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'NYC 22' answers the call

Cop series show no signs of waning, with CBS' new drama aiming to add its own spin to the formula.

April 14, 2012|Greg Braxton
  • Adam Goldberg, left, and Felix Solis star in "NYC 22."
Adam Goldberg, left, and Felix Solis star in "NYC 22." (David M. Russell / CBS )

TV westerns, game shows and variety shows have come and gone. But when it comes to prime time, TV has rarely experienced a cop-out, despite the seemingly endless recycling of formulas dealing with the central themes of good and evil, crime and punishment.

The creative forces behind CBS' new "NYC 22" hope that their series demonstrates that there is plenty of life left in the well-tilled cop show territory. Its A-list pedigree is an immediate attention grabber: Executive producers include Oscar winner Robert De Niro and novelist-screenwriter Richard Price.

"True, there have been a million cop shows and a million about New York," said Price, the author of gritty literary bestsellers such as "Clockers" and "Lush Life," who developed the show. "One of our key goals is to bust through the historical cliches of cop dramas."

Ever since Jack Webb started demanding "Just the facts, ma'am" on the TV version of "Dragnet" in the 1950s, the cop show has proved to be one of TV's most durable staples, from high-voltage dramas such as "NYPD Blue" to the procedural pleasures of "Law & Order" and its spinoffs.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
"NYC 22": In the April 14 Calendar section, an article about the CBS-TV series "NYC 22" misspelled the first name of executive producer Jane Rosenthal as Jean.

A creative renaissance in the last decade sparked critically lauded series such as "The Shield," "The Wire," "Dexter" and "Southland," which have used the backdrop of police work to examine complex urban dilemmas and flawed crime-fighters. But the last few seasons have also seen a stream of police-oriented failures, including NBC's short-lived "Prime Suspect," ABC's "Detroit 187" and "Life on Mars," and Fox's "The Chicago Code."

"NYC 22," premiering Sunday, employs a time-worn formula: wet-behind-the ears rookies entering the rough-and-tumble streets for the first time. The premise has not only been the focus of shows such as the 1970s drama "The Rookies," ABC's returning summer series "Rookie Blue" and "Detroit 187," but also of the film "Training Day," in which Ethan Hawke's character came close to being killed during an eventful day with his corrupt mentor, played by Denzel Washington.

In "NYC 22," the rookies are often partnered together instead of with a senior officer, increasing their chances of getting into trouble. Overseeing the group is field training officer Daniel Dean (Terry Kinney), who has the tell-all nickname of "Yoda."

In many ways, the show is more traditional than the recent string of edgier cable fare. It's clearly a network series -- the language is less coarse. And unlike some of the actors in "The Wire" and "The Shield," many in the young cast, including Leelee Sobieski and Stark Sands, look like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine.

But what distinguishes "NYC 22" is its setting and characters, said Price, who also wrote episodes of "The Wire." For one, the rookies have unusual backgrounds: There is a bitter police beat reporter who decides to join the force after being laid off by his newspaper, an Afghan native who battled his way to freedom and a former basketball legend who could not make it in the pros.

"We're featuring the kinds of cops and personalities that we haven't really seen before, who are negotiating the first real job of their lives," he said.

More important, the series takes place in Harlem, where Price has lived for the four years: "I really wanted to put Harlem on the screen. People have heard about it, but it's really not like they think. They haven't seen the mixture, the yin and yang of boutiques that are right next to funeral homes. Harlem is a madhouse. It's not driving people away. People are now setting up their lives there that never would have thought about doing that 15 years ago."

That atmosphere intrigued Price, who was working on a novel at the time he came up with the idea for "NYC 22." "Some of my characters were police, and I started marrying my interest in what they were doing with where I was living. I decided to create a show where rookies come in and deal with Harlem."

Jean Rosenthal, who along with Tribeca Productions partner De Niro is an executive producer, says Price's distinctive pacing and dialogue, in addition to the location, will set it apart from traditional cop dramas. "This setting is a neighborhood in transition, and we haven't seen that kind of dynamic as vividly on other shows."

TV historian Tim Brooks said "NYC 22" could benefit from the wave of goodwill and comfort that audiences have for the cop drama: "This is the type of show that just springs eternal."

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greg.braxton@latimes.com

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