Thursday New Shows, Fall 2001
CBS, 10-11 p.m.
Debuts September 20
Feature director Wolfgang Petersen promises that The Agency, his first TV series, will offer a rare glimpse inside the CIA. But when Petersen took his cameras on location to McLean, Va., he may have gone a little too far inside the CIA. ”I was going all by myself down a long corridor, with nothing on my mind except finding a bathroom,” recalls Petersen, best known for helming The Perfect Storm and Das Boot. ”So I’m standing in the bathroom and this cop comes in booming ‘What are you doing here?!’ And I’m thinking, What am I DOING here?”
That’s obvious: He’s there to make a show about spy guys, of course! Unfortunately, he’s not alone: Both Fox and ABC are also pushing secret agent characters this fall in 24 and Alias, respectively. But only The Agency can brag that it’s the first show ever to film inside CIA headquarters. ”Now that the Cold War is over, people are questioning whether we need a CIA, and this is a great opportunity [for the CIA] to get the word out,” says Petersen, explaining why the most secretive arm of the government is giving the Eye such an up close gander.
At least the boys at HQ don’t have to worry about looking bad on camera: The doe-eyed and dapper Gil Bellows — last seen lying dead on the courtroom floor in Ally McBeal — stars as The Agency’s undercover operative Matt Callan. ”You’ll definitely see some action out of me,” Bellows promises. ”When there’s a problem, Matt’s the one to go into the situation and take care of it.” Bellows’ supporting squad includes Ronny Cox (Beverly Hills Cop) as Director Alex Pierce, a career agent grappling with the changing role of the CIA; Paige Turco (Party of Five) as new recruit Terri Lowell, a computer whiz who makes a mean counterfeit passport; Once and Again’s David Clennon as her crafty boss, Joshua Nankin; and Gloria Reuben (ER) as Lisa Fabrizzi, the savvy head of the counterterrorism team.
Like any good spy story, The Agency will offer its fair share of international intrigue: There’ll be a political uprising in Indonesia that threatens American lives, a severe outbreak of anthrax in Belgium with links to Saddam Hussein, and a certain D.C. newspaper hell-bent on exposing the identity of a U.S. double agent. But nothing compares to the security risk that The Agency will face on Thursday nights, when it will have the formidable task of competing against TV’s No. 1 drama, ER. Fortunately for Bellows and Co., CBS isn’t expecting The Agency to achieve Mission: Impossible for now. ”We don’t expect it to beat ER,” says head of drama development Nina Tassler, who’s hoping for a more covert approach to being competitive: hanging on to the millions of technophiles from The Agency’s cult-hit lead-in, CSI. ”The Agency’s [got] great technology, great gadgets and gizmos, and you really get to go behind the scenes. It complements CSI very well.”
Meanwhile, back at ground zero, Petersen says the real James Bonds in McLean are already giving the show an early high five (it helps that an ex-CIA employee is always on set). Even that angry bathroom monitor came around to his company’s Hollywood invasion. ”When the security guard walked me back to the set,” recalls Petersen, ”there was this moment of silence before he said, ‘By the way, I loved Das Boot.’ ”