NBC's 'The Blacklist' Producers Insist the Show Isn't 'Silence of the Lambs'

Why is James Spader's most-wanted terrorist so intent to work with a newbie at the FBI? Producers tease the season-long mystery.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment
"The Blacklist" stars James Spader and Megan Boone

Producers of NBC's buzzy freshman drama The Blacklist used their platform Saturday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour to downplay any similarities that may exist between their crime thriller and Silence of the Lambs.

The Blacklist kicks off when the world's most-wanted criminal (James Spader as Raymond "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.

The plot closely resembles the 1991 Jodie Foster/Anthony Hopkins feature The Silence of the Lambs, in which imprisoned cannibal Hannibal Lecter would work only with Clarice Starling, Foster's young FBI trainee.

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"We are all fans of that movie, and it's a great movie and we're lucky in some ways to be compared to it. But there's a big difference between the characters on our show and the characters of Hannibal and Clarice. Red is not a psychopath; he is someone who is more of an enigma," writer/executive producer John Eisendrath told reporters, noting the series will explore whether the terrorist's journey is one of redemption or revenge. "Is he good? Is he bad? 'What is he like?' is part of the question of the series."

"It's very distinct from Hannibal Lecter, and the same is true of Elizabeth," he added. "While she may start out in a very Clarice Starling, naive, innocent place, this is much more a journey of discovery: Who she is. This is a journey of discovery not just for the audience but for the character. She's going to learn who she is in a way that will take her down a path very distinct from Clarice Starling. While we understand the idea that people would say this is similar or has comparisons, we think the characters and the journey that they're going to go on are distinctly different."

The drama, which many in the industry deemed one of the strongest scripts of the recently concluded jam-packed pilot season, built upon that buzz when NBC scheduled the freshman series in the 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.)

EP Jon Bokenkamp called the show a "strange hybrid" of procedural and serialized drama, noting each week will feature different criminals that the FBI may not have known even existed. "There's opportunity to have fun with the various people involved in crime in ways we haven't seen before. Each week there's a different criminal, but the reason you come back to the show are the people and the secrets that they have and what's happening at home," he said. "In most procedural-type shows you don't go home; you stay in the bullpen. … Here it's essential we go home and … meet these people."

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As for the relationship between Red and Elizabeth, Spader said there is a past between them that she's not aware of, but he has an intimate knowledge of her past and childhood as well as her relatives. "The relationship in the film is obsession, it's not based in any sort of reality at all," he noted. "As the [series] starts to unfold [Red and Elizabeth's shared past] becomes a driving force of what their relationship really is."

The Blacklist premieres Monday, Sept. 23, on NBC. Watch the trailer below.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
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