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AMC Makes a 'Killing'

The stars and creator of AMC’s newest hit tell how the show came together, and where it will go next

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AMC has already found success in taking viewers inside the unique worlds of a 1960s advertising agency (Mad Men), a dying crystal-meth cooker (Breaking Bad), and a group of survivors battling zombies (The Walking Dead). Now the cable channel has delved into the murder-mystery genre with The Killing, which follows the twisty and grim murder investigation of 17-year-old Seattle teen Rosie Larsen. It comes at a perfect time for the network, which was riding high after Dead‘s blockbuster success last fall but then hit a roadblock when Men‘s fifth season was delayed until 2012 due to negotiations with creator Matthew Weiner.

Thanks to The Killing, AMC has a new watercooler hit on its hands. The homicide probe at the center of the show, headed by stony detective Sarah Linden (Big Love‘s Mireille Enos), envelops the entire Seattle community, including mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Once and Again‘s Billy Campbell) and his campaign. But in perhaps the show’s most surprising twist, equal weight is given to the piercing grief of Rosie’s parents, played by Michelle Forbes (True Blood) and Brent Sexton (Life). By turns bleak, touching, and exhilarating, The Killing, based on the Danish series Forbrydelsen, isn’t exactly light viewing — but it is wholly absorbing for those who tune in. ”We’ve become so desensitized to what it actually means when a life is taken,” says Enos. ”This story shows the very truthful ripple effect of that kind of a tragedy and shows you the day after the horrible event and how you keep going. I think audiences are ready to have responsible storytelling across the crime genre.”

It helps that executive producer Veena Sud was well versed in the crime genre, coming off a five-season stint writing for CBS’ Cold Case. It also helps to have a cable channel willing to take artistic risks. ”You are really allowed to see a vision through and be absolutely faithful to unconventional storytelling,” says Sud of working with AMC. According to AMC president Charlie Collier, the network and producers have the same vision: ”We try and introduce you to a world that’s more thorough than you might see in a traditional procedural.” This extension of the cop genre, though, can often mean an almost unrelentingly dark tone. Even the cast agrees that sometimes the series, which has roots in projects like Twin Peaks and The Silence of the Lambs, can be tough to handle. ”The show just gets more and more and more intense,” says Campbell. ”AMC calls it ‘slow-burn TV’ — I would add ‘squirmy.”’ Still, AMC can also call The Killing a hit: The series premiered to 2.7 million viewers on April 3, the network’s second-highest debut ever.

The Killing remains faithful to the Danish original in its focus on three connected worlds — parents, police, and politics — but will take viewers on an alternate path to finding Rosie’s killer. ”We have a different killer,” admits Sud, who kept the murderer’s identity a secret even from the actors until they shot the finale. To stress the realism within the show — which is set over the course of 13 days, with each episode representing a consecutive day in the investigation — Sud says there will never be flashbacks to Rosie’s life, since detectives wouldn’t have access to memories. Plus, the aftereffects of the crime on Rosie’s family will continue to be front and center. ”It’s a really delicate house of cards sustaining a mystery for 13 hours,” says the producer. ”Knowing that we weren’t going to go to that same place that [the original series] did, we had to create our own twists and turns.” What we can tell you is that by episode 5, a new suspect, who may have been romantically involved with Rosie, emerges. And there’s more to the situation involving the mole in Richmond’s campaign. ”One thing we’ll be seeing is that every single one of our characters has secrets,” teases Sud. ”Under the microscope of a murder investigation, no one’s secret remains safe.”

With the show a critical and ratings success out of the gate, a second season seems inevitable. But what would season 2 of The Killing look like? Collier says the network hasn’t greenlit anything yet but is considering ”how big the arc could be and what other parts of the world we might explore.” The Danish version followed Sarah’s character on a different murder investigation, but Sud is keeping mum on details about the ”shocking” end of this season and plans for the future. ”The great pleasure of writing The Killing is to get to take all the tropes and clichés and either riff off of them or throw them out the window,” says Sud. ”There is no formula. There is no endpoint.”

See more from the cast and creators of The Killing at Inside TV.

The Killing 101 We run down the main players involved in the mystery of who killed Rosie Larsen.

Sarah Linden
With her wedding three weeks away, the detective (Mireille Enos) tried to turn in her badge to move to Sonoma, but she can’t let the case go.

Stephen Holder
New to the department, Sarah’s colleague (Joel Kinnaman) can be abrasive — and seems to be harboring his own secrets.

Darren Richmond
Rosie Larsen’s body was found in one of this mayoral candidate’s (Billy Campbell) campaign cars.

Mitch Larsen
Rosie’s mother (Michelle Forbes) falls into a deep depression after her daughter is found dead in the trunk of a car.

Stanley Larsen
Rosie’s father (Brent Sexton), who owns a moving company, tries to remain strong for his family but begins to crack under the pressure.