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Audiences will want to be part of 'The Blacklist'

by jmaloni
Sat, Sep 21st 2013 04:40 pm
`The Blacklist` (Key art photo by NBC)
"The Blacklist" (Key art photo by NBC)
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Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

FBI agent Elizabeth Keen's first day on the job will be extraordinary.

Whether it's one she'll want to remember, or one to forget, that's another story.

As audiences have seen in commercials, NBC's new drama series "The Blacklist" centers on Elizabeth (Megan Boone), a fresh-faced profiler, who, despite having no significant history, is the focus of attention for Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader), one of the bureau's 10 most-wanted criminals.

Red will turn over his "blacklist" of evildoers on one condition: "Elizabeth Keen is a psychological profiler who is new to the FBI, and it's her first day at work when James Spader, Red Reddington, requests to speak with her and only her in order to provide detail for catching some of the world's most dangerous criminals," Boone said.

All of a sudden, "She's (rushed) into these situations, and she's not entirely prepared to be a field agent. However, it's required of her now to go out and seek out these criminals in some of the most dangerous situations that she may encounter," Boone said.

Like other great, female-driven action-dramas of the past 10 years - think "Buffy," "Alias," "Fringe" - "The Blacklist" exists in a well-crafted world of storytelling, chock-full of interesting twists and turns, and inhabited by a multitude of three-dimensional characters.

And like those other shows, the fate of the world (or at least the series) falls on the shoulders of a young woman who, while inexperienced, is bound and determined to win the day.

"What you ultimately discover about (Elizabeth) is that she's very brave and capable despite her novice, and there's always that question of whether or not she can handle herself," Boone said. "Sometimes she does, but a lot of the times the mistakes that she makes are the things that move the drama forward, because there are just so many overwhelming circumstances that she has to face that, ultimately, she falls short and makes mistakes. And people have to come and - like Diego Klattenhoff's character, (FBI agent) Ressler, and Harry Lennix's character, (FBI head) Harold Cooper - and they have to come in and sort of see just the sort of team around her and, at the same time, question her presence in their department.

"It's almost as if she has both an incredible force of support around her, and almost no one to turn to. She's in a very precarious situation throughout the initial part of being curious."

"The Blacklist" is one of this season's most complete new series in turns of storytelling and character development. That's no surprise considering it comes from John Eisendrath, who penned and produced "Alias," and Jon Bokenkamp, who worked with Halle Barry in "The Call" and Angelina Jolie in "Taking Lives." Joe Carnahan, who helmed "The Grey" and "The A-Team," directed the pilot episode.

"The Blacklist" flourishes thanks to its leads: Spader, who mixes confidence, wit and charm to gain appeal as he walks a fine line between right and wrong; and Boone, who has learned to play the ideal TV crime-fighter (strong-minded, resolute, heroic) thanks to stints on "Blue Bloods" and "Law & Order: Los Angeles."

Eisendrath said the key to success for a show like this is, "in my mind, always begin with a great script, and John Bokenkamp wrote a great script, and one that had great characters in it - and a situation that I think was incredibly compelling. After that, it's mostly, I think, a lot about luck, you know, a lot of times, and finding people, you know, like Megan and like Spader. ... You can never count on going out to cast something and getting people who understand the parts and who, in many ways, bring from their own lives something that both adds to the part, but also relates to it.

"I think in both Megan's case and Spader's, there is something about each of them as individuals that molded with the character that was on the page, and that is essential to having a successful show, because at that point, then, they really become dimensional. I think it's a combination of the script, finding the right cast, which is almost, you know, which is incredibly difficult, as I'm sure you (know). ... The casting process for TV products is insane, and you know, it's all done at the same time. So in finding the right people, we were incredibly lucky.

"Then I think, also, it's a lot of shotgun marriages that go on in the course of creating something. Joe Carnahan - I'd never met him before. I'd heard of his work; I'd watched his movies; I was a fan of his; but I never worked with him before, and he did an amazing job."

Once all the pieces come together, "Each episode is like the chapter of a really good novel where, you know, you've started with a great first chapter and the pilot, and hopefully every episode we can deliver a new chapter that's as good as the first one," Eisendrath said.

As "The Blacklist" unfolds, the question first and foremost in fans' minds will be why Red has requested to work with Elizabeth.

"I think, like any great series question, the audience deserves periodic answers along the way," Eisendrath said. "It's not as if you have to wait very long to get some initial answers that all build towards a final reveal. We are very mindful that you can't - and we have no interest in just letting that question go unanswered. It's foremost in, obviously, Liz's mind. She will be insistent on asking. I think that, in a relationship like that, it's incumbent on Red to offer up some concrete footholds, you know, even in the first 12 episodes.

"There will be two or three answers that are sort of incremental, but, you know, I hope that ... with any good question like that, you'll get an answer and it might open up a different series of questions that you might not have thought of. We're going to give answers early on and throughout the first season. Hopefully, by the end of the first season, it will give the audience some confidence that they understand most of why he did it."

Boone said, "I think that what Elizabeth wants from Red is to understand the connection and his interest in her. So my ultimate goal and agenda with him is to uncover that mystery. And his agenda is a mystery to me."

What does Red want? Find out when "The Blacklist" premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC. Learn more about the show online at http://www.nbc.com/the-blacklist.

Follow Joshua Maloni on Twitter @joshuamaloni.

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