The Calling Executive Producers on Peacock’s New David E. Kelley Show
Jan 1, 2023
David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, Chicago Hop) is one of the most revered names in the television industry. He is perhaps the only person who has created and written shows for not only all four major TV networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX), but also for Prime Video (Goliath), HBO (Big Little Lies), Disney+ (Big Shot), Hulu (Nine Perfect Strangers), Netflix (Anatomy of a Scandal, The Lincoln Lawyer), and Apple TV+ (the upcoming Presumed Innocent). He has now added Peacock to his staggering pedigree with the new drama The Calling.
The Calling is unique in the police procedural landscape for a variety of reasons, not just because it has huge talent behind it (including a score from Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro, and episodes directed by Barry Levinson). It’s serialized rather than episodic, following the same characters and main crime throughout; the cops aren’t violent or coercive, and the violence onscreen isn’t explicit or romanticized; the protagonist is a deeply religious man attuned to his Jewish roots, and is hardly ‘cool’ in the traditional sense of sunglasses-wearing, pun-spewing CSI cops.
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Instead, this is a sensitive, thoughtful, but nonetheless suspenseful and mysterious series about the law (criminal and Judaic), secrets, loneliness, and empathy. Matthew Tinker, Kelley’s frequent producing partner over the last several years, and his fellow executive producer Jason Horwitch spoke with MovieWeb about The Calling.
The Calling is About One Tense and Humanistic Story
The era of episodic television has undoubtedly given way to serialized, season-long arcs, or even simply series that feel like eight-hour movies. Streaming and bingeing have changed all of this, and Horwitch and Tinker have taken notice in recent years with their television work. “When you tell a serialized story, you can go into greater depth with the characters, and you can explore blind alleys, you can explore alternatives that you just wouldn’t have time for in a more closed-ended, hour-long show,” said Horwitch. “So I feel like the world [of The Calling] is a lot richer, and the possibilities are a lot greater when you tell it in a more long-form way. You can roll it out slower.”
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Instead of focusing on a different case each week, this first season of The Calling follows NYPD Detective Avraham Avraham (known colloquially as Avi), a deeply spiritual and compassionate man whose Jewish religion fuses with his police work. Based on Dror Mishani’s series of books, The Calling follows Avraham (Jeff Wilbusch) as he and new partner Janine Harris (Juliana Canfield) search for a missing boy with the help of his boss Captain Kathleen Davies (Karen Robinson), and the affable Detective Earl Malzone (Michael Mosley). The Calling is a tight, tense eight episodes focused on a case that gets more complicated by the minute.
“I think the appetite of the audience is changing a lot of the ways that we were consuming media,” added Tinker. “There used to be 22 episodes of television back in the day, and now we’re finding less is sometimes more. I think with The Calling, and I think with this, we didn’t want to sacrifice some of the great serialized storytelling that David and Jason are known for, but at the same time, I do think you’ll find episodic beats that wrap up, or are nice red herrings, within the episodes themselves that satisfy sort of both ends of the spectrum.”
A Different Kind of Cop Show For 2022
The cultural perception of law enforcement has shifted since Kelley’s early days in television, with many people dissatisfied with the state of policing and wanting more accountability. But going too far to the left can also alienate viewers on the right (who are probably the ones who watch cop shows to begin with). These cultural and sociopolitical details were carefully considered by Tinker and Horwitch for the new Peacock show.
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“I can speak from the David Kelley side of things,” said Tinker, “and just say it’s impossible to chase these real life political moments that are happening now. And if you do that, you end up sort of dating your show in a way. I think the key is to have characters having real conversations that feel like they could be happening at your dinner table, and have the characters themselves moving through this world rather than the political issues.” Tinker continued:
I think it’s not our job to instill our views in these characters. It’s our job to listen to these characters, and hopefully they all have different views on the world, as do we all, but we want it to feel populated and diverse and not like we’re trying to push any sort of message, because honestly that’s that’s not what we’re doing with the show.
“I would just say that all the producers, the actors, all the filmmakers who are involved in this are incredibly mindful of the reality of the moment and the importance of social justice, and the questions that people have about policing,” added Horwitch. “So it informs honestly every moment on set. It’s not something that we ever look away from. I think that Avi is a character who does put on blinders when he focuses solely on the case, setting aside his own personal life, setting aside his mental health in a sort of extremely urgent desire to find justice. And the way he does it, I think, is new in that he uses his empathy. He uses his listening skills, which I think if you compare it to somebody like Vic Mackey [in The Shield] from 20 years ago, it’s very different skill set. I think Avi is seeing people and listening to people, which is new.”
The Calling Unites the Morality of Religion and Law Enforcement
Avraham is an interesting, distinct character in that regard in the culture of cop shows. He has the kind of renegade, maverick sensibility everyone has seen, but it’s in the direction of compassion and empathy rather than violence and vigilantism. If he goes too far, he goes too far with kindness on the side of humanity, a result of his own spirituality guiding him through the morality of policing.
“Right and wrong and morality are central to law enforcement,” said Horwitch. “If that’s the core of what spirituality is, a feeling of connectedness and purpose, there’s no greater place to sort of employ it then in law enforcement. Avi’s spirituality guides every move he makes, from his desire to become a cop and putting the time in on the street to make detective, to the kinds of ways in which he approaches his cases. I think his connectedness and his spirituality affect all of that. It’s central.”
“I also think it’s important to display the real world on television. So often, we think of police officers as looking a certain way or acting a certain way, or being from a certain place,” added Tinker. “But there are detectives like Avraham in the NYPD, in the LAPD, in all these larger municipality precincts that exist, and I think it’s important to represent those people on television.”
The result is a surprising twist on the police procedural that puts morality, deep-seated humanity, and compassion at the forefront of a gripping cop show. The Calling from David E. Kelley premieres on Thursday, November 10th on Peacock. All eight episodes will drop at once.
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