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Frank Darabont buries ‘Walking Dead,’ digs into LAPD cops in TNT drama

Frank Darabont buries ‘Walking Dead,’ digs into LAPD cops in TNT drama
Jon Bernthal, left, stars as Joe Teague, an ex-Marine working as an LAPD cop, in “Lost Angels.”
(TNT)

Frank Darabont went quiet.        

The writer/producer, whose most recent éclat is as the man who developed cable champion “The Walking Dead” only to be unceremoniously forced out as showrunner ahead of its second season, was seated at a network media lunch in New York earlier this week to promote his forthcoming Los Angeles-set TNT noir crime drama “Lost Angels.”

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He was energetic when he talked about the show’s appeal -- “It’s noir on the TV screen, it’s so unlike anything that’s out there!” -- and of filming in L.A. -- “It’s very cool to shoot at City Hall on a Saturday. Nobody bothers you.”

But when asked what lessons he’s learned since his ruffled departure from AMC that he’s applied to his new cable home, the soft-spoken Darabont rested his fork on his plate and paused.

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“I’m probably not able to comment on that,” he told The Times, only half-joking. “I will say it’s refreshing to be part of something collaborative rather than autocratic.”

So don’t even bother asking what he thinks of that baby alive and well on the zombie drama as it heads into a fourth season.

“I can understand why people think it’s only natural to keep tabs,” Darabont said. “But I’m like, ‘why on Earth would I want to?’ It was a very traumatic exit. I get very emotionally involved with my projects -- you have to, in order to do great work. I always liken it to -- I mean, imagine if the woman you love left you for the pilates instructor, invites you to their wedding -- would you go? And then they give you a video of them on their wedding night so you can have them watch sex. It’s just too painful. Something unpleasant like that, you try to put behind you.”

To put behind is to look ahead, but Darabont’s future lies with the past.

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His new series is a 1940s-set crime drama based on the John Buntin book “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City,” and follows the turmoil surrounding the LAPD and ruthless criminal activities led by gangster Mickey Cohen.

“As much as I always wanted to do a horror/zombie-type show, I also love film noir, so to be able to tackle this feels equally satisfying,” he said. It is a project that partially owes credit to airport browsing: Darabont came upon the book while at LAX looking for a book to read during his flight.

“I love noir, so when I saw the title -- ‘L.A. Noir’ -- I had to pick it up,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was nonfiction until I started reading it, and then I couldn’t put it down.” He sought the rights, and it eventually landed at TNT.

The series stars fellow “Walking Dead” alum Jon Bernthal, seated at the same table at the media lunch Wednesday following its upfront presentation. Bernthal plays Joe Teague, a former Marine now working as a cop in a time of rampant police corruption.

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“The truth of the matter is I’d follow him [Darabont] anywhere,” said Bernthal, who added the show will mix fiction with nonfiction. “I didn’t need to read the script, but it blew me away when I did -- like everything he does does. I’m eternally grateful to this man; I credit him for where I am.”

To ensure the show’s actors were well-versed in the style and period, , Bernthal said, Darabont provided them a list of reading/viewing materials -- stuff such 1949’s “The Third Man,” 1950’s “Sunset Boulevard” and lesser-known fare such as 1957’s “Nightfall” and 1950’s “Union Station.”

“You know what’s weird to me? There’s a whole generation out there that has no idea what film noir is or how incredible these films are,” Darabont said. “If I can spark an interest in this genre through my TV show, that’s all I can ask for.”

Production on the six-episode first season of “Lost Angels” is set to begin in mid-June in Los Angeles, with a rollout slated for early next year.

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