HOLLYWOOD -- A long, long time ago -- years before Breaking Bad broke big -- Vince Gilligan wrote a script.
CBS executives liked it. Thought they might like to turn it into a prime-time series. But then, as so often happens in the TV business, the project got bogged down in the development process.
Time passed. Gilligan, who had just finished a long run as a writer/producer on The X-Files and its short-lived spinoff, The Lone Gunmen, moved on to other projects. One of them -- Breaking Bad -- became huge. And the script from a long, long time ago ended up on the shelf.
With Gilligan occupied by the wrap-up of the Walter White saga and getting his Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, ready for launch later this year, CBS execs approached former House writer/producer David Shore to see if he'd like to take a shot at turning Gilligan's script into a series.
And now, a dozen years later -- almost 13, actually, because the series won't première until mid-season -- Battle Creek will finally make the giant-step leap from page to screen.
"Yeah, 12 years," CBS Entertainment chair Nina Tassler said during the net's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "I love this story -- he came and pitched us Battle Creek; we bought it, and then he went across town (to AMC) and sold another little show, which kind of occupied his time for a couple years. We just always loved (Battle Creek) -- we loved the tone, loved the sensibility, loved the characters. And we actually did a cast-contingent pickup the year that we bought that pilot, but we just weren't able to find the right cast.
"So we've always tried to do it. He's been tied up. This was the first window of opportunity where he was free to really get into a conversation about producing it."
Battle Creek is a unique and somewhat unconventional cop drama that focuses on detectives toiling in the cash-strapped mid-sized Michigan city of Battle Creek. Fighting crime is a difficult job, but it becomes increasingly challenging when your town is basically bankrupt and slashed budgets leave you working with outdated and often out-of-service equipment and weapons.
In the opening scenes of the pilot, Det. Russ Agnew (Dean Winters) is trying to run an undercover sting operation, but broken-down equipment forces his team to use a borrowed baby monitor as a hidden "wire" and a handycam requisitioned from a parent at a dance recital as a surveillance camera.
Needless to say, things don't go well. And when the spooked bad guy -- a rather gigantic fellow -- confronts his would-be captors, a Taser with dead batteries turns a routine arrest into a painful situation.
Agnew has had enough. But just when he's about to send a letter to 60 Minutes asking the newsmagazine to report on the department's deplorable conditions, in walks FBI Special Agent Milton Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel), who has been sent -- for reasons that remain somewhat unclear -- to set up a field office in Battle Creek.
The local cops have nothing; Chamberlain has everything -- high-tech weapons, first-priority response teams, high-level law-enforcement connections. The one thing the newly arrived fed is missing is a partner, and he decides that Agnew might be just the sidekick he's looking for.
It sets up the framework for an entertaining reluctant-duo comedy-drama.
"All credit for the casting (belongs) to David and the folks who put it together," said Gilligan, who will serve, in a mostly hands-off fashion, as an executive producer on Battle Creek. "These guys (Winters and Duhamel)... are absolutely tremendous together and have great chemistry. I think (when writing the pilot script) I was thinking along the lines of character, which is usually the way I start with an idea. On that original draft of the script, I was thinking of a time-honoured thing that writers do -- they put opposites together. And I think that's at the heart of this show."
It's the fact their characters are so completely opposite that gives the Winters/Duhamel pairing such great potential for conflict and comedy.
"It was a very funny script Vince gave me, and we're carrying that forward," said Shore. "I want to have as much humour as possible in this. I think it's really important to the show, (but) it's got to be grounded. It's got to be real. It's got to come from the characters. It's not a sitcom in any way, shape, or form, but I will be very proud if it's as funny as I think it is.
"I think it should be very funny, and I think these guys did a great job with the humour while keeping it ... grounded and real and believable. I think you'll watch this show even though it's about dark subjects. You'll be scared at times, but you'll have a stupid little grin on your face, I hope, at the end."
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