Matt Nix should be thanked. Not only did he create the kick-ass spy show Burn Notice, thereby employing the beloved Bruce Campbell and the awesome Jeffrey Donovan, he is now keeping Bradley Whitford mustachioed, and away from Aaron Sorkin. Whitford is one of The Good Guys, a pair of mismatched buddy cops (one a by-the-books stickler, one a washed-up hero drunkard) who investigate stolen property but always seem to get mixed up in bigger cases. We talked to Nix on a conference call, where he revealed the origins of the show, why he and Whitford are soulmates, and why the show is a lot like The Princess Bride.
Tell us about the casting process that you went through to get these two characters onscreen.
Nix: I really want leads that I connect with personally, that I feel that I'm on the same wavelength as, and that I feel like, if I'm writing to my strength, they're going to understand my voice and enjoy doing that. You don't want somebody who's got to stretch every week to fit into a role. On Burn Notice many people have observed that I have the same speech patterns as Jeffrey Donovan. It's sort of a joke, like it means a devastating impression of me. It's also really great for the show. For The Good Guys, I'd seen Bradley [Whitford]'s work; I'd seen him do comedy. I was really excited about him and I said, "I just want to make sure we're on the same wavelength." He came in for a meeting, and he came in wearing the exact same outfit that I was wearing: the same boots, the same jeans, the same belt and a shirt that was not the same brand, but the same design. It was bizarre. We clearly were on the same wavelength and had a great time. We live in the same neighborhood; it was really kind of a love fest from the beginning, so that was great.
Finding Jack, on a show like this it's really about creating a marriage and finding a fantastic dynamic. We read people, but really the linchpin was when they came in and read with Bradley. Bradley was incredibly generous throughout the casting process in reading with every actor who came in for the test. Then it was just a matter of who's got chemistry, what's the most fun pairing when they're playing with each other. Bradley really responded to Colin [Hanks], and Colin really responded to Bradley. It just made it very easy.
Bradley Whitford's mustache deserves billing in the credits.
Nix: It's paid separately.
Is there a story behind the mustache? Was it in your script, was it his idea, what?
Nix: I had written the original script as a movie script many years ago, before I was in television, and certainly I wanted that kind of old-school cop look. I had written in a cop with a mustache, and then I saw Bradley in another thing where he had the mustache and I was inspired. I suppose I probably would have been willing to ditch it if there'd been an actor who was great for the role, who, like me, couldn't grow one, but that was not the case.
What is it that you think separates this show from other buddy-type detective shows that have been on the air?
Nix: I think that for one thing, I think that there isn't really much of that on these days. It certainly was a mainstay of television in the 1980s, but I can't think of another buddy cop show that's on currently. So I think that that is one thing that it has going for it. I also think that if you look at cop shows in general, we're doing a lot of things narratively that are really unusual for cop shows, starting with the jumping around in time, certainly, but extending to the fact that we're following the criminals and giving them their own human motivations and stories. Typically, when we're working on one of these episodes, one of the questions we're asking ourselves is, are the criminals human and sympathetic enough? Are you engaged with their stories as well as with the cop stories? I think that that's not really something that's typically done on cop shows like this. That's another feature that I'm really excited about exploring and that I think is kind of unusual. Finally I'd say just to be doing action comedy on television; certainly we've seen action comedy is a staple of movies, but not really a staple of television. You've got action drama and you've got comedy, but if you think about the landscape of television right now, how many one-hour comedies are there? Chuck, maybe?
What was your inspiration for these characters?
Nix: I owe a great creative debt to Elmore Leonard. When I saw Get Shorty as a kid, I suppose I was a teenager, but it was a revelation to me, like this is fantastic. Also, Quentin Tarantino was a big influence on me, just in terms of his humanizing the bad guys and finding fun in places that people hadn't really found fun before. I'd say when I sat down to do it, my creative project was that I wanted to do the thing you've seen a million times before in a way that you have never imagined seeing it. I don't know if I accomplished that, but that was what I sat down to do. I'm going to take the most familiar premise in the world and the archetypal characters that are burned into the brains of American movie and television viewers, and I want to do something totally different with them. Something that I brought up in other interviews is that The Princess Bride was a huge influence on me. I love that movie, because it takes these incredibly familiar elements, these archetypes, and allows you to enjoy that story again by telling it in a new, somewhat more self-conscious, contemporary, ironic way. Every time I see that movie with my kids, I well up. I adore that movie beyond all reason. That kind of project is, I think, a fun thing to do for the buddy cop genre.
Do you think that people are just ready for kind of lighter cop shows versus other, more serious franchises?
Nix: Let me say I certainly hope so. I think that both kinds of shows have a place and there's certainly room in the entertainment universe for cop shows that do more of a kind of dire, dramatic or even horror-filled kind of crime-solving. I will say that in talking to people who respond to the kind of thing that I'm doing, a lot of people respond to the fact they they're essentially upbeat shows. It's true of Burn Notice as well. It's a good-guys-win show. Whatever narrative twists there are at work, there might be a sympathetic bad guy you're sort of rooting for, at the end of the day, you're coming out of that show feeling good about what happened. Certainly, there are some shows that I admire very much where you're coming out sort of unsettled and not sure whether what you saw was a good thing or a bad thing. Then there are other shows that deliver that sense of justice done. "A terrible thing happened and then justice was done and we saw it done." The world is restored to order despite the terrible things. That's not what I'm doing. I think that one of the things that really surprised me about Burn Notice and I would hope for with The Good Guys is that it turned into kind of a family show. I didn't really think of it that way, but as it turned out, it's something that people feel comfortable watching with their kids, because it's essentially upbeat. At the end of the days there's nothing to explain to the children, there's not a profound shaking of worldview. I think there's room for that.
In the pilot, we start off with the robbery, and then there's a lot of jumping around in time, so we see the history of how the stolen item came to be investigated by Jack and Dan. Will that be a regular formula?
Nix: Yes and no. Not every show will begin with the robbery; a lot of the shows going forward begin with a piece from the middle of the show, and then there's a flashback where you'll see something happen and it'll say, "Four days earlier," and you'll sort of catch up at the beginning of the case. Some don't do that. So I'd say yes, the jumping around in time is an ongoing feature of the series, but we aren't backing our way into a Law & Order-style cold open, where you always see a small crime committed in the opening scene. That'll happen sometimes; other times we get into the episodes in other ways. To me it's sort of what's most interesting and intriguing and what makes you want to see more.
What was it about Dallas that blew your skirt up and made you want to set it here?
Nix: It was a combination of a few things. The Texas tax incentives are great, however, ultimately it was a creative decision, because there are obviously plenty of places in the country with tax incentives, some of them bigger than Texas. My thing was Dallas is incredibly film-friendly; they were incredibly welcoming. I'll never forget my first scout, where I jokingly asked if we could shut down a downtown street to do a bank robbery scene. The scout turned to me and said, "You can shut down this street and you can shut down the street up there. You can shut down the crosswalk, but you can't shut down the highway over there." I was like, "All righty then! Are you serious?" And he was like, "Yes, yes, no problem. You can crash it; you can blow something up, whatever you want." People were incredibly film-friendly, and the city just has a great look for a cop show, so that was very exciting to me as well.
Did shooting in Dallas affect the development of the episodes and the scripts?
Nix: A lot, I'd say. I really like shooting in cities. My experience with Burn Notice was so good in Miami. I was really pretty passionate about not shooting Dallas for someplace else. When we were looking at different cities, I kept saying, "I really don't want to do someplace for Los Angeles." It was originally set in Los Angeles, but once we moved it to Dallas, I really didn't want to do Dallas for Los Angeles, because I just find the quirks of a place are what give it its flavor, and you can just do so many more fun kinds of stories once you know what's native to that place. Certainly, it affected some things, like Bradley has an accent, as does the character of Liz, the DA, which is sort of accurate. In Dallas, some people have accents, some people don't. It's a fairly international city, but it also has a lot of Texas flavor. We brought some elements of that in, but a lot of it is just locations. Do people like barbecue here or not? We've got Dan living in an Airstream trailer on the fairgrounds, like the actual Fair Park Fairgrounds, in the off-season. The conceit is he doesn't live in "a fairgrounds," he lives in the Dallas fairgrounds, under one of the most identifiable landmarks in Dallas, that big Ferris wheel. We have definitely contemplated doing stories that have something to do with very specifically Dallas local things. It's certainly increased our percentage of bad guys in cowboy hats over the course of the season, which is not to say that it's all bad guys in cowboy hats. It's a few, but there are some things that we want to do at some point. There's dirt track racing outside of Dallas, which would be fun to do something with. We haven't done it yet, but definitely we're looking at stuff like that.
How'd you settle on the name The Good Guys?
Nix: It was a much less formal process naming the show than I had imagined. It started out; the script was called Jack and Dan. People just sort of weighed in; they tested some titles and asked people what they thought of them. I think Code 58, people liked, but it had a bit of the Burn Notice quality, which was, it's a little mystifying until you know what it is. Once you know what it is, it's cool, but if you don't know what it is, it could be anything. There was some feeling that that was a cool thing, and then there was some feeling that might not be a good thing. Ultimately, I think the big question for me in looking at titles, is if you tune in, are you getting what the title seems to promise? We batted around a lot of titles and, bottom line, I felt, and I think FOX felt this way, too, if you tune in to watch a show called The Good Guys, you're getting some version of what you think you're getting.
One of the things we discovered in shooting the pilot, because it wasn't titled until rather late, was that cops talk that way. They call themselves "the good guys," unabashedly. They call the criminals "the bad guys" without apology. It's not a documentary series, but I like that we were able to pluck that title from the mouth of a real Dallas police detective. Not that he suggested it, but he was saying, "We are the good guys; that's what we do."
See what vlogger Sean Crespo thinks about The Good Guys when he has No Prior Knowledge!
Check out what Colin Hanks had to say about starring in The Good Guys, comparing himself to his dad Tom and more.
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