'Prime Suspect': How the NBC Reboot Will Be Different From the Original

"We're going to find our own journey to go on," executive producer-writer Alexandra Cunningham told reporters at TCA.
Alexandra Cunningham and Maria Bello at TCA

NBC is banking on its reimagining of the British series Prime Suspect, which starred Oscar winner Helen Mirren, to be its saving grace. On Monday afternoon, it was clear that the U.S. version, debuting Thursday, Sept. 22 would strive to make its own mark.

Starring Maria Bello, Prime Suspect centers on unconventional New York Det. Jane Timoney (Bello) as she navigates a male-dominated workforce. But as Jane enters into her work environment, she quickly realizes how deep the tension with her colleagues can go.

"What we always intended was the sexism was driven by the character who died," executive producer-writer Alexandra Cunningham told reporters. "She's going to buckle down and ignore that kind of thing. Some characters will react to her in the traditional sexism way ... and some people will react to her because they don't like her." 

"Sexism isn't gone," she added.

And though it may be surprising to some how overt sexism can run, Cunningham recalled visiting N.Y. squads and seeing how few women there were. 

Cunningham wasn't worried about running out of original stories to keep Prime Suspect on the air. (The entire run of the original series was equivalent to one U.S. season.) "We've got a lot of juicy cases that we've broken for the show," she shared. "We'll make sure that those who love procedural" will be satisfied.

As the show moves forward, viewers can expect stories revolving around the rest of the other police officers and more of Jane's life outside of the force -- with more humor than the British series. Additionally, Cunningham hopes that they will be able to introduce more "B" stories that will last more than one episode.

Character-wise, will the U.S. version of Jane be close to what the British series featured? Not so. "She's trying to quit smoking," Cunningham said. "We're going to be playing with that. It'll be a struggle." In terms of whether viewers will see Jane struggling with drinking, it will play a role in her daily life but it won't consume her.

"We're going to find our own journey to go on with Jane. The drinking is just sort of a part of everyday life," she said. "I don't know if we'll see our Jane descending into alcoholism in the same way."

If anyone was worried about Bello assuming the role originated by Mirren, fear not. "I'm not Jane. Alex and I are Jane together," Bello said. "We all agreed in the beginning not to make her a conventional cop. ... We were all in agreement that that was what we wanted to do. There's nothing earnest about it and there's nothing earnest about the character."

Executive producer-director Peter Berg, who developed Friday Night Lights for the small screen, learned the two key aspects of how Prime Suspect came to life. "Casting: Without Maria, we weren't really interested in doing that," Berg said. "Make sure we protect a certain expectation, that being a procedural expectation."

Here are some other tidbits from the session:

  • Cunningham recalled a letter producer Linda LaPlante sent to her, praising the choice of Bello as Jane. "It's at the framers," Cunningham deadpanned. 
  • "The first day we started shooting last week was [Mirren's] birthday," Bello shared during the panel session.
  • When asked if the fedora would continue to play a large role in the series, Bello was obviously quite fond of it. "I feel like ... this is who Jane is. For me, it's Jane Timoney," she said. Cunningham agreed, "It's very close to NYPD detectives."