NBC's 'Kidnapped' Sought By Many


When a privileged teenager is abducted, it's fairly easy to tell how long it will take to get him back: one year of television.

As with shows such as "24" and "Prison Break," the NBC drama "Kidnapped" is designed to play out over an entire season. Premiering Wednesday, Sept. 20, the well-cast and well-paced serial features Emmy winner Dana Delany ("China Beach") and Oscar winner Timothy Hutton ("Ordinary People") as a wealthy Manhattan couple whose family secrets may be exposed after their son (Will Denton) is taken.

Wounded during the kidnapping, the boy's bodyguard (Mykelti Williamson) wants to regain his honor by helping to retrieve him. Also in on the hunt are an about-to-retire FBI agent and his partner (Delroy Lindo, Linus Roache), and a self-styled sleuth (Jeremy Sisto) who operates on the fringes of the law, which doesn't please the actual lawmen when they collide with him.

Carmen Ejogo ("Lackawanna Blues") also stars as the independent searcher's associate.

"What we mean to do with the show is to tell a story over 22 episodes," explains "Kidnapped" creator and executive producer Jason Smilovic, who also wrote the recent movie "Lucky Number Slevin." "In each episode, we're telling a mystery that will resolve itself within that episode and then chip away at the larger mystery. Every time the audience thinks they know what the show is, that they understand the motivation or the mechanism, we change it up."

It doesn't pay to ask the "Kidnapped" actors for too many details, since the writers and producers purposely are keeping them in the dark as much as possible. Smilovic reports they only have been informed of "their own motivations, their own involvement. They are given the information their character has to have to make the role work. We wanted to keep them insulated, because this is a show about secrets and lies."

On paper, the approach was enough to lure such notables as Hutton, whose longest previous home-screen experience was a recurring series of "Nero Wolfe" capers for A&E Network. "I just wanted to be a part of it," he says, even knowing he'd likely be in the show just for one year once the initial abduction was resolved. "I live in New York (where the series is being shot on location), and it's a dream job working with all these people."

Usual West Coast resident Delany also is glad to be making "Kidnapped" in the Big Apple, having acted on the New York stage several times in her career. "I just think this is a really smart show," she says. "It has a unique voice. Also, I was one of the first people cast, so I didn't know how lucky I was going to get. Timothy and I first met 25 years ago, but we've never worked together before. This has yielded sort of the perfect part for each person."

In making his series debut as a lead, Lindo is playing a character similar on the surface to his role in the movie "Ransom," another law enforcer involved in finding a kidnapped boy. "That was a concern of mine, frankly," the quietly powerful actor says. "I didn't want to do what I call 'Ransom Redux.' In speaking with Jason and the producers, they assured me that would not be the case, and that is partially what compelled me to do this."

Sisto likes walking on the edge, by necessity, with his maverick alter ego in the show. He says, "Working within an institution to bring down a kidnapper or to work on a case like this, there's a set of rules or guidelines you must use, so as not to intrude on civil liberties. There's kind of a frustrating element to working within a system that has so many ways of turning a situation into something it shouldn't be."

Along with "Kidnapped," some other debuting shows including a thematic cousin -- FOX's "Vanished" -- might worry viewers who, based on past experience, may fear investing in a show the network could ax before it can play out. "Hopefully, good work brings out the guarantees," says "Kidnapped" co-executive producer Michael Dinner ("Chicago Hope"). "That's all we can worry about at this point. We think we created an interesting pilot, and we have to keep bettering that, week after week. If we do a good job, we'll be on for the full season."

With constantly shifting locations and ever-changing figures at the forefront, a lot happens in any given hour of "Kidnapped," and Smilovic appreciates being able to deal with it within a weekly, ongoing framework.

"When you write a movie and you shoot it, you're done. In TV, you have another episode and another episode, and you get a chance to really explore these characters. You need flow charts in order to make sure that everybody gets serviced, but I think it's an exciting challenge."

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