Star Edie Falco and executive producer and showrunner Tom Szentgyorgyi took the stage at the Television Critics Association winter press tour Sunday to preview their upcoming CBS cop drama Tommy, in which Falco plays the the first female chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The multiple Emmy-winning The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie star plays Abigail "Tommy" Thomas, an NYPD legend who is brought on to help clean up the Los Angeles Police Department. She's also hired to put a female face on the department — against many in the department's wishes — but she's there to do the job the way she believes it should be done. In her personal life, she's trying to reconnect with her adult daughter, to whom she was not a good mother due to her devotion to her work. She's the latest in a line of complex characters Falco has played, but she's very different from Carmela Soprano or Jackie Peyton.
"It is joyful, in a way," Falco said of getting to play complex characters. "Who doesn't want to play a character that's complicated? And I've been lucky enough to have some real complicated ones. And it's not that Tommy's not, but we're focusing less on that than on the fact that she's got a very solid moral compass. She really wants to do the right thing. She really wants to do her job and to do it well, and she has a feeling of wanting to serve the people she works for... But at a time that we're living in now, to have someone at the helm who really is guided by something larger than them, it's a huge relief and it's amazing how many people should be drawn towards her because of that."
The show was inspired by the fact that there has never been a female police chief in America's three largest cities. "Some people have asked if the show was inspired by somebody, and I think it's more accurate to say that it was inspired by the absence of somebody," Szentgyorgyi said. Creator Paul Attanasio wanted to create "a different kind of cop show," according to Szentgyorgyi, and a story about a female police chief filled that slot.
"Cop shows with male leads tend to be shows about action, and cop shows with female leads tend to be shows about relationships," Szentgyorgyi said. "He was interested in writing about relationships and about politics — not the politics of elections, not West Wing stuff — but politics [that] are still lived on the street. The politics of who gets arrested, the politics of who gets heard and who doesn't, and the politics of how power is exerted and challenged in our daily lives."
Representation is also pivotal to the show. It's set in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse places in the world, and the show tries to reflect that on-screen. That extends behind the scenes as well. Szentgyorgyi said that the show's eight-person writers' room is half male, half female, half people who identify as LGBTQ, and has two black writers. The character of Tommy herself is a lesbian.
"I think it's important that every single person, large, small, different colors, gets represented in our television," Falco said. "I think everybody in the world wants to look at television and be able to find themselves somewhere. and I think we'd be leaving huge swaths of the population out of that experience. I could always find myself on television as a kid."
She then quoted something her character says on the show: "The world is changing. We've got to change with it."
One thing that's not represented on the show, though, is the actual city of Los Angeles, as the show films in New York, but the art and scenic departments do a good job of faking it. "We had a truck with our palm trees," Falco said. "We'd stop in front of a bodega and take the palm trees out." A running joke on set was "Where'd the palm tree go?" as the tree truck moved from location to location.
Tommy premieres Thursday, Feb. 6 at 10/9c on CBS.
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