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BREAKING BAD’s Vince Gilligan and HOUSE’s David Shore Welcome Us to BATTLE CREEK

Vince Gilligan made the world care deeply for chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-maker Walter White. David Shore invested us in pain-killer-addicted misanthrope Dr. Gregory House. Together, Gilligan and Shore know more than a few things about offbeat protagonists in quirky situations, knowledge which serves them well in Battle Creek, their upcoming detective show. Set in the titular Michigan Town, Battle Creek stars Josh Duhamel as clean-cut Detective Milton Chamberlain and Dean Winters as his partner, gritty Detective Russ Agnew — as well as Janet McTeer, Kal Penn, Edward Fordham, Jr., and Aubrey Dollar. The creators and stars appeared at last week’s TCA Summer Press Tour in LA to introduce us to one of the most unusual new shows of the fall season.

On setting the show in Battle Creek, Michigan…

Vince Gilligan: It’s embarrassing to note that I’ve never actually been to Battle Creek, Michigan. Although I went to Interlochen Arts Academy back in ninth grade, a school up in northern Michigan. I actually went there for ninth grade, for my ninth grade year. It was twelve years ago when I wrote the original script, and as I just said, David and these guys have made it exponentially better. But the script I wrote twelve years ago, man, it sounds like I’m dodging the answer, but I don’t remember where I got my ideas that I came up with last week… I am fascinated by the name because it’s such a great name, because it’s got the word “battle” in it. And yet they make cereal there. So I intend to go visit one of these days.

Josh Duhamel: One of the things I loved about this whole idea is that it’s not a glamorous city by any means, but it’s a city that we can all sort of relate to in that it’s very American, very blue collar, and a lot of really interesting stories could come out of a place that doesn’t necessarily have all these big glamorous crimes. It’s a lot of stuff. It’s the minutia of the people and the situations that the people get in.

On the show’s pairing of a small town cop and an FBI agent…

VG: Dean’s character is kind of the everyman character that most of us relate to, the underdog, and this feels like a city of underdogs. In this fictional version of Battle Creek, it feels like a city of underdogs, a police force of underdogs. Most of us out there can relate and root for the underdog, and yet perhaps Josh’s character may turn out to be not such… he’s a great guy from only seeing that first episode. I’ve got to imagine David and these guys as they go forward with this are going to find a lot of layers of the onion to peel, a lot of complexities and angles and edges. But I was thinking about the time-honored trope of putting opposites together when I wrote that first draft.

David Shore: I will do my best to make it natural, and that was part of my thinking – that if you just force them together, you can do that for an episode, maybe two. It gets tiresome after a while. The conflict will always be there. There will always be friction, and they may never acknowledge it, but I think Russ has to know he’s a better cop and gets better results with Milt by his side even though he may hate that idea.

JD: There’s a true-to-life quality about the perspectives that the police department in Battle Creek has, the local underfunded police department, and then the world that I come from, which is sort of a never-ending supply of resources as a FBI agent, and the way we go about things, the way we handle our business is completely different. There’s a lot of humor coming from that.

On the show’s timeless quality…

DS: I’m very worried about current references sometimes. If you get tied up in that, it becomes dated very quickly, and certainly if you’re writing about characters, that doesn’t change. That’s universal… There’s a nostalgia in Vince that comes through in things [he writes], and I found that really kind of went, in a weird way, to the core of the show. In spite of the darkness of the world there, it’s a show about hope.

On how the show differs from Shore’s House

DS: With House I was kind of exploring cynicism. And in this, I’m kind of exploring optimism.

On playing Detective Milton Chamberlain…

JD: It’s harder to play a guy like this because he always says the right thing. How do I make this guy interesting? He seems to be perfect. Nobody’s that perfect, and there’s definitely cracks in that facade that I saw in the original script. This guy seems to have it all together, but there’s something else going on. There’s a reason why he ended up in Battle Creek. The biggest challenge is to make that guy interesting and not just too polished and perfect.

On playing with audience expectations…

DS: The humor also comes from the fact that it is different from other cop shows. It is the center of a small town. We want to tell stories. We want to tell small-town versions of big-city stories, we want to play with expectations. You think you know what’s coming, and then we do it completely differently, because it’s Battle Creek.

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