Donnie Wahlberg, <EM>Runaway</EM> Donnie Wahlberg, Runaway

Can CW's first original series shoulder the burden of being... the CW's first original series? Premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET, Runaway presents Donnie Wahlberg (Band of Brothers, The Path to 9/11) as Paul Rader, a successful attorney who, when framed for a horrific crime, goes on the run with his wife (24's Leslie Hope) and three kids (including American Dreams' Sarah Ramos), juggling false identities all the while. As the series starts, the clan is sidling up to a small Iowa town, hoping for a breather. (As if.) TVGuide.com spoke to Wahlberg about the special circumstances facing Runaway.

TVGuide.com: Obviously you were on Boomtown, and a few TV shows before that. Were you frequently courted for series-regular gigs before Runaway?
Donnie Wahlberg: I've always had an affinity for television. I guess somehow because of my music days, it kinda felt "structured."

TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of serialized fare such as 24 before Runaway came knocking?
Wahlberg: I'm a fan of good projects and good people being involved in them. I did a show [2001's Big Apple] with David Milch, and with something like that, you almost don't even read the script. It's David Milch, so you know it's going to be a journey and you know it's going to be a wonderful experience. Boomtown [which aired for a little over a season] was, to me, the biggest no-brainer in history. But you can't guess. When we were doing Boomtown, everybody wanted "procedural, procedural, procedural," and now there are like six shows coming on this year that are Rashomon-style and are very much like Boomtown. If they kept Boomtown on halfway through the second season it would still be doing well today. That's the reality, and I bet you NBC would take those ratings right now in a heartbeat.

TVGuide.com: Did the fact that the new CW network was hosting Runaway play into your decision at all? Did you consider that a plus or a minus for its prospects?
Wahlberg: I had to definitely weigh it out, because there could be pluses and minuses. On the one hand, I figured that with the CW being a new network and not doing many new shows, they're going to give us a shot. That's a positive. On the other hand, the CW and the WB have a lot of baggage, and I've worked hard to build a body of work as an actor that represented me well. I could very easily see somebody saying, "Oh, yeah, the former boy-band guy is on a show on the CW," and overlook the past 10 years of work that I've done. I've worked on established networks and that can be very frustrating. Very frustrating. The CW is a new network, yeah, but....

TVGuide.com: They might be little more hands-off.
Wahlberg: Exactly. Sometimes you've just got to take a shot. And when you have a man with the track record of [Runaway executive producer] Darren Star [Sex and the City, Melrose Place] sitting across from you imploring you to do his show, telling you that he shares the vision that you have and that he wants to do anything he can to make you happy, you put some stock in that.

TVGuide.com: Now, most simply said, your Runaway character was framed for the murder of a colleague....
Wahlberg: A snooping colleague who started to poke around and uncover things that she wasn't supposed to about a client that they were representing. When people found out about it, they had her eliminated, and by default my character had to be eliminated, too.

TVGuide.com: So now he's caught in one of serialized television's Massive Evil Conspiracies.
Wahlberg: Yeah.

TVGuide.com: Is he going to be a mainstay at the small-town Iowa greasy spoon he gets hired at, or is he going to bop around from job to job?
Wahlberg: Well, I think he'll set up shop in the greasy spoon for a while. I think it's inevitable the family is going to have to move [from Iowa] at some point. The reality is we're likely to stay put for the first season, stay comfortable as long as we can, and if we went to a second season we would probably have to move.

TVGuide.com: That could provide opportunities, though, that you don't normally get with a show. Transplanting into a new location with new supporting characters....
Wahlberg: It could work. Again, it's all a crapshoot in television. If I had my wish before we started shooting, I would say that by Week 4 we should be on the go. But having seen the pilot, there's something to be said for the simplicity of the show.

TVGuide.com: Right. If we are to connect with these family members, we need to see them connecting with the same people for a bit.
Wahlberg: Yeah, making the show too big is where the danger lies. To me, there's also a danger in making it too teencentric. Hopefully, the network's not going to be too pushy about that and will let this sort of be a new type of show for the network. At least that's what I was promised. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Yeah, TV Guide's own Matt Roush said that for this show to reach its potential, it needs to avoid that temptation to be teencentric.
Wahlberg: But at the same time, the teen's story lines are valid. It's like, "Do you want to see these teenagers go to a prom, or do you want to see them try to exist under the special pressures that they're faced with?" Even as an adult, I'm interested in how they deal with those circumstances. Not so much dating and drinking beer for the first time.

TVGuide.com: When I spoke to Leslie [Hope], she seemed very happy with her "husband."
Wahlberg: That's good, because I'm very happy with my on-screen wife. She's really spectacular, on camera and off. I feel very lucky to work with her.

TVGuide.com: You've done the procedural thing, she's done the serialized thriller.... You're both in familiar territory.
Wahlberg: Beyond that, our sensibilities are very similar. Sometimes if I get a little skeptical about something, she can shed light on it, offering a different point of view. She's someone I can trust to be really honest.

TVGuide.com: What can you tell me about Kings of South Beach?
Wahlberg: That's a movie for A&E that I did with Jason Gedrick of Boomtown, based on the true story of this kid who became like the founder of the South Beach nightclub craze. He had this dark background from New York City, but went from street kid to being The Man.

TVGuide.com: And Saw III, I understand you're not in it. Was that your decision not to reprise your Saw II role, or...?
Wahlberg: [Cryptically] I don't know that I'm not in it....

For more on Runaway, be sure to check out our recent Q&A with Wahlberg's on-screen Mrs, 24 alumna Leslie Hope.

Speaking of the CW, look for some Smallville casting news in the new TV Guide.

Send your comments on this Q&A to: online_insider@tvguide.com.