NECESSARY ROUGHNESS: EP Kevin Dowling Interview re Season 2

Kevin Dowling (Photo credit: USA Network)

After last season’s climatic finale, which ended with the Hawks’ star football player Terrence King have been shot, the 2nd season returns with some big issues facing the trouble-plagued team. Not only is T.K. on the mend (physically and emotionally), there is rumblings of financial problems due to pending divorce of owner Marshall Pittman, the personal entanglement of the team’s athletic trainer and therapist who are secretly dating, and further complications involving the team’s “fixer” who may just be in fix of his own now that his relationship with Pittman’s wife has been revealed. The “fish bowl” existence of the Atlanta Hawks is about to come under intense scrutiny as everyone has something to hide and there is the fate of an entire football team on the line. At a recent set visit with press, executive producer Kevin Dowling offered some candid response on what is next for the Hawks and the menagerie of characters populating the NECESSARY ROUGHNESS world.

As a producer on the show, what did you fine tune from season one to season two?
KEVIN: I think more than fine tune. I think it’s a pretty big decision to focus more on our team, on the Hawks’ family. I mean there’s always been this parallel theme of Dani’s nuclear-family and how it gets affected by taking on this new family and the fact that there are pressures that put all kinds of demands on the original family — and what does that mean? But we only sort of cursorily got into what happens behind the scenes and what we found is people are writing on the ‘net and talking on the web all the time about, “We’d like to see more of what happens behind the scenes with the athletes.” We’ve always felt that movie stars and athletes in our country are our royalty. So it’s like, what we all want to know is: what’s it like for them? Is it really like what we see in the newspapers all that. So we’ve tried to keep it based on reality and based on stories that we know, but also weave that into the fictional Hawks family in our sort of story. So T.K. has a lot more to do. We’re going to see a lot more of T.K. We’re going to see more of Nico. We meet Pittman, finally, and he’s a surprise, I think. I don’t think he’s what people were expecting. I think they are expecting someone more like Mark Cuban or somebody like that, and I think this pulled off a surprise for us.

How much of that scenario with Marshall Pittman, as owner of the Hawks, plays out this season?
KEVIN: That is going to play out quite a bit over the first half of the season absolutely. Certainly the Dodgers helped to inspire some, but I think the writers have gone even beyond that. To a whole new level. There is some estranged-ness between our main couple. But Gabrielle will be back and we get to see a whole bunch of high drama between them, and Nico of course gets in the middle of all that. We don’t know where his allegiances are and we get to question those things. We’ll see a lot more of him and then Matt also gets caught up as, as well. So he’ll have new things to do as well for the Hawks there as the season goes on. So that’s all going to play out.

How much of the season will cover the divorce of Marshall Pittman and his wife?
KEVIN: It goes on for a good portion of the first part of the season and even after he leaves. The repercussions of it go on from there. But Evan Handler plays a major part in these first 5 episodes. Then I’m not sure how it will go on from there or when we’ll see him again. But he’s has some very great surprises coming at you.

Can you tell us a little about guest stars coming to the show?
KEVIN: Terrell Owens will be back for sure. Charles Barkley is certainly a friend of the show. We’d love to have him and we’re trying to find ways to have him come in. Unfortunately his schedule is insane, even though he’s here all the time. The insanity is we see him in restaurants and stuff, but can’t find like a day to bring him in. But literally Terrell came in last week to shoot a scene with Mehcad and went out the same day because he has the same kind of crazy schedule. But the two of them, I guarantee the scene that you’re going to see between them will be one of the favorites because the hardest part was keeping the crew from laughing. I will only give the hint that they have a food fight at one point. So it’s just fun to watch the two of them together and the whole clash between all of that.

Will we continue to see more of T.K.’s hot tub in his apartment?
KEVIN: No hot tub. It was hard enough to get up there. We had to get an engineer’s report to make sure it was safe — because I forget how many hundreds of gallons we have in there — it’s a lot of water weight, so literally there was some question as to whether it was safe because it’s a second floor set. We built it as a second floor because we wanted to have that sense of expanse and a really nice urban condo. But then we hadn’t considered and did not know at that point that there’d be a Jacuzzi in the middle of it.

Was T.K. really naked in that Jacuzzi scene?
KEVIN: You know, that’s funny. A lot of people ask that question. Let me put it to you this way: Mehcad would not be shy about that. Let’s put it that way. The plan was for him not to exactly be naked but the plan didn’t necessarily get followed. So some of the reactions you’re seeing are definitely real.

Was the original plan to do a bit of off-season focus this year?
KEVIN: Liz and Craig are incredible planners as far as story arc goes. So they always had a sense that we would do this, to find a way. But I think it became more intense and it stretched out a little longer than maybe initially thought. I mean, now we really go the whole summer season on USA Network. So we’ll be focusing on the off-season more after playoff. Then the winter season we’ll take us into the season again. It gave us lots of you know ways to approach things because we really do get to go to the training facility and see what that’s like. See what its really like if you have an injury and try to come back from it. All of the psychological parts of that. It also allows for Matt and Dani to work closely together, which people seem to like.

How much research went into the post-traumatic stress storyline?
KEVIN: Quite a bit actually. Two of the writers were sort of full-time on that for quite a while and, of course, we have our original Donna Dannenfelser, this is all inspired by her life story so she’s our psychologist advisor and she had treated lots of people with that, both crime victims and some veterans. So she was a big resource there. We have a real advantage having her in the writer’s room all the time because she can say, “Hey, we would do this. We wouldn’t do that,” and all that kind of thing. I think we’ve tried to make it as authentic as possible and not violate the therapeutic community. The only thing we have done is put jellybeans in the therapeutic room, which the real Dr. Dani absolutely hates. She came on and she said, “You can’t have jelly beans in the therapy room.” But how it worked is that what we learned very early on is that Mehcad had, in addition to his great acting talents and his amazing presence, he had some unusual talents and one of them is being able to almost throw anything up in the air and catch it in his mouth. So while we were rehearsing the scene in the pilot where he first comes in there happened to be a dish of candies at the hotel where we were rehearsing and he kept throwing them up. It was really annoying Callie. It was perfect between them and he said, “Could I have that in the room?” So I pulled Donna aside and I said, “Look, Donna, you can either have a great scene between these two people or you can have it without the jellybeans, which do you want?” And she made the right choice.

Will T.K. ever have to meet the shooter in court?
KEVIN: That’s coming up. The shooter we will see again, let’s put it that way.

So we’ve heard that Amy Sedaris be on the show. Is that true?
KEVIN: She is. We’re thrilled to have her. It’s the kind of thing we would like to see be a recurring part, but we’ll have to see. For now, it’s a one-off but we’re really thrilled to have her. She and Callie have been friends forever and love working together.

Does having the off-season story this next season open more sports-related stories?
KEVIN: Yes, that also certainly is a part of it. Because we always try to balance the A-story, where we’re going to go roller derby, we’re going have bull riding, we’re going all over the place with a lot of different kinds of sports stories and even some outside the sports world. So we’re going to expand that a little bit more this season and — knock on wood — hopefully even more next season to non-sports things while still keeping our sports family. We’re not shy about the fact that we are a football-based show. Because, initially, we’d get some feedback saying, “Well, you have to do more of the family for women and not enough of the football for men” and I was like, “That’s an incredibly sexist assumption. 42 percent of the NFL’s fan base is women and women are more rabid fans generally. They travel more from their home uh cities to see away games than men do.” So what we found out is that a lot of our female audience really love the football part as well.

Who are some of the other patients Dr. Dani will be treating?
KEVIN: Well, there will be a bull rider. I can’t even tell you too much about that because that’s not done. We think there may be a spelling bee champion who has their own unique problems and I’m trying to think other sports. I said roller derby. We’ve already done that. Then we’re back to the Hawks. One of the things we are doing this year is that we wanted to see a “combine,” which even a lot of pro football fans don’t know about, after you get drafted. You think, “Oh everything’s fine. You just signed up, get your $7 million and you don’t have to go through this incredibly grueling test of all kinds of endurance. So we’re going to show one of those, which a lot of people haven’t seen and it’s kind of cool. We shot that in the Dome. But we’ll definitely be expanding to other sports as well. So there’s some talk about gymnastics, skating — whether that’ll be figure skating or ice hockey that’s hard to say at this point — but we definitely will go all around the place to place. We’re doing baseball. So, of course, all of these present interesting challenges. Like with roller derby: how do you find people who do it? It just so happens that there’s a great roller derby group right here in Atlanta. So a lot of the people who are on the team in the second episode are from the Atlanta based team. But it’s not so easy to go and just put out a call for actors with roller derby experience. It just so happens that we got a very athletic actress to play the main part in that particular story and then had really great success with these roller derby ladies who were quite photogenic and really were great on film. It was a lot of fun to do.

Can you talk about where Dani and Matt’s relationship heading?
KEVIN: Oh, I can’t tell you that! Let’s, let’s put it this way: their problems are not entirely over. I will definitely guarantee you that.

Will their relationship stay secret for a while?
KEVIN: For a little while, that much I could tell you. Eventually the kids, like all kids, know more than their parents ever thought. Like when they get around to telling them it’s like, “Yeah right, sure. We already knew.” That type of thing. And the kids play a pretty much a bigger role this year as well. We’ve been really pleased with how Patrick and Hannah have come along and their characters have developed. I think that Liz and Craig and Jeff really want to take them in a different direction, so they’re obviously will be getting ready to go to a higher grade. Eventually they’ll go off to camp and school and college and all that stuff, so Dani will have to deal with that.

Will we get to see other Hawks players? Like the one that was injured by the mascot?
KEVIN: Yes. Actually we are filming right now a linebacker with a weight problem and trying to deal with all of what that means. How it affects his relationship. We always think of these huge guys as football players, but if you’re 310 when you’re supposed to be 280, that’s a problem. That’s essentially what we’re dealing with right here. There’s a guy who’s about 30 pounds overweight as training begins and how is that happening and why is that happening and he doesn’t understand it. There’s a surprise as to why that’s going on. But we’ll definitely expand with the Hawks. There’s quite a bit more coaches around. Quite a bit more about how Matt will work his way up in the Hawks. But we also will deal with other players as well.

Will Dani and Nico’s relationship be explored more this season?
KEVIN: Most definitely, yes. There are surprises to come between the two of them. It’s interesting, early on Nico is seen as a tangential character. But I always felt particularly partial after we cast Scott Cohen because he’s so terrific. I always call him the “New York Steve McQueen” because you have this character who it’s sort of a male ideal. He’ll take care of things and he’ll look after you even when you don’t know he’s looking after you – and above all things, he keeps his word. When Nico promises in the pilot that he’ll take care of Dani’s problem and not to worry about it, then you see it play out and she doesn’t even know how he did it, but he gets rid of the P.I. That’s pretty much their relationship for a while. But eventually that also is going to morph and get a little more complicated. So that will probably play itself out. I think that will reveal itself by the end of the first half of the season, during the first portion of the season, so you’ll see more of it.

Will the mid-season finale be a cliffhanger?
KEVIN: Yes. There will be two cliffhangers this season because of the gap. The interesting here with USA Network is you have this one season and then we have sort of a mini-season that will play out during the actual pro football playoffs in January. So we’ll play concurrently with that. We actually have changed everything. My original concept for the visuals the pilot and the first season was what we call “perpetual autumn.” It was always autumn and you get to the end of playoffs and it’s like November. I was like, “Forget about that.” It’s what you have in your mind about football season. It’s like not the autumn of things dying, but the autumn when you go back to school and you go to work and the air is crisp and your mind is clear and we play football. So it was kind of idealized during the off-season. It’s sort of an idealized spring/summer in that we took pictures of Long Island at its most beautiful with azaleas and hydrangea and all the things that you see. In fact, I’m going up next week in a helicopter to do all the aerials of Long Island in spring. So we’re trying to let that sort of infuse with the theme of what the off-season is about and then we’ll return to autumn in the second half.

Do you worry that the show will lose momentum when you take a long break during the season like that?
KEVIN: That has been a big source of discussion for Liz and Craig and the writers. I think they have come up with something, but they’ll kill me if I reveal it. So I think they’ve come up with a great solution, which is to sort of have cap it but leave a little space. But not so much that you feel like it’s stale when you get to it. That we really will come into a new period and there are several different story arcs will come into it a new mini-season when we come back to it.

Are we going to see more about Dani and her ex-husband?
KEVIN: We would love to. We love Craig Bierko so much and we love that reunion episode last year. It’s been hard. We have so many plot lines going now and also Craig’s schedule. It we could do it in the second half, we definitely will but it’s hard. We’ve got T.K. and everything’s happening to him. Dani and the kids. Matt and coach. And the A story. At a certain point, we’ve been editing things going what has to go and it gets painful after awhile. So we’d love to have Craig Bierko back, he’s fantastic. When the cast came together in the pilot, I really wanted somebody sympathetic because that part is so unsympathetic. I think what Craig brought to it is he has such a great persona. That you hate to hate him, and yet you hate him anyway. But he makes it hard to do. That scene in the garage where he has these lame excuses, it’s so ridiculous and yet somehow you don’t hate his guts. That’s what I was looking for because I didn’t want to make it into “heroes and villains” and make it less complex than it always is.

How does Gaius Charles’s new character impact the story this season?
KEVIN: Gaius was sort of the question. He portrays another player that hasn’t become a Hawk yet, but he’s headed in that direction. We all loved in him so much on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, but the real problem was Gaius is not a big guy, despite his name. He’s like 5’10” and a half and there aren’t that many wide receivers of his height — most are Mehcad’s height. So we looked it up and of course there was Welker and there’s been a couple, DeShawn and a couple of other people who were, and we kind of wrote it for that specifically. Some of those issues will get added in. But he gets introduced in the third episode and we’re hoping that he’ll come back as a recurring character because he’s just different. It’s so interesting to see somebody — I mean literally I stand in the middle of everybody at the Georgia Dome and feel like a midget, I’m looking up. I don’t usually direct looking up — but at least with Gaius I can actually talk to him. Oh, I could play football too. I could play football. The only difference is Gaius is in really good shape.

Did you try to use athletes from real teams?
KEVIN: Well, this has been one of our great blessings, Mark Ellis who’s our sports coordinator, when he did this initial audition. I had no idea how would I approach it on a pilot and once I talked to Mark, he said, “It’s just like regular football. We’re going to have tryouts and we are going to find people.” And I said, “Look, you have to find people who can also act, and some we’re going to have to have doubles who can do things where they move the same way particularly for Mehcad.” And we have two exceptional doubles for Mehcad because even though Mehcad is game to do some of his stunts, the studio’s not game on his stunts. The same with Mark. Mark’s a former athlete so it’s easy for him to do some of that stuff. Again, the studio’s not so wild about having one of their stars do any kind of dangerous stunt but I think the big surprise is that we had 180 people try out for to be a Hawk and they’re former pro players — former college players, some arena players and we really have been very lucky in finding people who act very real. In fact, T.K.’s going to have two regular friends now and both of those are athletes that we hired originally. So that’s one of the great, nice surprises. Then to have Terrell Owens come on, we didn’t know what was going to happen, but we knew he had incredible presence. Well, you hear the “bad boy” image and you sort of go, “Great, incredible presence, but will he show up?” Or “how will he behave when he got there?” He was amazing. I mean he arrived with such serious intent. He said, “I’m here to be an actor — to do this part.” He sat on set. He did not go back to his trailer. He watched Mehcad. He watched Callie and he really learned a ton and then he actually put it to use and you really see it in the scene you’re going to see this year because you’ve already seen growth as an actor. And then he has that “secret weapon”: that 1,000-watt smile. Everyone on the set is just like, “Wow!” Hopefully we’ll keep doing that. I like the idea of using real athletes as much as possible. But obviously there’s the challenge on the other side — we have actors who spent their whole life training to be actors who really know what they’re doing and we have to balance that out. With Gaius being smaller, we wrote it to him because he’s such a phenomenal actor, but I think if he had fallen out of the range, if he’d like been 5’7” and 120 pounds, we wouldn’t have done it. He was at least in range of what a pro football player could be. The only difference is he’s this height and he’s in great shape, but he’s probably not as built up as Welker or DeShawn or somebody like that. The, the amazing thing you find out is those guys weigh like 30 or 40 pounds more for their height and yet they are like that and that’s all in here. In fact, this year, Mehcad came back in better shape than ever which is hard to believe. I remember in the pilot he took his shirt off and I was like, “You’re kidding me!” [Laughs]

How do you deal with the extreme heat in Atlanta?
KEVIN: Oh my god. Well, its funny having been on location in a lot of places like New Orleans and Australia and so on, it doesn’t bother me anymore. I can’t say that’s true for the poor actors. We thought we were blessed like a week ago. I came to set when it was like 38 degrees and I said, “I don’t want to hear anybody complaining it’s cold. Don’t say that out loud.” We’ve committed to this year because we film to the end of August that pretty much we’re going to be indoors either in the Georgia dome or on set. We’re not going to be at Clark, Atlanta for the last 3-4 weeks because we almost lost a few there. In fact, last year when we did the golf episode and we lost eight crewmembers that day — two to the hospital and six to the medic. And it wasn’t because we weren’t prepared. I mean we had Gatorade, so much Gatorade we looked like a commercial. And we had those cold things that go around your neck, if you wanted one of those. But it was 105 degrees and we were out in the open on a golf course for 14 hours. So we’re going to try not to repeat that one this year. As dramatic as it was, we’re going to try not to lose anybody this year.

Will the physical conditions be that harsh when you film at training camp?
KEVIN: That definitely will be dealt with both in story and also for us behind the scenes. We have cooling tents. We have all kinds of things and we have double the number of medics this year. We definitely have had to deal with them. There are a few things that we do have to work out in Atlanta. That and stink bugs. That was the hardest thing to try to explain to Callie. She was like, “They look like little ladybugs.” But they’re not ladybugs. They’re really terrible little bugs. If you hit one it or if they get on you and you flick them too fast, they also smell pretty bad. But what’s weird about them is they come in clusters just like ladybugs. I didn’t look them up but I have a feeling they’re related but they’re not the nice relatives. They’re the ones you don’t want visiting.

To see how all the stories play-out before the midseason break and whether Dr. Dani can keep the team and T.K. from imploding under all the various pressures placed upon them, be sure to tune for the second season premiere of NECESSARY ROUGHNESS on Wednesday, June 6th at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network.

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Kevin Dowling (Photo credit: USA Network)
“Necessary Roughness” (Photo credit: USA Network)
“Necessary Roughness” (Photo credit: USA Network)
“Necessary Roughness” (Photo credit: USA Network)
Kevin Dowling (Photo credit: USA Network)

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