episodic anthology that ran from 1985 to 1987 on NBC in the US.

In fact, Fuller’s plan to resurrect Amazing Stories sits at the confluence of three trends. Not only is it an anthology, but it is a reboot of a 1980s TV series – another big development in 2015 (see Fantasy Island, MacGyver and more). And indirectly it is also a comic book-based series, because the original 1980s series was based on iconic science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories.

Limitless has been given a full season order
Limitless has been given a full season order

Fuller will executive produce and write a pilot script for the show, which will tell fantastic, strange and supernatural stories. Universal Television will produce, with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank serving as executive producers alongside Fuller.

The original version of Amazing Stories was created and executive produced by Steven Spielberg for NBC. It earned 12 Emmy nominations and received five awards, but clearly didn’t rate well enough for NBC. It was based around a 30-minute format, so it will be fascinating to see if Fuller sticks to this or, more likely, creates hour-long stories. It will also be interesting to see how the tone of the series compares to another sci-fi anthology coming down the pipe: Syfy’s Channel Zero.

The benefits of episodic anthology dramas are pretty clear. They allow broadcasters to present a recognisable brand while giving creatives the opportunity to conjure up an array of distinct stories. Audiences can tune in to any episode without having to worry about what happened the previous week, while high-profile actors can get involved without worrying about having to make heavy filming commitments.

The latter point is also true for actors who guest star in crime procedurals, of course, but the problem with these is that procedural guest stars are invariably villains.

There’s one other benefit worth noting about episodic anthologies that is actually an advantage over season-to-season anthologies. This is the possibility of using episodes of the show as pilots for longer projects.

Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Cruel Intentions film
Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the Cruel Intentions film

The original Amazing Stories, for example, gave birth to Family Dog, an idea that was converted into a series for CBS six years later. Although Family Dog only ran for 10 episodes, it’s an example of how the main broadcast networks might beat subscription VoD platform Amazon, which orders batches of pilots at once before putting them online, at its own game.

Still in the US, this is the time of year when the big four broadcast networks start to get a clear idea of which new shows are working and which aren’t. They then act in one of two ways. More episodes of the successful shows are usually ordered, while unsuccessful series are either axed immediately or see their initial episode order reduced (a delayed death).

This week, CBS’s Limitless was awarded an additional nine episodes, meaning it has now been given what is called ‘full season order’ of 22 episodes. Other new shows that have been rewarded with a full season order include NBC’s Blindspot, Fox’s Rosewood and ABC’s Quantico and Dr Ken.

Heading the other way, however, are NBC’s The Player and ABC’s Blood & Oil, both of which have seen their original 13-episode runs cut. Previously, Fox’s Minority Report was also cut back from 13.

Belgian series The Divine Monster is being adapted for the US
Belgian series The Divine Monster is being adapted for the US

The quest for ideas with some kind of track record remains the dominant theme in the US TV drama business. For example, NBC is planning a small-screen version of Cruel Intentions, the 1999 movie starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon. The film itself was a modern retelling of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century French novel about amorality among the French aristocracy. The novel has repeatedly been adapted for cinema and TV – usually as a true-to-period drama.

The best-known movie version saw John Malkovich play opposite Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, though British actor Rupert Everett appeared in a French miniseries version for TF1 that transported the story into a 1960s setting.

Elsewhere, Ugly Betty creator Silvio Horta has joined forces with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Prison Break, Red Dragon, Horrible Bosses) to adapt Belgian series The Divine Monster for the US. Based on the trilogy of novels by Tom Lanoye, the Eyeworks-produced original (aka Het Goddelijke Monster) aired on VRT’s flagship channel Een in 2011.

Shondaland is making Still Star-Crossed into a TV series
Shondaland is making Still Star-Crossed into a TV series

In its original form, the show was a 10-part series about the downfall of a powerful family of European entrepreneurs and politicians at the end of the 20th century. In Horta’s version the action transfers to Miami and explores the collapse of a corrupt real-estate empire.

Also in the news this week is Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland, which is working on an adaptation of the romantic novel Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub. The story picks up immediately after the death of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and involves another love story played out against the backdrop of Capulet/Montague feuding.

Destined for ABC, the young-adult show represents a new direction for Shondaland, which is best known for more mature dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. The new series will be written by Heather Mitchell, who has worked on both of the aforementioned programmes.

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