You don't have to tell Scott Porter that a show like Friday Night Lights — the football drama that won Emmys, a Peabody and inspired a catchphrase ("clear eyes, full heart, can't lose!") — doesn't come around often. He already knows.
"It was a lightning-in-the-bottle moment of magic with Friday Night Lights and I know that I can never do that again. So to do something starkly different, but still try and capture that same type of magic and create and own a character was great," Porter says. "I wanted a show to be able to call my own again."
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Porter's second chance comes courtesy of Hart of Dixie, The CW's new drama following a city slicker doctor, Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson), whose career forces her to move to the South where she encounters alligators, Southern belles and a charming lawyer named George, played by Porter. "George is a leading man and that's a first for me," Porter says. "I love every bit of George. He's just such a solid everyman and I think guys are going to want to be friends with him and girls are going to want to date him. He's a leader and he's a bit of a town hero."
Sure, George and Zoe make sense on paper but there's one snag: George is engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Lemon (Jaime King). The love triangle, and the small-town feel, of the series make Hart of Dixie reminiscent of the early WB when family dramas like 7th Heaven, Everwood and Gilmore Girls hadn't yet been replaced by series centered on vampires, witches and demon hunters. And just like when Dawson's Creek and Felicity fans agonized over whether to pick Dawson or Pacey, or Ben or Noel, respectively, Porter says it won't be so easy picking who should end up with whom.
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"They do everything slower in the South. They take their time with things and that's what we're going to do with this show. We're really going to be to sit in on the relationship between George and Lemon. The audience is going to be able to get very comfortable with them as a couple and see there's a reason they're together. It's not just a plot device," Porter says. "When the other shoe finally falls, and you kind of find out things from their pasts, hopefully the audience is going to be rooting for true love."
The role of romantic comedy leading man is a big departure for Porter not only from his role as star quarterback-turned-paraplegic Jason Street on Friday Night Lights, but from his recent gig on The Good Wife. Porter enjoyed a recurring role on the CBS legal drama last year as the manipulative, sneaky Blake Calamar, a private investigator/"fixer" best known for his season-long rivalry with Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) that involved a baseball bat, extensive vehicular damage and the uncovering of a series-changing secret.
"Blake's role on The Good Wife was really as a tool — as a blunt-force object, if you will — to crack that hard exterior of Kalinda and to get the audience more connected to her. At the end of the day, he wasn't a character who was there from the beginning and he wasn't a character who was ingrained in that world," Porter says. "I think [creators and executive producers] Robert and Michelle King and I both knew that his story line would have to end as far as this year goes. But there's no reason that he can't come back in a much different way."
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In the meantime, however, Porter is enjoying jumping into the world of Bluebell, Ala., where Hart of Dixie is set. "The one thing in common with the Kings, and with FNL executive producers Peter Berg and Jason Katims and Hart of Dixie creator and executive producer Leila Gerstein is that they all have such a solid grasp on the world in which the show lives," Porter says. "Every scene they write fits because they know what would exist and what wouldn't exist in that world. As an actor, you feel very well taken care of."
Hart of Dixie premieres Monday at 9/8c on The CW.