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'Southland' star Ben McKenzie talks nudity, changing networks, and the TNT premiere tonight

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Photo Credit: Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

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Southland has had a tough time of things, getting booted off NBC, then starting over on TNT. But the gritty cop drama is finally back with its first brand new episode since moving to cable, and star Ben McKenzie, who plays rich-kid-turned-inner-city-cop Ben Sherman, couldn’t be happier (despite how broody he may look on television). He talked to EW.com about the upside of moving to the less-restrictive cable portion of the TV tuner, why he doesn’t feel sorry for NBC, and why you should watch tonight’s season premiere. (Namely, because it’s awesome.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So the move to cable means what, exactly? Will we see more risque content?

BEN MCKENZIE: Yeah. If I have anything to do with it, there will be as much nudity as possible.

Any thoughts on NBC’s programming implosion since they canceled your show this season before it could even air to make way for the now-failed Jay Leno Show to air at 10 p.m.?

Just that now that NBC is in need of quality dramatic programming at 10 o’clock, I wonder where they’d get something like that…. I’m talking s–t, but why not? They said we could make the same show we made at 10 at 9. Then we started making the show and they saw the footage, and they were like, Oh my God, it’s so dark. So then they freaked out. But it’s a situation where you’re like, Why didn’t you freak out earlier? If you didn’t want to pick us up, don’t pick us up. It was one of the only hourlong shows they launched to decent ratings and decent critical response. But we caught the last lifeboat off the Titanic.

How are you feeling about your new home at TNT?

I absolutely think both sides want it to work. My dream is to actually make 13 episodes of this show in a row. I think TNT will actually let us make the show we want to make. TNT wants to get into grittier, edgier stuff.

What can we expect from tonight’s new episode?

The first one back is probably my favorite episode we’ve done. It opens on a riot in [a Los Angeles neighborhood called] The Jungle. The residents call it that, so that gives you a pretty good idea of the quality of life there. You don’t call where you live The Jungle unless you have a pretty dim view of things. [We had] 200 extras who were real residents who we paid to pretend they were upset with the cops, which was not too far off for them. It was pretty fun. They actually pulled a loaded gun off a woman 100 feet from where we were shooting. Luckily our extras are real cops.

So it’s a lot like shooting The O.C.

I knew we’d get around to The O.C. Yes, we hang out all the time. We have potluck on Tuesdays.

Okay, instead of talking about The O.C. we’ll ask, what’s coming up for your character on Southland the rest of this season?

There’s some drama involving my character’s childhood. That will come up and make me contemplate going to the dark side. I think the way I’ve always seen the character is his journey is learning to be a man in the world as it is instead of the world as he wants it to be.

Southland airs at 10 p.m. ET Tuesdays on TNT.