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CBS’ forthcoming SWAT remake has the same title, the same font and the same theme music as the original ‘70s cop drama, but star Shemar Moore insists the similarities end there.
“I call it SWAT 2017,” he told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “We’re taking on real life. We’re taking on the Trump years.”
Inspired by the film of the same name, the drama centers on a locally born and bred S.W.A.T. sergeant (Moore) who is torn between loyalty to the streets and duty to his fellow officers when he’s tasked to run a specialized tactical unit that is the last stop in law enforcement in Los Angeles.
The pilot kicks off after an unarmed teenager is killed by police — an event all too similar to recent real-world events, which is exactly what the series will lean into.
“It’s not Black Lives Matter, it’s All Lives Matter,” Moore said. “It’s fear. It’s racism. It’s terrorism. It’s subject matter today.”
Executive producer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (The Get Down) originally pitched the series based on his own divisive experiences with the police growing up in Kansas City. Thomas explained he had a neighbor who was a victim of police violence growing up. “On the other hand, another neighbor of mine was a police officer, so we had a love-hate relationship with police officers growing up,” he explained.
Aware of the “conversation that’s been in the zeitgeist lately” with the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas and fellow exec producer Shawn Ryan (The Shield) made sure to examine both sides of that difficult conversation. “This is a pro-cop show, but this is also a pro-community show,” Ryan said. “I want to see how the cops deal with people. I want to see how the people deal with cops.”
Subsequently, Moore’s character not only works as an officer in South Central but he also lives in the neighborhood where he works. “We wanted to explore a character that had his foot in both sides,” Thomas said, pointing to the unique perspective that would come with such a character.
“I think the characters on this show are heroes and I think you can be pro-police and yet also be pro-truth that there are certain incidents and times and events that shouldn’t happen,” Ryan explained. “That’s what fascinated me about this show is [to] look at the police and the communities they’re policing and sort of figure out if there’s way to bring these communities closer together.”
Ryan later added: “I think viewers recognize the truth, appreciate the truth and will embrace the truth when you show it to them.”
However, the veteran exec producer admitted he was worried about how much CBS would embrace the show’s more honest approach in the early stages of SWAT’s development. “Is this something CBS is really going to want us to tell?” Ryan recalled thinking. However, he said the leadership at the network “encouraged us to tell the story and tell the truth that we wanted to tell,” he said. Despite the recent change at the top, with Kelly Kahl and Thom Sherman taking over for Glenn Geller, “we still get encouraged on a daily basis to tell the story we want to tell, to the tell truth about the police and the communities.”
While no one on the panel promised definitively that SWAT would offer a solution, Moore was optimistic that the show would at least start a conversation (in addition to offering action scenes that Ryan promised will “be a notch above” the CBS standard.
“Look at the news. We’re based in L.A., but it’s a perfect time for SWAT. We’re seeing S.W.A.T. stories all over the world,” Moore said. “Hopefully we’re going to show you both sides of the conversation: blue, civilians, both sides of the argument. Maybe not fixing it, but bridging the gap.”
SWAT premieres Nov. 2 on CBS.
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