Having made “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue,” the producer who has given television some of its most memorable police teams is attempting it again.
Steven Bochco gets back in the series game with “Murder in the First,” a TNT drama that – not unlike his 1995-97 ABC show “Murder One” – tracks one case over an entire season starting at 10 p.m. Monday. Taye Diggs (“Private Practice”) and Kathleen Robertson (“Boss”) play San Francisco homicide partners who determine two killings have links to an aggressively self-assured young Silicon Valley tycoon (Tom Felton, alias Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies).
“We spent a lot of time hanging with homicide detectives in San Francisco,” said Bochco, who’s associated with writer-producer Eric Lodal on the project, “and it’s a different world than it was 15 or 20 years ago. The gender lines have blurred enormously. There’s a lot of easy back-and-forth between the men and women, and there’s not that sort of old-school mistrust that older male detectives had for women. That’s very refreshing, and there’s also more of an informality in the environment, which is nice.”
Those aspects clearly inform the professional partnership of Terry English (Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Robertson) as each struggles with personal dilemmas. She’s a single mother trying to keep bill collectors at bay, while he has a critically ill wife at home. When it comes to doing their jobs, they try to be of one mind – though that doesn’t always work, as “Murder in the First” proves right from the opening episode.
“Steven explained to me that it’s very important for him to know the person” who’s playing a role, said Robertson, also seen recently on A&E Network’s “Bates Motel” and well remembered as the willful Clare Arnold on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” “Then he can write to them, and he has the true essence of who they are. I’m sure when he met with me and Taye separately, that was part of the decision … like, ‘These two would be a very interesting combination.’
“I approach things in a very specific way,” Robertson allowed. “My energy is very different from Taye’s, since he’s very much a quiet observer. I’m much more the person who asks 101 questions.”
After six seasons on ABC’s “Private Practice,” Diggs agrees he’s playing Terry on “Murder in the First” as moody, with the occasional outburst. “I’ve always come from the school of ‘less is more,’ ” he reasoned, “so it’s been great to sink into the stillness of this character, even though he can fly off the handle when a situation taunts him. Generally speaking, this guy is deliberate and slow and concentrated, and it’s been a refreshing departure.”
So has the premise of a single story that spans one season. “It allows us to really take advantage of the opportunity to live and move in a character, without the broad strokes you have to have in a closed-end episode,” Diggs reflects. Previously a Broadway star in “Rent” and “Carousel,” he’s glad to be back in San Francisco, which he calls “definitely a friend of mine. I love working there, and it’s always good to go there to shoot exteriors for this.”