'Wicked City' Producers Preview ABC's "Dark, Hedonistic Party"

"There were no consequences," Harris tells THR of the show set in '80s Los Angeles. "And in 1982, L.A. was the serial killer capital of the world."
ABC/Eric McCandless

Amy B. Harris knows that her latest project, ABC anthology Wicked City, may not seem "on brand" for her. With a résumé boasting relationship-focused hits like Sex and the City, The Comeback, Gossip Girl and the former's '80s-set CW prequel series The Carrie Diaries, no one was more surprised than she was when the veteran producer found herself attached to a show about a serial killer.

"I know I'm not the most obvious person to run a show like this one as my credits are not exactly in this wheelhouse," Harris tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh. "But I was incredibly attracted to stories about flawed human beings and the darkness that we all have inside of us and how we're all, to some degree, searching for love."

Harris who brings her soapy relationship and '80s prowess to the table and teams with first-time TV writer Steven Baigelman (features Get on Up and the upcoming Miles Ahead) to explore Los Angeles' famed Sunset Strip, circa 1982.

"It's a sexy show about ... sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, with a Romeo and Juliet/Bonnie and Clyde serial killer couple that we follow, along with everyone who their killing spree touches," Baigelman says of his Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen starrer.

Here, THR talks with Harris and Baigelman about what to expect from Wicked City's first case, violence and how, in success, the series would reboot itself for season two. 

In the "age of too much TV," why should viewers watch Wicked City? What does it bring to the table that no other show has?

Harris: People who like dark, twisty shows are going to like it and people who like relationship shows are going to like it. And it's all set on the sexy Sunset Strip back when there were no consequences and bad behavior ran rampant. 

Baigelman: We are pushing the limits of what we've seen before in how we approach this story. We're not just following the serial killers as they kill, but we are going to surprise you with how much you fall in love with them. And music is a huge part of our show. That period of rock 'n' roll was all over the place, with the music of the '70s clashing with the music of the '80s. We play with the idea that this is dark party contrasted with the bright sunshine of L.A. 

Amy, since this is a very different show for you, did you have to prepare for it in a different way than you normally do?

Harris: I had to do a lot of research. I read a lot of books about profiling and serial killers and looked at that world and the type of people who are serial killers as well as the type of people who are attracted to that world. So after I did enough research, I just wrote like I would write any story based on human drama. This is really a character-driven piece that has procedural elements vs. a procedural show that has character elements. And obviously the character aspect is right up my alley.

What factors did you consider when picking the case?

Baigelman: I'm always fascinated with what makes people alike rather than what makes them different. What our serial killer team is searching for in life is the same thing that our cops are searching for: a connection. A family. No one's life is perfect. Even our main cop is having issues in his family life and his work life. 

Harris: We have a very compelling, charismatic killer in Kent (Westwick) who meets his match literally and figuratively in Betty (Parenthood's Christensen, who has a one-year deal), and meets his match in Jack (Jeremy Sisto) with a really interesting take on a chase story. We love knowing up front who your bad guy is and yet, the confusing element we hope for the audience is how much you're drawn to Kent and Betty and find them interesting and dark and relatable. 

Baigelman: Our cop and our killer are two sides of one coin.

How much violence wil be depicted on the show and where do you draw the line?

Baigelman: We have violence on our show, there is no doubt. But this is not violence porn in any way, shape or form. We are not showing more than we have to. We are pulling back in ways. It's not gratuitous, but it is a show about murder.

Harris: The pilot is a pretty good template for what we'll be seeing this season. We want to know that it's shocking when you see a headless body laid out that real violence took place and that it's awful and graphic. Yet at the same time, I want to stay away from feeling like I'm seeing any more than that. I don’t want to be desensitized to the fact that we are talking about serial killers and murder. We are going to learn a lot about why Kent is the way he is, what shaped his history, why he's chosen this path. And so there is no way around violence when telling this story.

You previously announced that some actors from season one might return for future seasons. How might that work? Will they play completely new characters, or reprise their old ones?

Baigelman: There are some characters who could possibly continue in future seasons. But I don't want to tell you which ones, because not all will make it out of this season alive. 

Harris: We've been talking about all the different versions that could happen in our moments of, "What if we get a season two?" The first we like to call the Wicked City player version where a lot of people come back and do different parts, or a continuation of season one into season two with many of the actors returning in the same roles, but not everyone. Once the show is on the air and we have a better sense of where we are heading, we'll focus on that. 

What excited you the most about getting to explore the world of the '80s on the Sunset Strip?

Harris: I love the music. And there were so many different types of music that were on the Strip at the same time — funk, hair bands, rock 'n' roll — so we can play with so many of those. Being able to use music to comment and become a character was exciting. And the fact that there were no consequences! There wasn't AIDS yet, so people were having sex every which way. There wasn't crack yet. We were just on the edge of a time where things got darker in terms of scary things that could come along. And in 1982, L.A. was the serial killer capital of the world. It's a dark, hedonistic party.

Baigelman: And it's before technology really boomed as well. It's a time before cell phones, so police work was much different back then. Our cops have to do real grunt work, real police work. 

Wicked City premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.