UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. (AP) -- Ben McKenzie, formerly of "The O.C.," is making the leap from troubled suburban youth to rookie Los Angeles police officer in the new drama "Southland."
He's hoping that followers of "The O.C." give the NBC series premiering 10 p.m. EDT Thursday a chance.
"I'm optimistic. C'mon, `O.C.' fans. It's not that dark over here. Just a little bit north of Newport Beach," McKenzie said, playfully.
He turns serious when talking about the role of Ben Sherman, who's confronting whether he has what it takes to make it as a big-city lawman. Sherman's training is in the hands of veteran John Cooper, played by series co-star Michael Cudlitz.
The goal is to create "a realistic but entertaining show that portrays the lives of officers of the Los Angeles Police Department as best we can and with a sympathetic eye," McKenzie said.
Some of those officers were on hand for a Universal City screening this week of the show's pilot episode, offering applause and enthusiastic comments as the credits rolled.
"The story line's realistic," said Bill Eaton, commanding office for the Van Nuys area.
He said he appreciated the emphasis on how police respond emotionally to their work.
"We're not just robots," Eaton said.
The cast includes Regina King of "Ray" and "Jerry Maguire," as well as Tom Everett Scott, Michael McGrady, Kevin Alejandro, Shawn Hatosy and Arija Bareikis.
"Southland" is taking over the NBC time slot just vacated by "ER." John Wells, who was an executive producer on the long-running medical drama, is producing the police series with Ann Biderman, its creator, and Christopher Chulack.
Biderman said she hesitated at first when approached about the project.
"I said, `I'm not interested in doing young people with stubble and sunglasses. And I'm not interested in fake bad language,'" she recalled.
As a result, the show includes gritty profanity but it's bleeped.
Biderman said "Southland" seeks a new approach to the traditional police drama.
"I felt like forensics have been done, procedurals done and ripped-from-the-head lines done. Not that they're not constantly compelling ... but I was interested in the lives of policemen," she said, and finding a fresh way to tell their stories.
Cudlitz ("Band of Brothers," the upcoming film "Surrogates") said "Southland" is "getting back to the roots of the original cop shows," but with the immediacy that audiences weaned on reality shows have come to expect.
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