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Following an elite Special Weapons and Tactics unit of the LAPD, S.W.A.T was a TV series that ran on ABC for two seasons in the mid-1970s. Three decades later, the 2003 movie version with Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson raked in $207 million at the U.S. box office.

Shemar MooreComing full circle, S.W.A.T. returns to TV as a CBS series starring Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) as the newly appointed squad leader who finds himself caught between divided loyalties to his fellow cops and the ‘hood he grew up in—while carrying on a secret affair with his superior officer (Stephanie Sigman). It’s set to the same instrumental theme music as the original series, which was a #1 hit in 1976.

“I call it S.W.A.T 2017,’” says Moore, who portrays Daniel ‘Hondo’ Harrelson. “It’s the Trump years, what’s happening today. It’s Black Lives Matter. It’s All Lives Matter. It's not just black versus blue or black versus white. It's every ethnicity. It's fear. It's racism. It's terrorism.” At the same time, “It’s not going to be heavy,” he says. “It’s a thrill ride, everything you know S.W.A.T. to be. But I believe we’re going to surprise you.”

Moore, who played Derek Morgan for 12 seasons on Criminal Minds, took a “blind leap” in leaving that show. “I was hungry to grow,” he says. “I didn’t know what was next. I went on vacation to Australia. And then I got a call from Shawn Ryan saying, ‘We see something in you, we have a project for you.’”

Ryan, who created the police corruption drama The Shield for FX and is executive producing S.W.A.T. with Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, Neal Moritz and Jason Lin, had a modern take on the series, one designed to defy expectations that it’s “a dumb action show. Yes, there's going to be some gunplay and some run-and-gun and some chases. We're going to have some of those familiar elements. But I think viewers recognize the truth, appreciate the truth, and can embrace the truth when you show it to them,” he says.

“What appealed to me was the idea of looking at policing in a different way, through the eyes of an officer who lives in the community and takes a more humane approach to dealing with people. It’s a propolice show but also a procommunity show,” he says. “I think that's what we are getting at here is that the show is using the character of Hondo to see if there is a way to bridge these two different communities that seem so separate in thought at the moment.”

S.W.A.T.

The Shield “Took a much harder, more cynical view of the interaction between the police and the community,” Ryan compares. “This is a procop show, but this is also procommunity show. I think communities have been ignored or underrepresented on television a lot. I want the camera in the show to show all aspects of Los Angeles--how the cops deal with the people. How the people deal with the cops. I think there's a way to try to bridge the gap between the two, and that's what this show is going to try to do. I think we can tell a story that gets into what works about the system and what doesn't work about the system. You may watch and think we failed, but to me, the honor is in the attempt.”

Having grown up in Kansas City, Missouri in a neighborhood that “had a very complicated view towards police officers,” Aaron Thomas was eager to depict that kind of situation—and possible solutions—in the show. “A 12 year old kid who was a neighbor of mine was shot and killed by a police officer. Another neighbor of mine was a police officer. So we had a love/hate relationship with police growing up,” he relates. “I always felt as though someone who understood both sides of the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter debate would make for a fascinating character. So to marry that idea with an iconic title like S.W.A.T. just seemed to be a really great place to start.”

For research, the creators and cast spent time with real SWAT officers in the field. “Mario Cortez, a member of Metro SWAT, has been our primary contact,” says Shawn Ryan. “He’s been kind enough to allow the writing staff and a lot of the actors to kind of get access into SWAT, into the facilities to see how it operates. Aaron and I attended the SWAT 50th anniversary celebration dinner and met a lot of people there, gotten stories.”

“All of us have done extensive research, ride-alongs,” Thomas continues, noting that the creators gleaned valuable information about the history of SWAT, the terminology the officers use, and “the way they relate to each other, the competition between units.”

S.W.A.T.

That rivalry is prominent in the plots and also provides much of the levity. “There is a lot of competition. The alpha males, and in some cases alpha females, all want to sort of be viewed as the best,” says Ryan. “If Hondo and his team represent a new version of SWAT, Mumford [Peter Onorati] is the older version,” and there’s a clash of ideologies. We heard stories about how team members razz each other, push each other, and trash-talk each other, and that was something that worked its way into the scripts.”

Physical and tactical training was also part of the cast’s preparation for the show. “We had the opportunity to train extensively with Otis Gallop, a SWAT team member, also James Lindell, a SEAL Team 6 member,” says Jay Harrington, who plays David ‘Deacon’ Kay. “They worked our tails off, and it really was a pretty amazing experience. We wanted to make sure we honored their service to get right, and it really brought us together.”

Lina Esco as Chris AlonsoThe diverse cast includes two Latina female characters. Says Lina Esco, who plays K-9 trainer Chris Alonso, “We think about the women who are watching us and we want to inspire them by showing women in a different light, a more powerful light, as strong role models.”

“Television is getting more exciting because it's getting more diversity, not just in the faces you see on the screen, but in the content of the stories that they are telling. This is one of those shows,” says Shemar Moore. “You may not agree with the content of the messages that we put out there, but they'll make you think. We are going to show you both sides of the argument. I don't know if we'll fix it, but maybe we'll create some understanding, some compassion, some patience.”

S.W.A.T. premieres Nov. 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 197 - November 2017
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