Arts & Culture

'Whiskey Cavalier' aims to humanize FBI agents

ABC’s “Whiskey Cavalier “ stars Lauren Cohan (left) as Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge, and Scott Foley as Will Chase. The comic-thriller premieres on Feb. 24 before moving to its regulate time slot on Feb. 27. (Craig Sjodin/ABC/TNS)
ABC’s “Whiskey Cavalier “ stars Lauren Cohan (left) as Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge, and Scott Foley as Will Chase. The comic-thriller premieres on Feb. 24 before moving to its regulate time slot on Feb. 27. (Craig Sjodin/ABC/TNS)
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PASADENA, Calif. — It all started with a phone call at 2 a.m. TV writer-producer David Hemingson says when his phone rang in the deep recesses of the night, he panicked. “And it’s my buddy, who shall remain nameless, an FBI agent,” recalls Hemingson.

“And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. Are you OK?’ And he is like, ‘Yeah. Yeah.’ ... I said, ‘It’s two in the morning.’ He goes, ‘Oh, man, I’m so sorry.’ He pulled this terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. (He said), ‘Listen, I’m breaking up with my girlfriend. I’m having a hard time.’”

That phone call went on for a while, but it triggered something in Hemingson. “I started thinking to myself: This guy is the first guy through the door, gun out and up. He is an American hero. He is an amazing guy. And at the end of the day, what he wants is what we all want — which is love, which is connection.

“And I started thinking, ‘Why do we always portray these guys as cold, hard Lotharios? Why aren’t we portraying these men and women as people who are desperate to trust somebody and urgently want connection?’ And so the whole thing was an outgrowth of a late-night phone call.”

This “whole thing” is ABC’s new comic-action thriller, “Whiskey Cavalier,” premiering Feb. 24 and resting in its permanent slot on Feb. 27.

The show stars Scott Foley as the soft-hearted, empathetic FBI agent and Lauren Cohan as his by-the-book partner, a CIA operative.

The first scene finds Foley’s agent blubbering along with a torch song in his littered Paris apartment. This is clearly not your cookie-cutter super agent. “I have a very strong belief that it’s time to sort of reinvent that trope that is the ‘leading man’ in an action series,” says Foley.

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“To me, at least, it’s something unrelatable to a lot of the tropes you see in the men that we know who save the world on the television shows we grew up on. This is something that I think is modern and more interesting, for me, at least. It’s much more relatable to have a character like this than someone sort of stoic instead.”

Foley, the father of three, says he’s always gravitated toward television. “I grew up in the television generation. I watched a ton of TV growing up, whether it was ‘Little House on the Prairie’ or ‘Matt Houston’ or ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ whatever it was. So I’ve always related to that medium.”

Television offers more security than most other entertainment jobs, says Foley, the veteran of shows like “Felicity,” “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” “If you’re fortunate enough, you get to keep a job for a number of years. It’s not three months or six months on a film. I know that I’m going to wake up, I’m going to see my kids, send them off to school, then I’m going to go to work, going to come home and usually get to tuck them in ... I don’t like looking for work, it’s not fun. And television for the most part has allowed me to not have to look for work that often,” he says.

Foley’s wife, actress Marika Dominczyk, also has a role on the series. She was born in Poland and speaks the language, a happy advantage, says executive producer Bill Lawrence.

The show is filmed all over central Europe, primarily in Prague. And it adroitly mixes comedy with action. “We can kind of ride that tonal tightrope, where we’re very serious, and then we’re sort of more fun,” says Hemingson.

Couples sniping at each other has worked before in classic television shows like “Moonlighting,” “Cheers” and “Private Eyes.” Here Foley and Cohan sizzle with the subliminal chemistry that makes their partnership work.

Chemistry, says Foley, “is just compatibility and ease of relationship around one another. Lauren and I spent a lot of time together. The show was fairly demanding of our time and energy, and it helps that we don’t get on each other’s nerves and we are respectful of each other’s process through day and night shooting this thing.”

Lawrence says the kicker is the cast experiences camaraderie both on and off the set. “They spend a tremendous amount of time together,” he says. “Family dinners are at Scott’s house every Sunday, where Lauren and the rest are coming ... We all talk about this in comedies and dramas, especially with a group of people that are spending time with each other and have a familiarity and chemistry that you would want to see otherwise, especially in this kind of world now where TV shows come and go like that,” he says, snapping his fingers.

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