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After slowly but surely winning over audiences last summer with its blend of crime procedural and serialized storytelling, TNT’s Murder in the First returns for its sophomore season on Monday. Stars Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson are back as San Francisco police detectives Terry English and Hildy Mulligan, but the new episodes will focus on an entirely new mystery.
Executive producer Steven Bochco spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about season one, what changes are ahead in season two, and how much of the characters’ personal lives will be exposed.
Overall, were you happy with the way Murder in the First’s first season unfolded?
I was! Creatively, I thought it was a really good story. I thought it was wonderfully cast. I thought Tom Felton was great, and Jamie Cromwell was just a stellar piece of casting. I just was very, very happy with the effort, and like with a lot of shows that are single-story seasons, a lot of people collected a bunch of episodes before they sat down to watch, and so we really saw our ratings spike in the last third of the season, which was the right time to see that happen.
Did you learn any lessons over the course of those initial 10 episodes that you put into action for the new season?
Well, season two was a very different season than season one in a lot of ways, because I got ill after the first season, so I really was not involved very strongly — if at all, really — in the first half of the season. I sat with my co-creator, Eric Lodal, before we started, and before I knew I was going to go into the hospital for a period of time, and we arced in broad terms a couple of storylines and talked about characters and everything. But once I went up to the hospital, I was out of it, and Eric really ran the show for the first six episodes until I was well again and got back out of the hospital.
Given the closed-ended nature of the first season, it seems as though new viewers are in a position to step into this new season without necessarily needing to play catch-up.
Oh, absolutely. It’s a completely different story. You know, the whole conceit of the series is that every season is a discrete story, so everybody’s starting from zero with every season of Murder in the First.
In the season two premiere, it initially seems as though the predominant storyline for the season is going to involve a female undercover cop who has gone MIA, but it isn’t long before a different crime has leapt to the forefront.
Here’s what we’re doing in season two, which I think does mark a departure from what we did in season one. The storyline that occupies overwhelmingly the first several episodes, which is a bus massacre, is not a mystery in the sense that we know who’s responsible for doing it and we catch one of the two guys, and the other guy goes out of the picture pretty quickly. So over the course of the season, the A-story — which starts out being the bus massacre — recedes a little bit into the background because it’s not a mystery, per se. It’s more a dramatic conversation about the death penalty.
The B-story, which is the missing undercover cop who turns out to be one of a series of police officers who wind up dead over the course of the season — that story emerges as the primary mystery because there’s somebody committing murders at 850 Bryant Street, and we don’t know who, and 850 Bryant Street — because it encompasses the entire criminal justice system in San Francisco, which means the court system, the police department, the jail system, the medical examiner’s office, the D.A.’s office, everything — there’s probably a couple of thousand people working at 850 Bryant Street, any one of whom could potentially be a victim or a perpetrator. And for cops in particular, if you can’t trust the people you work with to have your back. …
That’s a fair amount of detail to be doling out before the season premiere has even aired.
Well, keep in mind that I haven’t really told you anything specific about the who, what, and where. (Laughs.)To that extent, I think we’re still in safe territory.
The personal lives of the officers played a part in the first season at least to a certain extent, particularly with Hildy and Terry. When you were breaking down the new season, did you have a mindset as far as what percentage you wanted to involve their personal lives?
We consciously spent more time this season looking at the personal lives of our cops. We spent a lot of time looking at Hildy’s family because she comes from a family of cops. Her brother Junior becomes a member of our homicide squad, and the contrast between her and her brother and her retired father, who was a cop, gives us a real window into the psychology of her family and, by extension, who she is today, which I think is valuable in the long term. We spend a lot of time with Navarro and his family, getting into his family dynamic, and we spend some time developing the personal life of Molk through the investigation of their storyline. The luxury of the second season is that — having essentially established our home base — we’re now able to spend a little time learning more about our primary characters.
In regards to the first two episodes of the new season, there are several gasp-inducing moments during the course of events. Can we expect that to be consistent throughout the season?
No. It’s not an action show. It’s a mystery show. The first two episodes, yes, they’re very action-oriented, because you have a massacre and you have a manhunt for two killers. But once one of them is caught and one of them is eliminated, you now have to get down to the business of solving a mystery. But I will say that on a scale of one to 10, if the amount of sheer action in season one was maybe at a two or a one, I’d say that the overall level of action in this season is higher. It’s four or five.
It’s interesting to see the massacre explored from Hildy’s standpoint: not only is she dealing with it as a cop, but she’s also dealing with it as a mother. Meanwhile, her daughter’s dealing with it, too, by wishing sometimes that her mother wasn’t a cop.
The thing about all these kinds of stories, and you never really get this from the newspapers or from sound bites on television or sensational 24/7 cable coverage: a violent event can occur, and it may take seconds or it may take minutes, whether it’s a school bus massacre or an Aurora movie theater massacre or whatever, but then people forget about the lifelong consequence of a brief spasm of violence. What I’ve always strived to do in my shows is really dramatize the consequence of violence much more so than the violence itself, which speaks for itself, and I think what you’ll find thematically, through all 12 episodes of Murder in the First this season, is that we’re constantly dealing with the intended and unintended consequences of violence on every character who’s touched by it.
The second season of Murder in the First premieres on Monday at 10 p.m. on TNT.
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