Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's a new sheriff in TV town... and he's old school

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If you're the type who prefers your crimes modern and your crime-solvers six-gun-packin' old school, A&E's Longmire might be just the kind of dusty drama you're looking for.

The new series, which debuts Sunday at 9 p.m. on A&E, is based on the Walt Longmire Mystery series of novels by Craig Johnson. Set in rural Wyoming, Longmire is a long way -- both geographically and thematically -- from any of the current prime-time crop of city-dwelling, procedure-fixated police dramas.

Longmire, which stars Australian actor Robert Taylor (The Matrix) in the title role, is a cop show in which the wide open spaces are an integral element -- and, some might argue, a key character -- in the storylines. Violent crime isn't common in the back country, which makes it all the more shocking and sinister when it occurs.

"One of the things we've enjoyed from the very beginning, in thinking up stories, is that wide open spaces are beautiful, but they can also be extremely scary," executive producer/writer Hunt Baldwin said recently during A&E's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "You can find yourself isolated and alone, without backup. It's also a part of the world where just about everybody has a gun...

"People move to the middle of nowhere for a lot of interesting reasons: to re-create themselves; to escape from things. These are also places that people move through."

Walt Longmire, however, is a guy who's not inclined to be anywhere other than where he is. He's a slow-talking, pickup-truck-driving, Rainier-beer-sipping sheriff of fictional Absaroka County, Wyo., who remains dedicated to his job while still wrestling with the grief of having lost his wife, who died less than a year before Sunday's première opens.

His underlings at the sheriff's office have different views of his stiff-lipped approach to law enforcement: newly arrived deputy Vic Moretti (Katee Sackhoff) appreciates his directness and is eager to draw on his experience; but impulsively ambitious fellow deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) views Walt as a dinosaur and is secretly planning to run against his boss in the next election.

In Sunday's opener (the first of 10 episodes in Longmire's season), Vic summons a reluctant Walt to the scene of a shooting where a dead body has been discovered. The "body," however, belongs to a sheep; Vic knew she wouldn't be able to lure Walt out of the office to deal with anything as trivial as a dispute between ranchers and hunters.

Once there, Walt suspects there's more afoot, and before long, he locates a corpse of the human variety, opening up a murder investigation that's worthy of his considerable talents.

The show's producers said they decided to adapt Johnson's books because it's been too long since an old-fashioned, straight-ahead, badge-carrying hero anchored an ongoing drama.

"The idea was to try to provide an antidote to the flood of anti-heroes that have saturated the marketplace for the past decade," said executive producer/writer Greer Shephard. "When we set about developing it, wanted to return to the airwaves a populist, classic, romantic American hero in the vein of Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne. And we set about trying to find that in literature.

"Craig Johnson's series of novels had... a lot of the same DNA as those characters, but with a very modern sensibility and a type of wit we had been searching for. There's something very, very reassuring about the nobility of this type of archetype."

Series star Taylor, who grew up in a sparsely populated section of northwestern Australia, said he's sufficiently familiar with the onscreen portrayals of Stetson-clad American heroes to be able to shed his Down Under accent and assume the identity of one himself.

"I think everybody grew up watching American TV," he offered. "It's the world's TV.

"And I'm from a rural part of Australia, originally. It's interesting -- people from big, open spaces might have different accents, but they have very similar attitudes in the way they treat each other and the way they live their lives. So it's not that far away -- the similarities are far more striking than the differences."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2012 E7

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