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Emmy contenders: Where would TV be without its police shows? We talk to five top cops

June 7, 2011 |  7:00 am

Law enforcers have been patrolling television’s mean streets since even before LAPD detective Sgt. Joe Friday went about asking for “just the facts, ma’am” on “Dragnet.” But television long ago filed away those kind of black-and-white, simplistic Friday figures in favor of complex and conflicted cops and operatives. “We’re not necessarily telling new stories,” says “Southland” star Michael Cudlitz, “but we’re telling stories in new ways.”

Here, The Envelope talked to five of our favorite law-and-order types about their characters and their approach to crime fighting.

The character: Los Angeles Police Department senior lead officer John Cooper, an exemplary cop who also happens to be gay. Chronic back trouble leads to pain pill addiction, a condition he finally owns in the Season 3 finale.

Contribution to crime fighting: “John has a definite sense of right and wrong and likes to feel that he’s in control of himself when it comes to crossing that line,” Cudlitz says. “He has a sense of urgency in helping those in need. Like most cops, he wants to make a difference.”

Kindred qualities: “I was brought up with strong morals. When people get caught doing the wrong thing, they should suffer the consequences. It’s not a moral high ground. It’s just: Don’t make your mistake someone else’s fault. Cop to it.”

Could he do the job? “I could have easily gone into some kind of service — military, police or fire department. I don’t know if I’d be a good cop because I tend to get very emotionally involved in things. It would eat me up.”

Emmy chances: Even after a remarkable third season, “Southland” remains one of TV’s most underappreciated dramas.


The character: Old-school, Southern-fried U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a man given to dispensing justice on his terms rather than by the book.

Contribution to crime fighting: “He was born 100 years too late. And he knows that and wonders how he’d size up against the Old West marshals,” Olyphant says.

Kindred qualities: “I often wonder how I would do on stage in 1890. Nah … I don’t know. I’m not as cool, I can tell you that. But, having read the [Elmore Leonard] books, I can imagine what it’s like. And that’s given me enough confidence.”

Could he do the job? “I’d be scared. The marshals I’ve met seem like a fun bunch. And none of them ever thought about the job until someone offered it to them. But me? It crossed my mind to be a teacher or a coach, but not law enforcement.”

Emmy chances: After being criminally overlooked for its first season, justice may be served for a follow-up year that was even better.

The character: Bold and beautiful CIA agent Annie Walker, fluent in 12 languages, proficient beyond her years in undercover work and able to run really fast in impossibly high heels.

Contribution to crime fighting: “She solves problems through emotion and intuition,” Perabo says. “Her instincts are dead on, and she has the ability to happily improvise a moment where other people might get too nervous or serious about it.”

Kindred qualities: “I’m a good traveler, but I can’t keep a secret to save my life.”

Could she do the job? “No way. The stakes of the job are so high, and she has to hide it from everyone. To not be able to talk to anyone … I couldn’t do it.”

Emmy chances: The show’s second season will solidify her place in the conversation.

The character: Whip-smart con man Neil Caffrey helps catch white-collar criminals as part of a work-release program with the FBI. Struggles with his nature and his potential for change.

Contribution to crime fighting: “He’s been in the trenches. He understands the game. He knows the mind and head space of these people,” Bomer says.

Kindred qualities: “We’ve all been the kid who gets caught with the thing we weren’t supposed to have hidden behind our back. And then we have to try to charm and worm our way out of it.”

Could he do the job? “If I had Neil’s skill set, sure. But I’d have to be out in the field, not 9 to 5 in a fluorescent-lit cubicle. I’d definitely have to have walk-away lunches.”

Emmy chances: Bomer’s profile continues to rise. The show’s best chances might lie with guest actors John Larroquette, Richard Schiff and Diahann Carroll.

The character: Reluctant police Commissioner Frank Reagan, a cop’s cop who doesn’t suffer fools (i.e. politicians) kindly.

Contribution to crime fighting: “He was a beat cop, up through the ranks. He brings a sense of how things affect the rank and file,” Selleck says. “He has the ability to be diplomatic, but he’s impatient. He has a temper, and he’s not always able to sit on it.”

Kindred qualities: “I can relate to his impatience with the press. Some of that is coming from me.”

Could he do the job? “Magnum [his character on ‘Magnum, P.I.’] wasn’t a cop. He never got around to printing a business card. I couldn’t do either job, private eye or police, but I admire cops. It’s very important to me to do a show that New York cops respect.”

Emmy chances: Selleck and costar Donnie Wahlberg are prime contenders, though they may fall short for their show’s freshman season.

--Glenn Whipp

Photos from left: Michael Cudlitz, credit: Doug Hyun / TNT; Timothy Olyphant, credit: Prashant Gupta / FX; Piper Perabo, credit: Steve Wilkie / USA Network; Matt Bomer, credit: Will Hart / USA Network; Tom Selleck, credit: Marni Grossman / CBS