PASADENA, Calif. — When Donnie Wahlberg met with TV executives about producing a potential reality show set in Boston, he heard a lot of ideas as bad as actually trying to park your car in Harvard Yard.
“Every network I met with was like ‘We want car thieves from Southie.’ ‘We want drunk housewives in Charlestown.’ ‘Let’s make a show called “Chowderheads”,’ ” says Wahlberg with a laugh and a sigh.
Instead, the “Blue Bloods” star and New Kid on the Block sold TNT on the idea of training a spotlight on the Boston Police Department. The eight-episode series “Boston’s Finest” premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m.
“Everyone’s zeroing in on Boston to exploit what they think Boston is about from the outside,” says Wahlberg, chatting in the lobby bar in the midst of a day of press for the show. “But from the inside we know that’s not what Boston is. So, for me, I’m really proud amidst all the buzz swirling around all these different exploitative reality shows in Boston that this one is cutting through and finding the light.”
Q. The series looks very in-depth, following several types of cops, not just on the beat but at home.
A. We have access that has never been given to anyone, on the job and off with these officers. I give all the credit really to the powers that be in the city and the officers themselves. They put a lot of trust [in us]. We had to earn it — “Ride with us and we’ll see.” Every day we’d cross a new barrier where they’d trust us a little more and give us a little more access. There’s a lot on the line for the city itself and the officers. Boston’s a tricky political city, not the kind of city where people always want to have a camera in their face.
Q. Were you surprised the police and the city were so accommodating?
A. I think in life, or at least in the business I’m in, I have to believe the impossible is possible. And I typically do. So am I surprised? Looking back at the process, yes, I’m very surprised. But in the moment I was [confident]. Ignorance is bliss. (Laughs.) I thought, I’ve met the mayor enough times, I got enough keys to the city, he’ll let me do this! It’s a miracle he let me do it. Being a Boston boy and someone who takes great pride in the city, I think that certainly went a long way. A big part of my sell [to the city] was that it was with TNT because they weren’t looking for a bunch of cowboy cops. They were looking for real human beings trying to make a difference.
Q. Is every episode structured the same way? Around a single crime?
A. We follow different units. We ride with the gang unit a lot, the fugitive task force, patrolmen, and the SWAT team as well. Different people from those units stepped forward and became the central people that we focused on. We structure it like a regular TV series with an A story and a B story and sometimes a C story. Our pilot, for example, focuses on the gang unit. A suspect shot out at the cops while they were in a foot chase and their whole mission for a few weeks was to find this guy and we follow that story in the show. But we also follow two patrolmen as the C story and the fugitive task force chasing down a guy in Charlestown and how they go about the cat-and-mouse game of finding him, the tactics they use. It’s a lot of waiting around and a lot of really strategic chess playing, but when you see it come together it’s pretty awesome. Then the second episode we’re building it around no crime per se. It follows the gang unit and there’s a shooting that occurs with one of the kids in the neighborhood that they are trying to keep on the straight and narrow and, true story, he ends up getting killed and they spend the next two weeks trying to keep a gang war from erupting. It’s very emotional. And these two gang unit officers grew up in the same neighborhood where the shooting takes place and were both an inch away from being gang members themselves.
Q. Do you already have the green light from the police department for a season two if TNT wants it?
A. Yes, it’s the type of thing, in success, we would love to do again in Boston and potentially something we could explore in other cities as well. But for me, it’s all about Boston. Nothing would make me prouder than to see this show do well and see these officers shone in a light that I think is rarely shined on them.
Q. Did you do any ride-alongs?
A. Not too much. It’s enough pressure on the officers to have the cameras and crew and sound guys chasing them around, but to have me in the car? I think it would be a little much. I went by different stations and got to know a lot of the officers. One guy got arrested by the fugitive task force and he was like “What are all these cameras?” And they said, “They’re doing a reality show for Donnie Wahlberg.” And he said in his Boston accent “[expletive] Donnie Wahlberg!” And the producer said, “OK, but will you sign a release?” And he said, “Sure!” (Laughs.)
Interview has been edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.