It may not be enough in today's ultra-competitive television landscape for producers and writers to know precisely where a show is going.
It may be equally important — crucial, even — to give potential viewers an understanding of that fact straight up front, said Tim Kring, co-creator of the coming action adventure series "Dig" for USA Network.
"It's a valuable commodity now to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end," said Kring ("Heroes"), who cited HBO's "True Detective" as an example. "Audiences will know they're not committing to something that will be dragged out for years. It's a modern approach that takes into account the way people watch TV today."
But that "Dig" will wrap up its loose ends in 10 episodes isn't its only selling point, Kring said. The high-concept event series, set in the Middle East, is a classic murder mystery that dovetails into a global conspiracy. There are shades of "The Da Vinci Code," with levels of prophecy, history and mythology that sent at least one of its stars to the Internet for touchstones.
"Dig," launching March 5, is part of an effort by USA Network to add programs with bite. The top-rated cable channel, better known for "blue skies" series such as "Monk" and "Royal Pains," has begun running scripted dramas with sharper edges, starting with current hits "Suits" and "Graceland." Series in the works include the alien-centric "Colony," the medical dramedy "Stanistan" and the tech-themed "Mr. Robot."
"A show like 'Dig' is a departure for them, but that's part of the conversation we had with the network," said Kring, in pre-production on the long-awaited brand reboot "Heroes Reborn." "It could help expand into new types of programming. And the slate they're producing is very ambitious and interesting."
Jason Isaacs, who stars as FBI agent Peter Connelly, said he initially thought the pilot script was "a fantastic feat of imagination." But after Google research, he found plenty of real-world parallels.
"They've ripped so much from the headlines," Isaacs said during a break from filming. "It's an enjoyably complex plot that really captures the zeitgeist."
Television veterans Kring and cocreator Gideon Raff ("Homeland") wrote the pilot on spec based on Raff's interest in dramatizing the work of FBI legal attaches who investigate crimes against Americans on foreign soil. The agents are stationed at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.
If "Dig" proves popular, the idea could travel to any country, with any set of characters and actors, Kring said, "less like a series and more like a franchise." The Jerusalem setting is deliberate for the initial run because it's Raff's hometown and because it provides ancient, exotic backdrops.
Filming for the series had to relocate to Croatia and New Mexico after widespread violence broke out in Israel over the summer. The 90-minute pilot, though, was filmed there.
"Dig's" fictional setup is this: Isaacs' character is assigned to investigate the murder of a young American archaeologist. He soon realizes the killing is just one piece of a much larger criminal conspiracy with far-reaching implications.
The character, although not the Walter White-esque antihero who's become a cable mainstay, has lugged considerable baggage to this new job, where he's hoping to rebuild his career and snap out of a grief-stricken fog, Isaacs said. "He's trying to find a cause to fight," he added, "because that will be easier than looking in the mirror."
To complicate matters, his former student is now his boss. Played by Anne Heche, FBI agent Lynn Monahan is still his occasional lover, but "the balance of power has shifted," Heche said. "It's an adult relationship that may cross lines, but at its heart, it's about friendship, not romance."
Isaacs, a sought-after film and TV actor who starred in NBC's cop drama "Awake" and the "Harry Potter" movies, came to "Dig" as a fan of the producers' current and past shows. And even though he'd been scouting for an L.A.-based production as his next gig, he readily followed "Dig" to three continents.
"These guys are master storytellers," Isaacs said. "The fact that they've combined is very exciting."
Heche said she tends to switch off between comedy and drama and jumped at the chance to be a tough FBI agent.
"I always wanted to be an action hero," she said from the set of the film "One Shot," a musical she's shooting in Mexico with Topher Grace and Taye Diggs. "As the show progresses, I get further out of the office. Jason gets to be 007, but I get to be 006."