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British series puts an accent on Texas

Times Staff Writer

TONY HILL, an English detective in the heart of Texas, is a fish out of water. He flops about on the desert sand, beset by rattlesnakes, and is treated by the locals as if he were a tool of the devil in BBC America’s co-production of “Wire in the Blood” airing tonight.

The Lone Star State was a “perfect environment” to develop the character of university psychologist profiler Hill -- something of a cross between “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’s” Gil Grissom and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s” Robert Goren, said Robson Green, the star and co-producer of the series. “Wire in the Blood,” which opens its fifth season in the U.S. with a two-hour special shot in Austin, tends to focus on serial killers and “revolves around the destructive nature of human beings, not evil,” he added. Hill solves his crimes by putting himself in the position of the killer.

In the story, Hill has been invited to Austin to testify in a death penalty trial and begins to investigate the case himself, running up against hostile lawyers and police. He also crosses paths with a prisoner on death row, haunted by the same sort of flashbacks that Hill experiences.

If England seems eccentric to Americans, Texas came across as “a cuckoo farm” to Green.

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“In Texas, 60% of the people believe in the devil, the red-horned guy. Parts of Texas still don’t allow the Encyclopedia Britannica,” said Green. “I loved it.”

U.S. audiences may be familiar with Green from his roles in other ITV television series that have run on BBC America and PBS. They include “Reckless,” in which he played a surgeon in love with the wife of his boss, and “Touching Evil,” in which his character, a police detective with extrasensory abilities, resembles “Wire in the Blood’s” Hill.

“Wire in the Blood” is based on the novels of Val McDermid. The title comes from a line in T.S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton,” one of the “Four Quartets” -- from which Green can quote: “The trilling wire in the blood sings below inveterate scars, appeasing long forgotten wars . . . " Then, the actor added: “I truly believe Eliot was drunk when he wrote it. Take my advice, don’t read it.”

Green is a popular actor in England but also “resonates with our audience,” said Richard de Croce, vice president of programming for BBC America.

He said “Wire in the Blood” ranked among the highest-rated series on the network. (Its most successful series is the sci-fi drama “Torchwood” and “Robin Hood.”)

Green said he and Sandra Jobling, his partner in Coastal Productions, had always aspired to shoot a prime-time drama in the U.S. This time, they made a deal with BBC America that helped finance and coordinate production in Texas. The state offered attractive financial incentives, among other advantages.

“Tony wouldn’t have survived New York or Los Angeles,” said Green. “And Texas still has the death penalty, and we played on that.”

The rest of the five-episode season was shot in Northumberland, England. But Green hopes to bring Hill back to Texas. After finishing the Austin shoot, he said, he met with executives at CBS, NBC, Fox and TNT in Los Angeles to pitch the idea of a 24-episode “Wire in the Blood” series.

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“We were invited over,” he said. “Every single one thought Texas was a great backdrop.”

From what he’s seen of Texas, Green said the story possibilities seem endlessly eccentric.

“Waco and the rodeos -- we can use all those backdrops,” he said. “There are some very isolated towns there, miles from each other. They form their own little governments, and everybody knows everybody else’s business. I like all that.”

Besides, he said of the fictional town in the north of England where Hill usually solves his crimes: “There are only so many people we can kill in Bradfield.”

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lynn.smith@latimes.com


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