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'White Collar' is USA Network's newest, coolest Friday night series

by jmaloni

Easy-to-watch, 'Oceans 11'-style caper debuts Oct. 23

Fri, Oct 23rd 2009 09:00 am

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

In the "White Collar" pilot, FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) tells con artist Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) to stop seeking cappuccino in the clouds. It's funny because that's exactly what fans of this show will want: energetic, light and frothy storylines.

As procedurals continue to turn from "Law & Order" to action and humor, G-men and gadgets are gradually replacing cops and courts. The more popular crime-solving shows - "Monk," "Bones," "Leverage," "Castle," "The Mentalist" - are the ones in which mystery is complemented by adventure, romance and levity.

Seemingly, that's what Jeff Eastin had in mind when he created "White Collar." For his show lead, he cast Bomer, who is fresh from a recurring role as super-suave secret agent Bryce Larkin on NBC's action-comedy "Chuck." He paired Bomer, 31, with the slightly more mature DeKay, 46, who has straight man experience. Together, the duo tackles the best and brightest criminals in a manner reminiscent of the modern day "Oceans 11" crew.

In the premiere, Neal, desperate to return to his girlfriend Kate (Alexandra Daddario), breaks out of a super-max prison. Peter, who had spent three years trying to catch the uncatchable criminal mastermind, tracks Neal down in Kate's now-vacant apartment. Facing a longer jail term, Neal makes a deal with Peter to secure his release: If the two can apprehend the elusive "Dutchman," the con man will be released into FBI custody.

The story presents an "Odd Couple" scenario. Peter is straight-laced, works hard and believes he gets what he deserves. He is happily married to Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), and the two share an apartment and a dog. Neal, on the other hand, is charming, coasts through life on his good looks and street smarts, and gets what he wants. He isn't tied down, and makes the most of his freedom.

"White Collar" is built on relationships and, fortunately, Bomer and DeKay have terrific on-screen chemistry. Quite refreshingly, their fundamentally different characters get along well with each other.  

"It's interesting as actors, that's what Matt and I keep asking the writers. Just give us more of the two of us in a stakeout scene or something like that, where we're kind of stuck in four walls together. I think there's more of that," DeKay told "Behind the Screens" in a phone interview. "What's interesting is the way these two solve a puzzle. They each - I think they each respect that they can tell that the other one is very good at solving a problem - be it a crime, a caper, a puzzle. They don't necessarily look at it from the same way, but they both realize that they each love the hunt."

Bomer said the "White Collar" pairing works in that it's not a procedural stereotype.     

"One of the things we fight for in every episode - and Jeff (Eastin) does a great job of writing - is the fact that we really respect each other's intelligence," he said. "There's no - it's not like Tim is the bumbling FBI agent and I'm the genius con artist. We're both, hopefully, the smartest guys in the room, and (there are) certain qualities that ... Peter has that Neal doesn't, (which) complement his style of problem solving. And so, ultimately, they form kind of a good team that way. And that's something we really try to flesh out in every episode."         

"And I think throughout it all - and it was certainly there in the pilot - down at the bottom of this, these two guys like each other," DeKay added.

"White Collar" debuts Friday, Oct. 23, on USA. It's borrowing the post-"Monk," 10 p.m. "Psych" timeslot.

Bomer and DeKay couldn't be happier to be the top-rated cable network's newest show. For these actors, starring in a USA series is just like cappuccino in the clouds.

"I'm over the moon about it," Bomer said. "I mean, for the simple fact, just to start with, that the motto of the network is ‘Characters welcome,' which, for an actor is kind of a dream come true.

"And they're really on a roll. I think, you know, I'm not surprising anybody when I say that (USA Network CEO) Bonnie Hammer obviously really knows what she's doing. And they've been so supportive of us.

"And it's not like they do 15 pilots a year, so they really have taken the time to nurture us and get behind us. And that always feels good as an actor, as well.

"And, you know, I think it's just - I think cable and the 13-episode-arc is just - is a really great place to be as an actor."

DeKay agrees.         

"I do whole-heartedly," he said. "Yes, it goes to that same thing of ‘Characters welcome,' or actors. So it's always great to be on a network that says, you know, characters. That's a big part of it, and it's fun to do that."

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