This Monday, NBC sent Studio 60 to bed without dessert and settled down for an evening with The Black Donnellys. The series, set in a fictional New York neighborhood, follows four Irish brothers who become quickly and unwittingly embroiled in Mafia life. Like The Sopranos after a corned beef dinner and a gallon of Bailey's, this new drama walks the line between tough and tired--but if it manages to find its footing, look out.
In a conference call held earlier this week, series creators and executive producers Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco took time to shed light on the show. Moresco insists the pair of Oscar winners "never thought twice" about returning to the small screen, especially when given the chance to tackle a project they've been keeping on hold for the past 10 years.
Fans of the short-lived '90s drama EZ Streets, which was also penned by the duo, will find many similarities between the two series--and rightly so, according to Haggis. "This is a follow-up to EZ Streets," he said, "and it was something we tried to do with CBS over the years, and it just wasn't a fit for them." When asked what lessons were taken from the failure of EZ Streets, Haggis admitted he "[doesn't] think we learned a damn thing."
"You know, at the time, we were told, 'Don't you guys get it? No one wants to see a continuing story over 24 episodes...and now, people say, 'Don't you get it? The only thing people want is that this is for 24 episodes.' So we didn't learn a damn thing, we just did the show exactly as we would have done it then."
"I guess it's a huge mistake and a fallacy to think that you should approach writing for television differently than you might approach writing for the screen," Moresco said when asked to compare their work in television and film. "You approach it with the same amount of craft, the same amount of intensity, and the same amount of need for character and plot and story. Form may change a bit, but if anything else changes it's a big mistake."
This philosophy comes through in the intensity and surprising violence of The Black Donnellys, which is decidedly bloodier than many shows found on broadcast television.
"It's obviously always a challenge with the language," said Haggis, "but that was basically it. We got to tell all the emotional truth--I was worried about that, I've got to tell you, because I never thought that we would be introducing this on network television. They really gave us a lot of freedom, and we tried to be responsible with that."
"We used a lot of curse words, too, and they let us get away with that. It was things that a 10 o'clock audience would say, you know, 'Maybe this is pushing the boundaries, but it's nothing we haven't heard before.'"
"I want to make it clear that this is not a biography," said Moresco, who grew up in Hell's Kitchen, but he does admit taking some inspiration from his childhood. "I was one of those guys who were out in the streets. I had five brothers growing up...and I spent a lot of my life trying to understand how people that you love and respect and honor can do monstrous things and become monsters, but then be the people that you thought you loved, and that's a strange dichotomy to try to get hold of."
If you missed The Black Donnellys' premiere, visit NBC.com to watch the entire episode--then mark your calendars for Mondays at 10 p.m.!