LOS ANGELES — Wanted: a distinctive cop show. In a summer of usual suspects, Jorge Zamacona is on the case.
The creator of TNT’s “Wanted” isn’t trying to “reinvent the cop wheel.” But he thinks his new Sunday series (10 p.m. ET), about an elite unit that tracks down the baddest guys in L.A., humanizes the relationships between cops.
Armed with producing credentials that include the tough-minded “Homicide: Life on the Street” and the gritty prison drama “Oz,” Zamacona says his latest premise is “pretty simple, which I like: There’s a bad guy. We are going to get him!”
“Wanted’s” cop squad, which is drawn from various enforcement agencies and assigned to nab the city’s 100 worst criminals, legally or otherwise, is headed by no-nonsense L.A. police SWAT officer Conrad Rose, played by Gary Cole.
Cole, who starred in “Midnight Caller” from 1988-91 as a cop turned late night radio host, says he was attracted to the show’s “almost schizophrenic quality going between this real brutality and glimpses of my character’s domestic life.”
He adds that later episodes are also exploring “some of the other characters’ personal lives, attitudes and values.”
Cole credits Zamacona for setting the series apart.
“It’s always all about writing and it just seemed these characters were very distinct,” he says. “Jorge is one of those guys who has an ear for dialogue that seems to be coming out of people’s mouths, as opposed to out of a typewriter.”
Cole is waiting to shoot a scene in a seedy downtown alley for an upcoming episode called “Click, Click, Boom.” Working alongside his character are Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officer Jimmy McGloin (Ryan Hurst), FBI agent Tommy Rodriguez (Benjamin Benitez), LAPD high-tech expert Rodney Gronbeck (Josey Scott), and Carla Merced (Rashida Jones), a former Naval Intelligence officer who’s an expert hostage negotiator.
Depicting the dangers
Killed off in the July 31 premiere episode was Drug Enforcement Agency officer Joe Vacco, played by Brendan Kelly.
His death in the line of duty was something Zamacona says he planned from the first draft of the script, “not for shock value, only because it’s a dangerous job these guys do. And I want it to be that from episode to episode — you don’t know what might happen.”
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The demise allowed room, beginning on next Sunday’s episode, for Lee Tergesen to join on as the anarchic Eddie Drake, a U.S. Marshal Service veteran who just happens to have had an affair with Rose’s estranged wife.
Zamacona has been interested from the first in writing a role for Tergesen, memorable as abused and abusive inmate Tobias Beecher in “Oz.” But the actor was doing a play on Broadway when the pilot was being shot.
“I needed a more sort of laconic, sarcastic, pain-in-the-arse guy, who could just upset the chemistry of everybody,” says Zamacona — referring to the character, not the actor.
“Eddie Drake is sort of this loose cannon, funny, edgy guy, who has this really foolish, foolish mustache,” Tergesen grins, as he waits in his trailer for his day’s work to begin.
He says his Fu Manchu-style facial hair was Zamacona’s idea — “and one of my rules is if you can’t act it, grow it.”
Having worked on HBO’s rough and raw “Oz,” Tergesen admits that doing anything else on TV does feel a bit constricted. “That was really pushing things and outrageous. I’ll never get a script that will shock me the way those ’Oz’ scripts used to shock me.”
But he likes the “loose, seat-of-the-pants” methods of the “Wanted,” squad, and the cable series does give him some artistic latitude with its TV-MA rating for language, sex and violence.
Zacamona was challenged at a recent press conference about TV’s escalating gruesomeness, and he says the question was upsetting.
“I’m not after just sort of exploiting the misery of others to sell this show, or sell this team,” he says. “There is a violent world out there.”
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