|Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs in Murder in the First.|
Having made Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, the producer who has given television some of its most memorable police teams is attempting it again.
Steven Bochco is back in the series game with Murder in the First (on M-Net, Fridays, 8.30pm), a drama that – not unlike his 1995-97 show Murder One – tracks one case over an entire season. Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Boss) play San Francisco homicide partners who have determined that two killings have links to an aggressively self-assured young Silicon Valley tycoon (Tom Felton, alias Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies).
“We spent a lot of time hanging with homicide detectives in San Francisco and it’s a different world from 15 or 20 years ago. The gender lines have blurred enormously,” says Bochco.
“There’s a lot of easy back-and-forth between the men and women, and there’s not that sort of old-school mistrust that older male detectives had for women. That’s refreshing. There’s also more of an informality in the environment.”
Those aspects clearly inform the professional partnership of Terry English (Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Robertson) as each struggles with personal dilemmas. She’s a single mother trying to keep bill collectors at bay, while he has a critically ill wife at home. When it comes to doing their jobs, they try to be of one mind – but that doesn’t always work, as Murder in the First has proved right from the opening episode.
“Steven told me that it’s very important for him to know the person who’s playing a role”, says Robertson, also seen on Bates Motel and remembered as the willful Clare Arnold on Beverly Hills, 90210.
“Then he can write to them, and he has the true essence of who they are. I’m sure when he met me and Taye separately, that was part of the decision… like, ‘These two would be a very interesting combination’.
“I approach things in a very specific way,” Robertson says. “My energy is different from Taye’s, since he’s very much a quiet observer. I’m much more the person who asks 101 questions. I’m a writer, so I look at things from that brain.”
Diggs, who spent six seasons on Private Practice, says he’s playing Terry in Murder in the First as being moody, with the occasional outburst.
“I’ve come from the school of ‘less is more’, so it’s been great to sink into the stillness of this character, although he can fly off the handle when a situation taunts him.
Generally speaking, this guy is deliberate and slow and concentrated, and it’s been a refreshing departure.”
So has the premise of a single story that spans a season. “It allows us to really take advantage of the opportunity to live and move in a character, without the broad strokes you have to have in a closed-end episode,” Diggs reflects.
Bochco finds it “really wonderful to watch” Diggs and Robertson together. “Kathleen is so forward, you can read her face; every moment, stuff is going on there, but Taye is kind of laidback. Emotionally, he plays his cards closer to the vest and doesn’t reveal much of himself easily.
“To explore the way two cops learn to be intimate with each other when they have such different personalities is really interesting.”
Another of Bochco’s joys in assembling the Murder in the First cast was in re-enlisting familiar faces he’s employed in other series, including Richard Schiff (Brooklyn South), Peter Onorati (Civil Wars) and Currie Graham (who appeared in NYPD Blue and Bochco’s previous show, Raising the Bar).
“One of the things that’s so great about doing a show like Murder in the First, where you have a single story arc for one season, is that you can access actors who normally aren’t going to sign up for five years,” Bochco says.
By the same token, devising a10-episode cable season instead of a 22-episode broadcast order “eliminates pretty much all the dough. Sustaining 22 can be hard, especially when you don’t know where you’re going to end.”
“What’s different – and what I like so much about this one – is that it starts out as a police-driven murder mystery, and as it develops, it becomes a legal drama. And then, it becomes a police drama again.
“One of the things that’s so terrific about San Francisco for us, conceptually, is that the entire criminal justice system is housed in one building: the police department, court system, district attorney’s office, the jail, medical examiner. The way you can cross-pollinate and have everybody accessing everybody, at a moment’s notice, makes it really fun. San Francisco is unique that way.” – Zap2It
* This article first appeared on Zap2It*