When TNT premiered the crime drama "Dark Blue" last year, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced show featuring a Los Angeles-based undercover unit received some less-than-stellar grades from critics and a first season average of 2.5 million viewers. As with most sophomore seasons, producers Rick Eid and Doug Jung looked at what was working and what wasn't and they, along with series star Dylan McDermott, promise viewers will see noticeable changes when new episodes begin airing tonight on TNT. Our Jim Halterman spent some time on the "Dark Blue" set and chatted with the producers and McDermott about the show's creative process, what the addition of "Battlestar Galactica" star Tricia Helfer to the cast will do for the show (and for McDermott's Carter Shaw) and how this show sets itself apart from all the other crime dramas on the television landscape.
Jim Halterman: How did you all approach crafting season two of 'Dark Blue?'
Dylan McDermott: I remember the first season of 'The Practice' and if you have the luxury to look back on a season you can see what works and what doesn't work. We looked back and there were a lot of good things about this show but then 'this needs to change, this needs to transform itself and evolve' and we put our heads together. Carter needs to have a love interest and that was first and foremost. I think the show needs to be a little lighter and these people need to have more fun. I think we accomplished all that stuff and it's more available for an audience this season than it was last season.
Rick Eid: The primary thing we wanted to do was make the characters more accessible. In season one, everyone was dealing with whatever personal tragedy or issues that they had experienced and I think in season two we wanted to humanize everybody and get out of the wounded back-story aspect of it all and lighten it up a little bit so it wasn't so intense.
Doug Jung: It was also about trying to show this job as fun and there's a wish-fulfillment element to being an undercover cop so we wanted to focus on that. Instead of 'this job is going to kill you' there is something fun about duping bad guys.
JH: Chemistry between characters is so important and there seems to be a nice spark between Tricia Helfer as Carter's new love interest. Dylan, does that chemistry just happen by chance?
DM: I think it is by chance ultimately. You can have somebody come in and it's just not there and why that is who knows? Luckily, Tricia and I kind of clicked right away. She's really cool and we just connected. People have said that they're seeing it on screen so that's a good thing. There's nothing worse than not connecting with someone and going to work and having to kiss and make out. It's horrible but we just clicked.
JH: How is Tricia's FBI Agent Alex Rice brought into the fold of the cast?
RE: We reveal who she is in hopefully in an interesting way but it's not evident right away. She is brought in to make everyone more human and accessible. We also thought she would be a nice person to have with a fresh perspective and somebody who is totally unburdened with the past and someone that Dylan's character could have some sort of relationship with and make him less of an island. The first season everyone was off in their own little world and this year everyone is a team and there's more camaraderie.
DJ: We can also bring in other cases that go a little bit beyond this regional aspect of just the LAPD so that introduces another level on the procedural side, ethical dilemmas and issues they have to confront as cops and how it effects their personal life and vice versa.
JH: In the first season, Carter kept everyone at a distance but in the season opener we see him gently tending a garden and maybe wanting to let people in. How does that play out?
DM: I like the whole garden thing because it really is a metaphor for him. He is trying to change and evolve. He knows he can't stay in the same as he was before because he was an island and he was brokenhearted with the break-up with his wife. When we find him in the garden we see a welcome change has come over him. I think Alex Rice opens up his heart and I think he's feeling better about himself and life. It's now a chance to change.
JH: Will we also see more development for the supporting characters, too?
DM: I think everyone is changing. We'll still have the great stories and these amazing guest stars. It's a procedural show ultimately but I think that Dean (played by Logan Marshall-Green), Ty (Omari Hardwick) and Jaimie (Nicki Aycox) all have their moments in season 2. Everyone gets their moment and that's a cool thing about the show. I don't want to have all the glory on the show. I want them to have it, too. Everyone gets a great, great role in season 2.
JH: How do you go about making sure you service character, action and the case of the week in the writer's room?
DJ: [Laughs.] First of all, we're a basic cable show so we don't really have enough writers to have a writer's room. We have a writer's pantry.
RE: We think of the character aspect of the show first. It's not like 'Here's a great case and, by the way, what happens on the character side?' I think we try to say 'Here's an episode where this character thing happens and then try to find a plot to service that story.' We let the character be the driving force of it.
DJ: If there's a good dilemma that we think of the characters can be in and it has the legs and affects everyone else in a certain we way we can wrap the plot around that which we've done more often than not this year. But, then, sometimes we find a good case and things fall out of that naturally but if it doesn't have that character thing then we let it go.
RE: We don't really look at the show as a procedural show. There's not much they do that is procedurally correct.
JH: The critics were hard on the show last season in terms of the violence in the show. How conscience of you in the amount of violence that you put into the show?
DJ: The violence has to be there because the underlying idea of the show is that as an undercover cop you are put in positions that normal police may not find themselves on a regular basis. We can't shy away from that because it would take away the stakes of what they do and the extremes in which they go to do it. That, to me, has always been there and has to exist or else I worry you get into a show about costume changes and cons that don't really equate to much.
RE: I don't read a lot of the critical opinion but I think a lot of the critics got caught up on the pilot episode and that opening scene of torture. It's like 'Okay, so you didn't like the torture scene. Next.' I think that's where a lot of people focused but I think in terms of the violence and all the interesting issues of what we should portray... the people that are on our show are bad people. In a lot of successful shows, a lot of horrible things happen to innocent people left and right and we definitely don't glamorize the violence. There's nothing in our minds that is gratuitous or salacious.
JH: Dylan, what do you think sets 'Dark Blue' apart from all the other procedural shows out there?
DM: There are so many cop shows out there. There are so many on TNT! I think it's an undercover cop show so that separates it a little bit. Also, the look of the show. If you ask me, the show looks like a movie and that makes it different from other shows. And, going back to character, the characters in this show are unlike a lot of characters I see on TV. They're complicated and dark and it's rich and they don't have all the answers. I like that about the show.
The second season of "Dark Blue" kicks off in its Wednesday 9:00/8:00c timeslot tonight on TNT.