In TV, second chances are rare. But thanks to some great support from critics and fans, John Wells’ cop drama ‘Southland‘ found new life on TNT after getting canceled by NBC before the start of its second season.
The cancellation came mostly as a result of the show being considered too dark and serious for the 9 p.m. timeslot, even though it was created with a 10 o’clock time in mind. The series had to be moved in the schedule when NBC decided to hand Jay Leno the 10 p.m. hour every weeknight — a move that is now coming back to haunt the network.
I got a chance to talk with Regina King, a star of ‘Southland‘ who you might know from her roles in ‘Jerry Maguire,’ ‘Ray’ and ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back.’ King talked about what it was like getting nixed by NBC, getting picked up by TNT, and how it feels to be at a network that’s supportive and has already launched original dramas with great success.
‘Southland’ returns to TV at 10 p.m. Tuesday on TNT, with a special extended version of the pilot that includes six minutes of never-before-seen footage. The premiere will also air commercial-free.
Let’s start with the obvious question: Tell me about the new life at TNT.
It’s been awesome. We’re at a network that understands the show. A network that’s actually marketing and promoting the show. So it just feels good to be some place that wants to have you. It’s just a night and day difference. It really is. They’re so smart in what they’re doing there. They’ve just totally revamped TNT over the past eight years. They’re just very wise in showing those first seven (episodes).
Yeah, it’s good that they’re doing that for people who don’t already know about the show.
The thing that’s amazing about, I guess, being a human being, is that just because you’re aware of something doesn’t mean the next person is, and I’m hearing from people who are, like, “Congratulations, you got a new show.” And they had no idea it was on NBC. So it’s smart for them to show those seven like a new show.
I remember when the show was first announced, and the Leno announcement was made around the same time, and there was already concern about the 9 o’clock situation.
Well, yeah, because it’s not a 9 o’clock show. And when Warner Brothers did the deal with NBC, that’s the deal that they agreed on. It was the show that they (Warner Brothers) told them (NBC) they were doing. They were continuing to do 10 o’clock narrative TV. When ‘ER’ was on, ‘ER’ was far from a light show. They had some gory stuff that would happen on that show, so it was disappointing that the reasoning that they would give was that it was darker than what they thought. It was not darker than what they thought, it was darker for the decision that they made (to move Leno to 10 p.m.).
So is it hard not to be frustrated?
Actually, I’m not frustrated now. Initially, well, honestly, I never was frustrated. I was disappointed when I heard. But I never felt like it was over for our show. I just felt like it was over at NBC.
So you had a good feeling?
How often do you have a situation where 90 percent of the reviews are great? That just doesn’t die, normally. And TNT saw that opportunity and they jumped on it. Luckily for us, it was TNT, because I thought that we fit at a TNT or an FX or something like that, and that’s where we ended up.
You’ve landed in this place where Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter are playing these strong female cops.
Strong women, yeah. And they’re not scared of that. Art was imitating life with Kyra and Holly’s character and my character. You have women from 35 to 45 who are career-driven women and have children — not necessarily because they didn’t want to, but they were so career-driven and they kind of looked up and the relationship part of their life was faltering because they didn’t foster that part the way women did in the ’80s or in the early ’90s. So I think that we represent such a huge group of women and TNT recognizes that audience is there.
I’m sure you get this a lot, but you’re at this point in your movie career where things are going well. Tell me about the decision to do TV show that could keep you committed.
Yeah, hopefully for a while. I am a mom and that was really what initiated the desire to go to TV. It actually started prior to doing the ’24’ run and that’s where it came to be, talking to my manager and telling him we’ve got to do TV because we’ve gotten, at that point, two movies that I had to turn down because they were taking me out of the city for a month and I just did not want to be away for that long, but I have to work. So that’s how the “24” thing started and then, no fault of anyone’s, it just didn’t pan out the way anyone thought. But I still wanted to do TV. Then I read scripts and a couple of pilot seasons went by and nothing came up, and then this one came up and I thought this one might be something. But there’s not that line between film and TV anymore, and I have a film coming out in March. And that’s another great thing about being on TNT. It’s a shorter season, so it gives you more time to do movies.
Going back to the ’24’ thing, was that originally expected to be a longer-term thing?
Yeah, it was. I had a deal that they ended up having to pay out. Like I said, it was no fault of anyone, it’s just that when they write, they kind of don’t know what they’re doing as they’re going, and that is part of the success of the show. And they had kind of written all they could for the Palmers.
Yeah, that was an abrupt ending. I think a lot of people would agree the show took a weird turn after that.
Yeah, even the season that I was in was kind of like, “mmm.” Luckily, I had no attachment to the show prior, so I didn’t really have the feeling that a lot of fans had, like, “What are they doing?” Because I didn’t really know the show before. I knew it was a hit show, so I kind of called my manager and was, like, “Call up, and I want to do something like, what’s that show? That Kiefer Sutherland show? Or ‘Lost’ or something like that?
So, getting back to ‘Southland,’ what was it about this show?
The role of Lydia was just complex. So often, even though I’m so grateful for my career, as an actress, all of us have had a one-dimensional role that we’ve played. And, for those of us that look at this as an art form, that’s not always rewarding, but, you know, you have to pay the bills so you know you’re going to have a couple of them that are one-dimensional, but then you’re going to have a couple that are complex and have all these different layers, and Lydia has that to me.
Have there been any TV cops you look to for tips on how to approach the role?
No, there have just been real cops or detectives because we spend so much time with them in classroom training and getting to know what makes certain people want to be cops. Just learning their whole journey has just been fascinating.
You grew up in L.A. One of the things the show is known for is depicting a side of L.A. that you don’t see on TV a lot.
L.A. is actually a character on the show. You don’t see it in TV or the movies. I think the first time I saw it, when I thought, “Oh my God, my city is on the screen,” was probably ‘Colors.’ And probably the second time was in ‘Collateral.’
I’d say ‘The Shield’ has done that, as well.
‘The Shield” has done that, also, but I think — well, I know this is what I get from the officers that come up to us — is that ‘The Shield’ painted such a corrupt version because it was about a corruption in the LAPD. And, not that they are denying that it exists, but they just kind of feel like they would like the entire picture to be depicted, and they feel that ‘Southland’ does that.
So you think it’s a fair depiction of the city?
I do. Definitely. The majority of the people that are in our city are not born and raised in our city, they’re transplants. So they don’t respect and understand the diversity and the beauty in our city. You get people from Philly or New York who say, “There’s no culture here.” There’s loads of culture there. We have a huge Latin community. Everybody’s not Mexican that’s there, and you have Mexicans and El Salvadorans that don’t know they’re Mexican or El Salvadoran until they get to talking. And that’s L.A. Our producer and main director, Chris Chulack, he’s born and raised in L.A., so he has a real sense of the city and wants to get all those nooks and crannies, and show the shiny parts and the parts that are supposed to look shiny but there’s just a little something else going on there. There’s a little more to that story.
So quickly, just to end it, you campaigned for Obama pretty actively. Coming up on one year since he took office, what do you think?
I think that he’s a really smart man, and I think that he understood that if he got this position he was walking into a s***storm. And I don’t think he’s naive to think that everything bad that is going happen and is happening is his fault. It doesn’t matter if he is acquiring someone else’s “eff ups,” it’s his fault now. And I think he’s approaching it realistically. There is a game that’s played in Washington, and we only get to see part of it. We are not aware of the entire dance that he has to do, but I think he’s doing a very honest job and I respect that.