The stakes for network television dramas has never been higher. With the rise of cable dramas such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy and a plethora of others, added pressure has been put on network television to produce engaging and edgy dramas that will keep us attached. Last season, some shows made a big splash (Hannibal, The Following) while others failed miserably (Deception, Do No Harm). So NBC is putting a great deal of stock in its upcoming drama.
Anchored by the brilliant James Spader, NBC looks to strike Nielsen gold with its new series The Blacklist. The 53-year-old stars as master criminal turned government informant Raymond “Red” Reddington who turns himself in and makes an offer the feds simply cannot resist in the form of his blacklist. The list is a rundown of all the criminals that have proved to be too elusive. However, the catch is that Reddington will only deal with the rookie psychological profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).
On the outset it sounds very much like a television version of Silence of the Lambs but Boone explains that the similarities are only on the surface.
“I understand the dynamic in Silence of the Lambs carries over a little but the difference is that Reddington is both dangerous and he could also be a good guy,” Boone says as if she anticipated the question. “He muddies the perspective of what a criminal really is rather than Hannibal, who you knew was evil. You don’t know if he’s here to help or to hurt.”
In an era where viewers have been obsessed with morally bankrupt bad guys, The Blacklist looks to take advantage of the dynamic. But it can only work if the chemistry between Spader and Boone jumps off the screen. While Spader is imperative to the show’s success, Boone is far more than just a pretty sidekick and her emotional evolution throughout the show
“She is really vulnerable at first but because of what happens to her she becomes more callous,” says the 30-year-old actress. “You think she’s Reddington’s play toy but she turns from that to his soldier. All the while my character is trying to figure out why he selected her while aiding him with this vendetta he has against certain criminals.”
Obviously, Boone feels very strongly about how the show will be perceived. During July’s Comic Con in San Diego, thousands RSVPed to watch the pilot and the critics gave it a thumbs up. However, critical acclaim doesn’t always translate into ratings. And when you are on network television, the concept of delivering a slow burner is almost a foreign language that no network really can invest the time and money into.
“It has to be lightning in a bottle,” Boone says emphatically. “You can have great writers and acting but if you don’t have a magical spark, it doesn’t live. I feel that all of these elements have come together.”
The Blacklist is set for a 22-episode run and will be tasked with keeping viewers engaged each and every week. There’s always concern that a show will start strong and flame out as the episodes roll on. A great premise alone must deliver enough twists and turns to hold the attention of fickle viewers. But The Blacklist promises to remain unpredictable while setting up each and every set piece with extraordinary precision.
“Every time I pick up the script, it is a new surprise,” Boone explains “I wouldn’t really work on a show where you know where it’s heading. I trust these writers to deliver with continuity where things lead up to something else but you never really know what to expect.”