Steve Harris and Dougray Scott, <EM>Heist</EM> Steve Harris and Dougray Scott, Heist

Tonight at 10 pm/ET, NBC lays the foundation for a major Heist with a serialized drama  directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Supremacy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and penned by Mark and Robb Cullen (FX's Lucky)  about the simultaneous robbery of three Beverly Hills jewelry stores. Leading the series' Ocean's Eleven-style rat pack of robbers are Mission: Impossible II baddie Dougray Scott as Mickey O'Neil and The Practice's Steve Harris as James "Never Jimmy" Johnson, while Seymour Cassel (as safecracker Pops), Marika Dominczyk (computer whiz Lola) and David Walton (gadget guru Ricky) offer specialized assists.

What led Scott, the star of such other big-screen fare as Deep Impact and Dark Water, to the TV scene? "I always look at the writing first when choosing a project, and I really thought that Heist was fresh and original," the Scotsman, who dialed down his accent for the U.S. series, tells "The characters were very well drawn."

Indeed, as the first hour unspools, viewers learn just how deadly a past Mickey has just barely lived through, while also getting a glimpse of what might be his true agenda in attempting this daring multiple theft. "The whole package, with Doug Liman directing the pilot and the Cullen brothers writing the episode, was enticing," adds the actor.

Harris' own primary reason for taking part in the heist was the opportunity to get far, far away from his oftentimes righteous Practice persona. "A couple of shows offered me roles, but they were so similar to Eugene Young, and that didn't make any sense to do," he shares. "They were compelling [roles], and you have to respect somebody for offering you something like that in the first place, but it wasn't really something that interested me. [Heist] was the first thing that came about that held my interest and that I wanted to be a part of."

Of course, as you've been reminded of here, Heist's Byzantine burglary scheme, replete with secret agendas and colorful collection of characters, bears more than a passing resemblance to George Clooney's first (read: better) foray as Danny Ocean. Harris, though, promises key disparities. "We deliver a fun ride like Ocean's Eleven, but I think our show will be greatly different in that, because it's on television, you actually get the chance to break down each one of these characters and see us not only deal with the heist itself, but [with] our own lives."

Heist also splits screen time between the grabbers and their potential nabbers  the cops, led by The Shield's Michele Hicks. "That gives you a fuller picture of what's going on," says Harris. "You get to get more in-depth with the series than [you would] in a two-hour movie."

Drawing a different comparison, Heist also favors, say, Prison Break, in that its premise seems to lead to something specific spelled out in the series' title. But then what? The Heist pilot indicates that the timetable is a fixed and imminent one  Academy Awards week in Beverly Hills  raising obvious questions about the longer-term plan if the series catches on. "A heist like this is enormous and needs a lot of planning, and this is all about the preparation and everything that entails," Scott says. "[It all] builds up to the heist, which happens at the end of the first [season]."

Again we ask: then what? Harris answers, "As far as the next season goes... we don't know where it goes. But I will tell you this: If there is another season, it will be as good as if not better than this one. I have faith in the Cullens to write it and in Doug [Liman, who also serves as an executive producer] to do his thing. If people really love us, I'm looking forward to tackling it next year."

What's the real reason viewers love crime shows like Heist? Get a clue.