LOS ANGELES — Shawn Ryan, one of the executive producers of the updated version of the police drama “S.W.A.T.” that’s joining the CBS lineup, knows the series comes at a time when there is a country full of tension between those wearing badges and the civilian population. Because of the timing, he says the show must be handled “honestly and in a grounded way.”
Ryan was heralded for the way he pulled no punches when dealing with the police in his series “The Shield.” The cable series featured plenty of good police officers trying to do their duties in the best way possible. It also featured some of the most corrupt cops to ever walk a TV beat.
“I think you can be pro police and yet also be pro truth, but that there are certain instances and times and events that shouldn’t happen," Ryan said. "What fascinated me about this show was to look at the police and the communities that they’re policing and figure out if there is a way to sort of bring these communities closer together.”
The main lesson Ryan learned while making “The Shield” was if you point the camera at someone and you show that person as human, the viewer will begin to sympathize with that person. He was always amazed at the lengths viewers went to in explaining and apologizing for Vic Mackey’s behavior over the seasons.
“It was only later on that I realized they’ve come to love him as a human being, and they want him to succeed even though they don’t really root for what his ultimate goals are,” Ryan said.
Ryan had some worries early in the development process of “S.W.A.T.” that the network would want a less realistic look at the police force. To that end, there will be some very familiar scenes for anyone who has watched a cop drama. But those sequences will be presented in a way that will always focus on the larger truths.
The result is a production inspired by the television series and the feature film starring Shemar Moore (“Criminal Minds”) as a locally born and raised S.W.A.T. sergeant newly tasked to run a specialized tactical unit that is the last stop in law enforcement in Los Angeles. He is torn between loyalty to where he was raised and his allegiance to his brothers in blue.
Executive producer Aaron Rahsaan Thomas stressed the goal in telling the stories of this team has never wavered.
“Our goal is to tell grounded stories and to make sure that those stories are always grounded in reality. The origin idea stemmed from the same thing that has been going on throughout the history of the United States and continues now,” Thomas said. “We haven’t adjusted anything per se. What we’re looking to do is simply is to make sure that we are presenting everything in its truer sense, grounded in reality, but through the spectrum of visceral action, with entertaining elements.
“We feel as though we’ll be able to reach an audience that may or may not have seen that story told in this way. So we see it as a tremendous opportunity, but definitely our emphasis is on always making sure that it’s grounded in reality.”
Moore comes to the show after playing Derek Morgan for 11 seasons on the CBS crime series “Criminal Minds.” Prior to “Criminal Minds,” Moore starred as Malcolm Winters for 11 years on the daytime drama “The Young and the Restless.” After such long stretches, a break would not have been out of the question.
But, Moore was eager to be part of the new police drama because of the approach the executive producers planned to take with the stories.
“We’re taking on the Trump years. And I’m not going to get political. I don’t care who you voted for. It’s just what’s happening today. It’s Black Lives Matter. As much as some people don’t want to hear it, it’s All Lives Matter,” Moore said. “It’s not just black versus blue or black versus white. It’s every ethnicity. It’s fear. It’s racism. It’s terrorism. It’s subject matter of today.
“I don’t want us to preach to you. It’s not going to be a heavy ‘S.W.A.T.’ You’re going to have a good time. It’s a thrill ride. It’s everything you know ‘S.W.A.T.’ to be, but I really believe we’re going to surprise you.”
Moore brings a broad view of the world to the project. The Oakland native was raised in Denmark and Bahrain for the first six years of his life when his mother taught overseas. During that time, they traveled to Germany, Ghana, Pakistan, Greece and the Virgin Islands.
When his family moved back to the United States, Moore began his acting career that includes roles in “Birds of Prey,” “Reversible Errors,” “Chicago Hope,” “Living Single,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” “Arli$$,” “Moesha,” “For Your Love,” “Malcolm & Eddie” and “Half & Half.” Additionally, he served as the host of the acclaimed music series “Soul Train” for four seasons.
Moore knows there are no guarantees this realistic version of a cop show will draw enough viewers to stay on the air and that he gave up a sure thing with “Criminal Minds” to make what he calls a blind leap.
“But I just believed in me and I was hungry. I was hungry to grow. And I didn’t know ‘S.W.A.T.’ was coming. I had no idea," Moore said. "I was an unemployed actor trying to go figure it out. But my mother gave me a card that said ‘Leap and the net will appear.’ And I went on vacation to Sydney, Australia. I lost myself. I got away from the business. Then all of a sudden, I got this wonderful letter, personal letter from Shawn Ryan, saying, ‘We see something in you.’”
The show does take him from being a member of an ensemble cast to being the star of the show. Moore knows how great it is being the lead but what makes him proud is he gets to be the leader. Moore knows that this kind of show only works if all the characters are strong.
That team behind him includes David “Deacon” Kay (Jay Harrington), an experienced S.W.A.T. officer who got passed over for the lead job; Jim Street (Alex Russell), a promising new member of the group; Christina “Chris” Alonso (Lina Esco), the team’s canine trainer; and Dominique Luca (Kenny Johnson), an expert driver.