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Comic-Con: 'The Blacklist' Inspired by Whitey Bulger's Capture

"This guy was such a strange mix of someone who is dangerous and scary at times but also compelling, and part of that is his sense of humor," star James Spader said.

Blacklist
James Spader in "The Blacklist"

NBC's big bet for fall met the masses Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International, where the drama -- and star James Spader -- made its maiden voyage to the Big Show.

The Blacklist kicks off when the world's most-wanted criminal (Spader as Red Reddington) mysteriously turns himself in and offers to give up everyone he has ever worked with. His one condition: He'll work only with newly minted FBI agent Elizabeth (Megan Boone), with whom he seemingly has no connection. It's both a case-of-the-week drama and a serial involving the mystery of why Red only will speak with Elizabeth.

THR's Complete Comic-Con 2013 Coverage

The drama, which many insiders deemed the best script of the recently concluded jam-packed pilot season, built upon that buzz when NBC slotted the freshman series in the prime slot following The Voice on Mondays. The prime 10 p.m. real estate helped successfully launch Revolution into a second season. (Worth noting, Revolution fared poorly without NBC's singing competition.)

First-time showrunner (and Comic-Con attendee) Jon Bokenkamp (Perfect Stranger) introduced the world premiere screening, which was received with massive applause and screams following its hourlong bow.

Following the screening, producers revealed that their inspiration for the show came right around the time Whitey Bulger had been captured. Bulger is a Boston crime figure who was dedicated to protecting his neighborhood and its residents. He ultimately was captured and is on trial for the alleged murder of 19 people.

Producers noted they liked idea of what would happen if a lifetime criminal just started talking. "He'd be like the Rosetta Stone of crime," EP John Fox said of Red's evolution. "He took on a Keyser Soze [The Usual Suspects] kind of feel … a concierge for crime." (The latter initially was a line from the pilot that ultimately was removed.)

PHOTOS: NBC's 2013-14 Season: 'About a Boy,' 'Ironside,' 'Believe,' 'Crisis'

For his part, Spader said he was appealed by the mystery -- and humor -- that was the backbone of the character.

"I just thought it was a neat show," Spader said. "I've done a little bit of series work in the past, and what little I knew about it was you better make a choice to play a character that's going to sustain, [one] that you can be curious about over a long span of time. Questions are going to go unanswered for a while, not only for the audience but for me as well. This character seemed like that. … This guy was such a strange mix of someone who is dangerous and scary at times but also compelling, and part of that is his sense of humor."

In terms of Red's mysterious relationship with Elizabeth, Spader said he only knew "some" of the show's central mystery, with showrunner John Eisendrath dodging the question when asked whether the Hannibal-like terrorist was Elizabeth's father.

"We will explore the reasons why he has what's clearly sick and twisted paternal feelings for her," he said. Interjected Spader, "Just watch the show!"

The Blacklist premieres Monday, Sept. 23 at 10 p.m. on NBC.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com
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