'The Good Guys' makes Dallas a prime-time player

DALLAS -- In a Fair Park building so anonymous that even the gate guards look at you quizzically when you ask about it, Colin Hanks is navigating his way through the police-station set of The Good Guys, the new Fox action-comedy that premieres Wednesday night.

It's early in the filming process, so early that when you ask Hanks what his favorite knickknack on set is, he says he doesn't know because it's his first day on the set. Which may make his walk through the set for a long, single-take shot a little tricky, but maybe not as tricky as it is for the camera people who are walking backward while shooting him.

Actor Tim Matheson, who's directing this episode, acknowledges a few days later that the walk-and-talk shot was influenced by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, with whom Matheson worked on The West Wing, but adds that he sees the style as going back to the work of Howard Hawks' romantic comedy His Girl Friday.

"Here, I think, I just wanted to take us through this place we've never seen before," Matheson says of the Hanks shot. "Without just overtly making it obvious, we go through this place, get comfortable with it, meet Colin's [character], see this space and then meet the boss."

This is fairly heady talk for The Good Guys, a show that involves, well, a lot of blowin' stuff up. It's not the office set that makes the show stand out, although there are Dallas police logos all over the place, as well as a Dallas swine flu advisory posted at several workstations, and a Dallas Public Safety Supply catalog. There are also desk calendars, some of which have notations you might not necessarily see on TV. One entry simply says, "Donuts, donuts, donuts, donuts, donuts ..."

It's the kind of minutiae that set designers love, even if it might blow right by you while you're watching. But North Texas viewers won't notice this interior so much as the landmarks that the show uses in its exterior shots: Fair Park in general and the Cotton Bowl in particular; Reunion Tower; Deep Ellum streets and ... well, OK, the "gentleman's club" is an interior shot, but there's still something about it that says "Dallas."

And the show adds another landmark to Dallas: Bradley Whitford's mustache.

Real-life counterparts

In The Good Guys, Whitford plays Dan Stark, a washed-up, old-school detective still cruising on his hero status from having saved the life of the governor's son decades ago. Hanks plays his more straight-laced, by-the-book partner, Jack Bailey, who despite his principles can still be seduced by Stark's risky methods of doing things.

The duo, especially Stark, has a way of attracting trouble that can turn seemingly small cases into big ones. For example, in Wednesday's "special preview" (the show begins its regular run June 7), the investigation of a stolen humidifier somehow gets our heroes mixed up with a Mexican drug kingpin and two of the world's best assassins.

The show, created by Matt Nix (Burn Notice), has traces of Elmore Leonard novels, Robert Rodriguez action movies such as Desperado, and Pulp Fiction (one scene in the premiere is a near-direct quote) in its DNA. It's funny, fast-moving and over-the-top, with Matheson directing the premiere with panache, sending Whitford sliding across bartops with two guns blazing. But Whitford and Hanks learned from hanging out with real Dallas cops that as broad as their characters are, they have real-life counterparts.

"They were saying, 'I know guys exactly like [Whitford's character], and I know guys exactly like you,'" Hanks says. "'And they exist and they work together, and we make fun of them and they make fun of us.' In any profession, you'll find people that are kind of like those characters sometime. It's the exact same thing for cops watching this program as it is for people working in an office watching The Office."

Whitford gets a little more explicit.

"There's a certain kind of cop that is looked at with a sort of exhaustion by the other cops and a kind of envy by the other cops," Whitford says, using a term here represented by an ellipsis -- and then by Whitford's softened version of the term. "They're called ... Crap Magnets. Wherever they go, there's a phenomenal outburst of action. A lot of these guys are just anxious to get as much action as possible. That's why they became cops. Clearly Dan is one of these guys."

For the role, Whitford grew what's commonly called a '70s cop-show mustache or, less genteelly, a porn-star mustache. It's actually relatively trim and neat; it's just not something you'd generally expect to see underneath the nose of Whitford, who's known for playing clean-cut intellectual sorts on shows such as The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

"My kids hate it," Whitford says good-naturedly. "I find it creeps out women. I think a beard is kind of reassuring. Women, when I'm dropping off my kids for school, will say in a kind of sympathetic way, 'Is that for a part?' Because they're hoping I haven't made the choice to just have a mustache."

Whitford says he even fights the makeup department on The Good Guys over the mustache: It wants to trim it. He wants to grow it out. He already has the Texan attitude that everything here is bigger.

Why set it in Dallas?

So far, it sounds like The Good Guys could have been set anywhere, and in fact Nix says the show was originally set in Los Angeles. But he had a particular type of show in mind, and he says that Dallas gave it more of the classic cop-show look he was after.

"I feel like I grew up on shows that were unapologetic in their bad-assery," says Nix, who was born in 1971. "But you can't just 'do' Starsky and Hutch now. It doesn't work. People watch television differently. Things move much faster. Crime seems to be more sophisticated. The audience has moved on from those shows. And yet, I feel there's no reason to leave behind buddy cops who like each other and solve crimes in bad-ass ways."

It didn't hurt that one of those shows Nix references was also filmed in North Texas.

"The fact that Walker, Texas Ranger was [shot] here was a major factor, because the people kind of 'get' this sort of show," Nix says. "But the other thing is that in doing a cop show that references the classic cop shows of old, the look of Dallas, with its old brick buildings, the fact that all the power lines are up in the air, the signage, the fact that downtown is visible from so many places around the city -- you can't buy that. There aren't many places that have that."

Nix proudly notes that although some Miami-set shows -- such as CSI: Miami and Miami Medical -- occasionally film in Miami but are mostly shot in Los Angeles, his USA series Burn Notice is the only one that continuously films there. He has learned that location filming has benefits that shooting in Los Angeles doesn't necessarily offer. That includes local actors, some of whom appear in small parts in The Good Guys' premiere.

"On Burn Notice, we've had great experience with doing the show in Miami," Nix says. "When you've got the home team kind of rooting for you, it makes a huge difference in what you're able to do. I don't want to be the guy who's coming to Dallas and not using local people. It's not just a place, it's a community. There are real benefits that accrue to me and the show in making use of local resources."

If you've seen Burn Notice, you also know that Nix likes car chases and blowing things up (on his Twitter feed, he said that the demolition of a helicopter in the Burn Notice season finale looked so realistic because the crew really blew up a helicopter). With Walker having shot in Dallas-Fort Worth, location scouts can tell him what he can get away with here.

"It was pointed out to me on a scout, it's like a five-story parking garage we're driving by, and the guy in the van says, 'Oh yeah, we drove a car off that for Walker.' Well, I immediately say, 'I will drive two cars off of that.'"

Getting that Texas vibe

The Good Guys has a small core cast that, along with Whitford and Hanks, features Jenny Wade as Liz Traynor, an assistant district attorney whose character has a romantic past with Hanks' character, and Diana-Maria Riva as Lt. Ana Ruiz, a former partner of Whitford's Dan, who is now Jack and Dan's often-exasperated boss.

Riva likes the location shots and says that actually filming in the city where the show is set adds to a series in ways that might not be immediately visible onscreen.

"There's just a different tempo and vibe and rhythm to Dallas than there is to L.A., than there is to New York, than there is to Miami," she says. "So I feel it's important that you come to the city and insert yourself in their world and their lifestyle, and try to adapt to it as much as possible. So why do that anywhere but here?"

Wade, who has relatives in El Paso, is the only regular character who uses a Texas accent. "It's not that pronounced," she says. "But she was born and raised a Texan, so she's got that charm about her. She's going to be able to use a lot more honey than vinegar to get what she wants."

Nix picked up on some things about Texans that other writers don't always pick up on -- namely, that not everyone who lives in a place as big as Dallas-Fort Worth is actually from Texas, and not everyone from Texas has a Texas accent (and not all Texas accents are the same). He kept all that in mind with Whitford's character, who is a longtime Texan.

"He should be the kind of guy that I've already encountered in Dallas, who doesn't necessarily have an accent but is comfortable saying 'y'all,'" Nix says. Hanks' character sounds like -- well, he sounds ever so slightly like Tom Hanks, Hanks' father. Not exactly like him, but he sure doesn't sound Texan. Neither does Hanks, although the actor -- who enjoys driving from location to location and stopping at places along the way -- does say something that sounds more North Texan than anything said by his counterparts.

"Dallas is a lovely city," Hanks says. "But I curse the man who was the civic planner of the streets. I think that man should have dropped that acid and gone into the forest and not gone into work that day. The roads are confusing."

ROBERT PHILPOT, 817-390-7872