TNT’s new private eye drama “King & Maxwell” may share some thematic DNA with classic gumshoe series like “Moonlighting,” “Remington Steele” and “The Rockford Files.”
But don’t call it retro, said executive producer Shane Brennan, who based the show on David Baldacci’s bestselling novels.
“You can’t regurgitate what’s been done before,” said Brennan, who also created “NCIS: L.A.” “I wanted to revisit this genre that was a TV staple back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and look at it in a very fresh, modern way.”
The result is a crime-solving drama, launching June 10, with Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn as former Secret Service agents running down bad guys in Washington, D.C. They have an insider’s view of the country’s halls of power and will sometimes be looking for villains in those very places.
“These days the bad guys aren’t necessarily Mafia members or the Russian underworld,” Brennan said. “Sometimes they’re bankers and congressmen.”
Having it rooted in the Beltway sets it apart from other law-enforcement shows, Brennan said, and D.C. is more of a character in the action than just a backdrop for it.
“King & Maxwell” is based on five bestselling books in which Baldacci details the exploits of the hard-charging Michelle Maxwell and her sensitive, gun-averse partner, Sean King. They have complicated histories — each left the Secret Service under a cloud — and a possible romantic attraction.
The pilot hews closely to the story in “The Sixth Man,” the most recent in the series, though future episodes will borrow from — and expand on — the existing novels. Baldacci, who’s expected to publish the sixth installment in the fall, serves as a consultant on the show.
Tenney, who had starred in TNT’s “The Closer” as the FBI agent husband of Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Leigh Johnson, was looking for his next project when he read the “King & Maxwell” script. (He appeared in the first season and directed an episode of “The Closer’s” spinoff, “Major Crimes,” and will pop up again in front of and behind the camera during its sophomore run.)
After having played so many cops, Tenney said he liked the idea of having a character directed more by his own moral compass than department bureaucracy.
“There’s more freedom in it,” Tenney said by phone. “These characters can work outside the box — they’re not confined in uniforms and the rules that come with them.”
And even though “King & Maxwell” is based on popular novels, Tenney said he hasn’t felt constricted to play the role in a predetermined way.
“Because there’s such a huge fan base, you’d never throw that out the window,” Tenney said. “But it’s important for us to capture the spirit of these characters more than some of the specifics. We just need to stay true to the dynamic between these strong personalities.”
The 10 episodes will throw a number of bones to the die-hard fans, Brennan said. The athletic, outdoorsy Maxwell is still kind of a slob, for instance, and King is a recovering alcoholic with an embarrassing penchant for reading romance novels.
The unavoidable will-they-or-won’t-they get together question that looms in so many shows will be part of the story but not a primary fixation, Brennan said.
Networks like to base their shows on hot-selling books, said TV historian Tim Brooks, not just because they’re easy to promote to an already-established fan base.
“Successful authors are usually successful because they’ve developed interesting characters and story arcs,” Brooks said. “But of course the execution has to be right for TV.”
There’s always a danger that fans will sniff that the shows “aren’t as good as the books,” and some authors translate better than others, Brooks said.
But the business has had a big boost from book-based shows like FX’s “Justified,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” A&E’s “Longmire” and TNT’s own “Rizzoli & Isles.”
“It’s always easier to start with a blank piece of paper,” Brennan said. “It makes you think harder and be more creative when you’re trying to stay true to source material. The challenge is for the readership to watch and say, ‘They got it right.’”