TNT this summer put a bulk of its marketing bucks behind “Dallas,” which debuted with big numbers last month and was quickly renewed.
A month later, the network is giving another original drama a quieter (but certainly not badly placed) welcome: “Perception,” starring Eric McCormack (”Will & Grace”) and Rachael Lee Cook (”She’s All That’). It debuts after “The Closer” tonight (July 9) at 10 p.m.
McCormack plays an eccentric professor Daniel Pierce who helps a former student (now an FBI agent) solve cases. It has shades of “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Mentalist.”
“One of my favorite shows was ‘The Paper Chase’ with John Houseman lecturing his students,” McCormack said in a phone interview last month. “You don’t see that a lot. We have high school shows but not that many that take place in a university setting. I love that he’s not a crime solver first and foremost. He’s a neuroscience professor who’s called up to use his skills.”
“He wouldn’t know what to do with a gun,” McCormack noted.
He admits this is hardly an original concept. “You can name a half-dozen show in this vein. All those shows are doing well. This is a new way to attack the idea. It’s not ‘CSI.’ It’s not ‘The Mentalist.’ He’s someone battling his own demons as a schizophrenic. He is a specialist in the brain yet his brain is his own worst enemy.”
Cook spun Pierce a little more positively: “He’s got a certain flair to him. He’s unabashed about being a little out there. It’s really refreshing.” But she said given his mental condition, he wouldn’t be “realistically hire-able” to work even in a consulting capacity for the FBI.
This is the first regular TV role Cook has nabbed. She isn’t an obvious person for the role, she admitted. She’s 32, so she’s a reasonable age to be a young FBI agent. But she still looks about 21. Plus, she’s 5 foot 2 – not exactly Angie Harmon a la “Rizzoli & Isles.” “Eric and I are a very unlikely crime duo,” she said. “We’re the dorkiest crime fighters.”
The pair have romantic chemistry a la “Bones” or “Castle.” “At first, we keep that at arm’s length,” Cook said. “Then it gets addressed in a really abrupt way.”
McCormack’s character possesses some of the schizophrenic characteristics of John Nash from “A Beautiful Mind.” He feels paranoia and isolation. He sees people who don’t exist. He has a healthy skepticism of government – yet paradoxically, he helps Cook’s FBI character anyway.
Pierce, of course, has quirks: he use old Sony Walkman (cassette version ) to listen to classical music when he’s feeling stressed. He does crossword puzzles in rapid-fire fashion. He has an assistant who makes sure his life remains in order (which is more like “Monk,” actually.)
TNT is giving McCormac another try. He was part of a short-lived ad agency drama “Trust Me” (2009). He’s not the only one TNT has brought back: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, for instance, segued from “Raising the Bar” (2008-09) to “Franklin & Bash” (2011-present).
McCormack to date is still best known as Will from “Will & Grace” (1998-2006). “Television is very definitive to people,” he said. “I’m not alone. I’m trying to create a new persona. Hopefully, people will take to Daniel Pierce, that they will show an open mind.”
And he isn’t perturbed that “Perception” isn’t getting the “Dallas” treatment. “With ‘Will & Grace,’ we never saw billboards. Friends watched. Friends heard about it. We are starting in July. We’ll sneak in that way.”
Cook has a different tact: “I’m going to say it’s just like ‘Dallas’ and I play Larry Hagman’s character. That’s my angle!”
10 p.m. Mondays, TNT (after “The Closer”)
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk