Art imitates life to a degree in "Necessary Roughness," an engaging new dramedy premiering Wednesday, June 29, on USA Network.
Inspired by the story of Dr. Donna Dannanfelser, who worked as a therapist for the New York Jets in the mid-1990s, the series stars Callie Thorne ("Rescue Me") as Dr. Dani Santino, a Long Island psychotherapist whose marriage implodes when she discovers that her husband (Craig Bierko) is a serial philanderer. Throwing the cad out of their home, the stunned Dani is fretting over how she'll be able to support her two teenage kids as a single mom when she meets Matthew Donnally (Marc Blucas, "Knight & Day"), a trainer for the New York Hawks, in a club.
After a torrid one-night stand together, Dani and Matthew discover they enjoy each other outside of bed as well, and after she uses hypnosis to help him shake a longtime smoking addiction, he helps get her a trial gig with his football team, entrusted with turning things around for high-maintenance bad-boy gridiron star Terrence "TK" King (Mehcad Brooks, "True Blood"). Thus Dani finds herself drawn into a strange new world that pays well but puts incredible demands on her as she tries to juggle the all-consuming nature of this job with her responsibilities as a single mother.
"You will never find another show that has such perfectly balanced testosterone and estrogen components like you do on this show," says executive producer Liz Kruger, who co-created the series with husband Craig Shapiro after having a meeting with Dannanfelser, who had been trying unsuccessfully for years to generate interest in her personal story. "It really has something for everyone, a lot of emotion and action and comedy -- and yes, sports, but through a totally different lens than you are used to seeing it."
The show's roots in real life were an added incentive for Thorne, best known as Sheila Keefe, Denis Leary's volatile sometimes-lover in the FX drama "Rescue Me."
"Partly it was that I knew this woman, and I wanted to explore telling this story, but there was also part of me that didn't know her world at all," the actress explains. "When I read the script for 'Necessary Roughness,' the fact that it was inspired by a real woman made me feel like it was so rich in its detail, because I knew it was coming from a real place. It just felt much more grounded for me, and I liked the idea of playing a woman who was ordinary to a degree but then put into extraordinary circumstances. I'm used to playing extraordinary women who are in normal situations, and then you just watch them destroy everything around them."
The romantic comedy aspect of the show fell into place with the hiring of Blucas, the former real-life college football star whose calm, masculine sweetness (he spent two seasons as Riley Finn, the title character's boyfriend, on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") strikes a perfect balance with Thorne's intensity.
"So many times actors will say 'Oh, (this character) was so opposite, so different to who I am, so it was so great to go do that role,' and I've had that experience, but I thought this character was probably the most like me that I've ever read," Blucas says. "They didn't know me when they wrote it, and they've given me a voice in helping create it, but I saw a character who was a part of the sports world, which was a prominent part of my upbringing. I thought the character was sarcastic and smart, not that I'm necessarily smart, but it's something I can put across. I just didn't think this apple was falling too far from the tree. I knew I could bring a lot to it just from my own experience."
Of course, while TV sports attracts millions of fans, TV shows about sports have a much spottier track record. Its creators, however, insist that "Necessary Roughness" isn't exclusively, or even mainly, about sports.
"It's about people, about a woman who takes on the biggest challenge of her life and has to balance being newly single, dating at a time that her daughter is dating, having a job that is 24/7 and often encroaches on her life," Kruger says.
"We'll always have TK and the world of football floating around her," Shapiro adds, "but we will have patients coming in from all walks of life, who are all these high-powered elite movers who need instant-impact therapy. We have a war correspondent and a poker player on a cold streak, so we definitely will be including people who are not necessarily in sports by any means."
The show films in Atlanta, which means its cast -- which also includes Scott Cohen ("Gilmore Girls") and Concetta Tomei ("Providence") -- currently is tasked with creating the illusion of football season in the Northeast while working in sweltering heat and humidity.
"Wearing coats and fall apparel in the dead of summer -- and it was 103 in my car yesterday going home from work -- is really tricky," Blucas admits. "I want Matthew to be cool and composed, but sometimes it's hard not showing the sweat."
"Our show is to be in eternal fall, the perfect football season," Thorne sighs. "Not only are we shooting Atlanta for Long Island, but we are shooting summer for fall, which means that today I am wearing a cashmere sweater set. It's not easy."
Shapiro adds, however, that the show's production team is doing everything it can to ensure the safety and comfort of the actors under trying conditions.
"We are making adjustments to the wardrobe as best we can so the actors don't melt, but we also fill up the frame with fall trees (to enhance the autumnal illusion)," he says. "The actors may be wearing 'winter clothes,' but most of them are actually made with a much lighter material. We're doing the very best we can to help the actors, but when you see (the costumes), you really can't tell the difference."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times