About a year ago, Peter Liguori, then President of Entertainment at FOX Broadcasting Company, called producer Jonathan Lisco with an idea. Lisco tells us that Liguori said to him, “I want to do a cop show and I know it should be set in New Orleans.” When Lisco asked for more detail, he was told by Liguori, again as told by Lisco, “Hey, you're the writer, you'll figure it out.”
And, figure it out Lisco did.
This fall, FOX will be premiering their newest cop show, K-Ville, set in present day New Orleans. Lisco says that the post-hurricane city is the “context” and “backdrop,” of the story. It is there to “enhance the narrative as opposed to be[ing] the set-piece of the narrative.” Instead, the main narrative is about the officers on the squad, mainly Marlin Boulet (Anthony Anderson) and Trevor Cobb (Cole Hauser). Both are, naturally, flawed heroes who have a number of obstacles to overcome in their professional and personal lives. As Lisco says, “At the end of the day, the show is going to live or die based on your level of commitment to Anthony and Cole's characters and the surrounding cast.”
One of the New Orleans police officers that Lisco did a ride-along with in his research for the show invited Lisco into his house at the end of the day. There, Lisco noticed that the place was “barely standing,” and that the officer was sleeping in a sleeping bag on a plank on the floor, while trying to put it all back together. The officer's family had moved to Atlanta, but he stayed because he loved the job and his wife knew that. Not coincidentally, this is how we are introduced to Marlin Boulet in K-Ville's pilot. It is a strong introduction to a character. It instantly shows that the character on-screen is good, but struggles with problems of his own. Boulet is, as is shown in the pilot, a good cop, but one who is sometimes wayward, who bends rules. Lisco explains that this is a usual refrain in other shows he has written for (NYPD Blue and The District), where officers enforce the “spirit of the law” as opposed to the letter.
Trevor Cobb, on the other hand, is the exemplification of one of the key themes that Lisco wants to explore in K-Ville — redemption. Cobb is a felon who escapes the jail when it floods during the storm. He has returned to New Orleans, faking his background somewhat, and joined the police force in an attempt to change his life. This is made possible due to the fact that due to Katrina, many of the criminal records in the city were destroyed. Lisco tells us, as everyone knows anyway, that Cobb's path to redemption will not be straight, but, he says, it will make for “great drama.”
It all sounds quite dark and disturbing: a city that has been destroyed due to a storm, an officer who is an escaped convict, and another whose family has left him due to his wanting to stay in the city. How is it possible to find any fun or humor in the city and the story? Lisco points to shows like M*A*S*H for that, stuff that is “darkly comic, darkly satirical.” He says that “just because I laugh doesn't mean that life ceases to be serious.” He points out that people that live in the city are resilient and “laugh at the darkest things.” This ought to allow for some levity to be brought into the story, while staying true to the city and the people.
The producers of K-Ville have certainly done their homework on the city, both before and after Katrina. In fact, Lisco tells us, it is something they continue to do today, with staffers cutting clips from newspapers across the country that feature any stories on the storm. He also seems to recognize that it can never be enough, there simply isn't time. However, he hopes that in some way the series can help rebuild the city, he already knows that his art director has been able to move his family back to the city and “recommit to the land” there. They are, he notes, bringing money into the city, but he thinks that, as in the case of his art director, they are bringing hope, too.
At this moment it is unclear whether that hope, real or imagined, will translate to viewers; whether levity brought to the story offends people or whether the darkness pushes people away. Lisco is well aware that after a time historical events are ripe for televising — “they are safer to do” the further away they are. He knows he is working awfully close to the event in this case, and knows that he has to “treat the material with respect” in order to succeed. Lisco and his team have drawn a very fine line for themselves to walk. Leaning too much in one direction or the other will cause countless people to stand up and decry the show.
As it stands, the pilot is interesting enough that I will be tuning in for the second episode to see where it heads. Hopefully it will be somewhere worth going.