September 22, 2011 7:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Prime Suspect' EPs on the Risks and Expectations of Rebooting the Series (Q&A)
NBC’s Prime Suspect has some big shoes to fill.
The series, a reimagining of the British series of the same name, sets Maria Bello in Helen Mirren’s role as Detective Jane Timoney, an outsider who transfers to New York City homicide department where men rule the roost. In addition, the reboot of the ITV series – which counts Friday Night Lights’ Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey among its executive producers – is taking over a rich time slot where another procedural, Law & Order: SVU, held court for 12 seasons. “We feel very proud to be put in this slot,” says executive producer Paul Buccieri, the ITV executive who redeveloped the series alongside EP/writer Alexandra Cunningham and Berg.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Aubrey and Buccieri to discuss expectations for the reboot, how it differs from procedurals like SVU and the risks of adapting a critically acclaimed property.
THR: The British series had a big impact. What expectations do you have for the reboot?
Aubrey: We have felt very strongly from the moment we started collaborating on the show that it was really going to resonate with American audiences in the way that shows like House and Law & Order: SVU -- though I think this is highly different than a Dick Wolf show – shows with strong characters at the center of them with a procedural element every week but with the kind of characters you can’t take your eyes off of. I think Maria has captured the spirit of the original. She’s certainly made the Jane character her own.
THR: What advantages are there to rebooting a critically acclaimed series like Prime Suspect?
Buccieri: Anytime you have great source material it makes the initial sale that much easier and that’s the good fortune we have at ITV: we have some really classic, iconic brands in our portfolio, Prime Suspect being one. It really gives the buyers a jumping off point to see where something can go.
THR: How much does having brand recognition come into play for a show like this? Does it help or hurt?
Aubrey: It’s a tall order to fill those shoes when something is so beloved but at the same time, we welcome the challenge. It’s how we got Maria into the show. She was excited to work on it because Alex’s writing is very strong and there’s a lot of meat to the character and the character’s stories every week. We hope to match up but also do it in our own way.
THR: What are the risks you take when you adapt such a beloved property like Prime Suspect?
Aubrey: I don’t think it’s any more or less risky than launching any television show. The process of having great source material to build off of that we use to attract a great actress like Maria, I think people will hold us up to the original. Some people no matter what will want to point out the differences and have that not be satisfying. Even people who are indignant – “How dare you remake Prime Suspect” – all acknowledge that Maria is terrific in the show. What I’m hoping will happen is that people will watch the first episode and see that this is not a carbon copy and that Maria really has created this incredibly lively and outspoken character to be watched and appreciated on her own terms.
THR: How does Maria influence the types of stories you’re looking to tell?
Aubrey: She influences them a lot. It’s not the kind of stories so much as the character’s orientation toward the story, which is just being very direct and unapologetically ambitious and not particularly diplomatic in the way she handles certain situations. Sometimes that works to her benefit, sometimes it doesn’t. We love the complications of that. This character is not begging to be liked at every turn.
THR: What are you taking from the British series and how will it be different?
Aubrey: I think those shows are excellent and very well done but they don’t go home with their characters as much. What we have the latitude to do and that [NBC Entertainment topper] Bob Greenblatt really encouraged us, is to have a good character story with Jane every week. When we’re doing our jobs right, what ever that story is carries over into how she works the case. Those two things are not separated in this show, it’s not: Here’s two scenes with Jane and her personal story and the rest is the case. Often, Jane’s story is about how she’s not or is getting along with someone in the office. So how they work the case together is influenced by what their relationship is that week. That makes us stand apart.
Buccieri: There’s an infusion, when appropriate, of comedy juxtaposed to the drama and I think that’s a really nice addition to the show.
Aubrey: That really comes from our experience and drawing upon the research with New York City police officers that we’ve spent a lot of time with. We have one on our staff and those men and women handle some very heavy, dark work with a humor that is relentless in a way. They refuse to go down to that dark place with the work that they do. It’s a survival strategy and we thought it was really important to showcase that. There’s a great balance to being serious about the case at hand but at the same time being able to cut up a little bit so everyone doesn’t drown under the weight.
Buccieri: It feels very real and authentic.
THR: Are there any other ITV properties you’ve got an eye on bringing stateside?
Buccieri: My hope is if Prime Suspect performs well as we hope it does that it will open up more doors for us to get out other gems in our library and reboot them as well. I think there’s some great stuff in our library.
Prime Suspect premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC.