Tommy - Tom Szentgyorgyi interview

Tommy's executive producer, Tom Szentgyorgyi is a producer and writer known for Drive, The Mentalist, Lie to Me and NYPD Blue.

Tom Szentgyorgyi interview

What's the inspiration behind Tommy?

People have asked me if this show was inspired by somebody, but I think it's more accurate to say it was inspired by the absence of somebody. It's a stark but not entirely surprising fact that the three biggest cities in the country - New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles - have never had a female chief of police. When [show creator] Paul Attanasio heard about this fact, it slotted into some ideas he'd been thinking about. Paul wanted to create a different kind of cop show.

What makes Tommy different?

Paul Attanasio had observed that cop shows with male leads tend to be shows about action and cop shows with female leads tend to be shows about relationships. He was interested in writing about relationships and politics, but not the politics of elections. This is not The West Wing, but it's about politics as they're lived on the street. It's about the politics of who gets arrested and who doesn't. It's about the politics of who gets heard and who doesn't. It's about the politics of how power is exerted and challenged in our daily lives.

What other factors inspired the show?

Paul also wanted to shape a character around someone that he and I think is one of the best actors working today: Edie Falco. With all that in mind, he created Tommy. It's a show about an outsider coming in to run a police department, but she's an outsider in a number of different ways.

Tell us more about Edie Falco's character...

Tommy is a New Yorker. She's been imposed upon the LAPD. They didn't pick her. It's explained in the pilot episode that a federal judge has mandated that she be hired. She's a lesbian. She's an outsider. Even in her own family she's an outsider, to the extent that she's estranged from her daughter. With all that going on in the back of her mind, we watch in the show as Tommy begins to exert her authority as the second most powerful person in the city of Los Angeles. That's the template that Paul gave us, which is a rich, dynamic and exciting place to tell stories about the way we're living today.

How much does real-world news factor into the storylines of Tommy?

The show is very much inspired by what's happening in our world today. In the writers' room we were working very much from what is in the conversation of the day.

Will the show touch on current news stories, such as white nationalism or citizen militias that have been observed in the press recently?

We don't touch on white nationalism or citizen militias, but we do touch on a number of other newsworthy topics. We touch on immigration in the pilot episode. We touch on gun control. We touch on human trafficking. We touch on sexual harassment.

How would you describe the format of the show?

Tommy shares some of the architecture of a cop show. There are some mysteries and we do solve them. However, we're not so interested in the whodunit as much as the, 'What happened? Why did it happen? And how does what happened challenge Tommy in her role as the chief of police?'

What aspects of Tommy's personal life will be explored in the show?

The pilot implies there's trouble in the marriage of her daughter, Kate [played by Olivia Lucy Phillip]. That story comes up in the show and becomes a significant part of Tommy's relationship with Kate. We also get to see some of Tommy's romantic life. We were very lucky because we were able to get Katrina Lenk to play someone who comes into Tommy's life in that way. She becomes a simple and then complicated romantic partner.

Did you meet with any female police chiefs to research the lead character?

People in our writers' room spoke to several current and former female chiefs around the country. They are remarkable women. One thing they talked about universally was how much opposition they faced when they were put into the seat of power. In our show, I love the fact that Tommy is dedicated to service in the face of opposition. That opposition is real and continuous. It does not go away. And in the face of all that opposition, she preserves a sense of honour, duty and service. All of the women who serve as police chiefs are facing, or have faced, a similar situation. To me, that is both complicated and really fascinating.

How would you describe the mix of people in the writers' room? How diverse is it?

The writers' room is half male, half female. Half the room identifies as LGBTQ and two of the writers are African American. We worked very hard to create a writers' room that would be representative. The challenge is that we're writing about Los Angeles, which is one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world. LA is a Latino city and it's also home to, I believe, the second-largest urban Korean population outside Seoul. It also has a large Iranian population. It has a large Chinese population and a large African American population. We've been trying to represent it all.