CBS' fall drama S.W.A.T. is inspired by the '70s television series and the feature film of the same name, but if you're looking for a typical shoot-em-up cop show, think again. In this take, with Shemar Moore playing lead character Hondo, producers aim to go deeper — dramatizing the stories at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement while being empathetic to experiences of officers on the front lines everyday too.
In the pilot episode, a 12-year-old black boy is mistakenly shot by members of the S.W.A.T. team as they try to take down a criminal unit; in the aftermath, protests not unlike the ones we've seen in real life break out, causing community furor and the born-and-raised Hondo to get promoted to sergeant of the specialized tactical unit, pretty much for optics. As the series progresses, Hondo is seen as a bridge between the community where he grew up and the community he chose — putting him in a unique position to be a representative of both sides and be a character who might be the most timely and nuanced law enforcement character ever.
"I think you can be pro-police and pro-truth," said executive producer Shawn Ryan, who has significant expertise in police dramas, having created The Shield and The Chicago Code. He told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that he intends the show as an unflinching look at policing today — both acknowledging what can be universally seen as things that shouldn't be happening, while also supporting law enforcement as a while. "Hondo is the vehicle to bring [people] together and tell those stories," Ryan said.
The idea for this take on S.W.A.T. came from executive producer Aaron Rashaan Thomas, with whom Ryan worked on Netflix's musical drama The Get Down. Thomas, a native of the Midwest, said he saw both sides of the police brutality subject growing up, having seen a pre-teen shot by officers but also growing up with a beloved officer on his block. Long wanting to explore that tension on a show, he got the idea to apply it to the S.W.A.T. franchise. "Our goal is to tell grounded stories in reality," Thomas said. "We're presenting everything in the truest sense. We feel we'll be able to reach audiences that may or may not have seen [the issue] this way."
For Shemar Moore, he's most excited about the conversations he hopes S.W.A.T. will start, the spectrum of people who'll be presented and the plain old fun viewers will see on screen. "We've got a diverse group of people — we've got black, I'm biracial; we've got Asian, we've got white. It's what's happening today. It's terrorism, it's racism...at the same time, I don't want us to preach. You're going to have a good time."
Hondo's crew also includes David "Deacon" Kay (Jay Harrington), an experienced S.W.A.T. officer who always puts the team first; Jim Street (Alex Russell), a cocky but promising new member of the group; Christina "Chris" Alonso (Lina Esco), a skilled officer and the team's canine trainer; and Dominique Luca (Kenny Johnson), an expert driver who gets them in and out of high risk situations. Overseeing the unit is Jessica Cortez, the captain of L.A. Metro who values her job above all else, including her off-the-books relations with Hondo. She's played by Stephanie Sigman, who said she's glad to be portraying the boss. "I think we're ready to see that on TV," she said, saying that in their research, they learned about women who've led departments. "As a female, as an immigrant, being the boss in a really male-driven environment — I'm super happy to portray that."
Of course, S.W.A.T. won't forget the explosions, car chases, and crime-of-the-week stories that make cop shows so riveting and work so well. All the cast members have spent extensive time with real-life S.W.A.T. team members and SEAL Team Six officers to train for their roles — running, shooting and moving carrying gear — in order to portray them accurately and honor the work they do. But for Shawn Ryan, S.W.A.T. presented an opportunity to tell a more impactful story about where police and the community intersect. "This is a pro-cop show but also a pro-community show," he said. "I'm not interested in only telling a mystery crime show. I think we can tell a story about what works about the system and what doesn't work about the system. You may watch and think we failed, but the honor is in the attempt."
S.W.A.T. premieres Thursday, Nov. 2 at 10/9c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS)