Taye Diggs plays it tough, tender in new TV drama
Taye Diggs can claim an actor’s version of scoring a hat trick: He’s worked with a trio of television’s most innovative writer-producers.
Diggs, who visited David E. Kelley’s "Ally McBeal" as attorney Jackson Duper and played Dr. Sam Bennett on Shonda Rhimes’ "Private Practice," is starring in a new drama, "Murder in the First," co-created by veteran Steven Bochco.
"There’s something to be said for putting out in the universe that which you want to claim. It’s happened to me three times," he said.
In the latest instance, he was eager to be part of a project "where it’s about relationships and not just catching crooks and jumping over buses and whatnot," said Diggs, who’s casual and candid in a phone interview.
"Murder in the First," despite the procedural-sounding title, turned out to be just such an opportunity. It debuts at 10 p.m. EDT Monday on TNT.
Diggs’ character is San Francisco police homicide Detective Terry English, who’s paired with fellow detective Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson). The officers are admirably dedicated but have more to their lives than work.
Terry’s burden is a tragic one, the terminal illness of his wife (Anne-Marie Johnson). Hildy is a single mom who, at least in episode one, appears to have a limited network of support to raise her bright daughter.
The series crisscrosses between the detectives’ off-duty lives and their efforts to crack two killings with a high-profile link, a Silicon Valley whiz kid who takes arrogance to a new level. He’s played by Tom Felton, of Draco Malfoy fame from the "Harry Potter" film franchise.
Richard Schiff, Nicole Ari Parker, James Cromwell and Steven Weber are among the co-stars.
"Murder in the First," created by Bochco and Eric Lodal, will wrap its investigation within the 10-episode season. If viewers are hooked, the drama will be back with another case to solve.
Bochco took a similar approach with his 1990s series "Murder One," which focused in its freshman year on a single crime. The ABC series was critically lauded but was ahead of its time, and its low ratings prompted a switch to a multiple-murder story line for its second and final season.
In the new TNT drama, the case focus is narrow but the approach is ambitiously multilayered, said Bochco, whose groundbreaking series include "Hill Street Blues," ’’L.A. Law" and "NYPD Blue."
"Murder in the First" is a "cop show, it’s a legal drama, and then it’s a courtroom drama. And so what we’ve tried to do is to pretty much encompass the whole of the criminal justice system," he said.
Diggs, for one, was quickly sold on the concept of "Murder in the First" and agreed to temporarily pull up stakes from New York City.
"Bochco and Lodal were so excited about it they got me excited. I was not excited about the fact it was shot in Los Angeles," Diggs, 43, said, with exteriors taped in San Francisco. "But hearing their ideas and the future of the character, Terry, I couldn’t help but get drawn in."
He’s back in New York for the summer, spending time with his son (with "Frozen" star Idina Menzel; the couple separated in 2013) and weighing how to get back to his stage roots. Although his resume includes "Rent" and other Broadway productions, he’s toying with the idea of something other than a musical.
"I want to get together a group of other concert singer-actors and see if we can put together a kind of Rat Pack-ish crew," he said. "Something that harkens back to Sinatra and his friends."
Would Diggs be Frank, the main man? No, he replied. He has a more modern, inclusive approach in mind.
"It would be a new take, where we’re all a mixture of everybody," Diggs said.