Coming up for USA is a drama series that follows two police detective partners working together in Los Angeles and struggling with their professional relationship. Last December, USA offered me the opportunity to fly down to New Orleans to visit the set of the show and speak with one of the writers, as well as series stars Jack McGee, Warren Kole, Michael Ealy and Sonya Walger. It was an educational trip, and not just because it was my first visit to the Big Easy. I learned some interesting things about this new buddy-cop dramedy, including what inspired the premise for the series, what it might have been like had it landed at CBS, and why the show is filmed in New Orleans but not set there.
My brief but informative New Orleans adventure began with dinner at Le Foret with some of the other press and USA representatives. For those curious, I had the grilled filet of beef tenderloin (pommes gratin, spinach, wild mushroom bolognese)...
There was also a delicious flourless chocolate cake. By that point, I believe we’d moved on to the Common Law portion of the night, which included a screening of the pilot and a chat with executive producer Karim Zreik and star Sonya Walger.
One of the things we were all curious about from the start was why the show was filmed in New Orleans, if it was set in Los Angeles. From the sound of it, it made more financial sense. “Financially it sort of helped us with the type of show we wanted to do.” So why not just set the show in New Orleans? Zreik said New Orleans is it’s own planet. “It’s its own planet. And there was a moment there where we actually talked about, ‘Let’s just set the show in New Orleans,’” Zreik said. “We should be in the Quarter and we should be on Bourbon Street. But story wise it doesn’t make sense. It feels like if you’re going to be cops getting sent to therapy you’re going to be in a big city and it’s going to happen in LA because that’s sort of where the liberal police captain would do it. I don’t know if you could buy this sort of happening in, New York or Chicago, but LA just felt like it was the right therapy city to do this in. And the transition has been easy. It’s been great. I mean the city offers so much. And a great crew. Amazing crew.”
Common Law follows Travis Marks (Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Kole) as two police detectives partnered together and, despite years of history, are now having a hard time dealing with each others’ differences. The chemistry of the two actors and the odd-couple nature of their characters’ relationship is one of the best things the pilot has going for it. Walger, whom you may recognize as Penny from Lost, or Julia from In Treatment, plays Dr. Ryan, the couples therapist tasked to help Wes and Travis sort out their issues. Walger commented on the chemistry between Ealy and Kole. “They play,” she said, smiling. “They’re like puppies.”
As for her own role in the show, Walger’s character Dr. Ryan may be the one person who can really hold them accountable, badge or no badge. “I think it’s really fun to watch men struggle to be articulate and I think it’s fun to watch them have to talk about their feelings,” she explained. “I think it’s fun to watch them be answerable to a woman who I hope is not the ball buster, but is there holding them accountable in a way that they can’t wiggle out of. As cops you shouldn’t be able to flash that badge and get out of every situation and here’s a situation where the badge doesn’t count for anything.”
The pilot episode doesn’t really delve into Dr. Ryan’s back story, but from what Walger says, in addition to doing couples therapy at a community center, she’s also a very successful therapist. “She’s a very successful high end therapist,” Walger said. “Who gets fed up with prescribing pills to bored, wealthy patients and feels like she’s lost touch with the community.” So that gives us a little insight into where Dr. Ryan’s coming from, and who knows? Maybe we’ll get to know her a little bit better as the series goes on.
As for why you should watch it, according to Walger, “I think it’s really, really entertaining and I don’t think there’s anything on TV like it.”
One of the things I think people are going to notice about Common Law, especially if they’re fans of other USA series, is just how well the show fits in with the other original series on the network. Interestingly enough, Common Law almost took a different direction, as it was originally pitched to CBS, who bought it and was set to develop it. “We had it at CBS for a year,” Karim Zreik told us. “We developed it there for a year, and the direction they were taking the show in was just a little different. It was more procedural. And it was sort of losing the character stuff.” ‘Character stuff’ is sort of what USA is known for. “The CBS script was more let’s look under the microscope,” Zreik explained, when discussing how the show changed after USA bought it. “Whose blood is this, are we doing it, you know, a completely different show. So we were happy that it landed at USA.”
We have more to share from the set visit, including photos of the set, and some comments from Michael Ealy, Warren Kole and Jack McGee, so keep an eye out for that! In the meantime, in lieu of flourless chocolate cake, we’ll top this off with Karim Zreik’s amusing story explaining the inspiration for this series...
It’s a great story. I have one third of Junction Entertainment and that consists of Jon Turteltaub, Dan Shotz and myself. And every year, every development season, we sit around and we try to figure out shows and what topics we want to explore. About two years ago we sat around and we were hitting a wall. I was throwing out ideas, they were shooting them down, they were throwing out ideas, I was shooting them down, and at one point I was like I hate you guys. [LAUGH]
Sounds like it could work...
Common Law premieres Friday, May 11 at 10/9c on USA.
Click here for Part 2 of our Common Law set visit!