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The Inside Story

How Fox's newest series, "The Inside," found its way to television and reinvented the crime drama along the way.

12:00 PM, Jun 14, 2005 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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BY MY ROUGH COUNT, there are 13 procedural crime shows on network television right now; they represent the only significant dramatic challenge to the plague of reality television that has descended on our landscape. Consider that the four networks have 77 hours of primetime space to fill every week (ABC, NBC, and CBS each have 21 hours, Fox has only 14 hours). A few of these hours are taken up by news magazines, such as Dateline, Primetime Live, and 48 Hours. Most of the hole is filled with entertainment programming. These days, "entertainment" has become synonymous with "reality," which is synonymous with "bottom-feeding, fame-obsessed trash."

So virulent is the reality outbreak--some 26 strains of it air every week--that conventional-scripted series have been reduced to an afterthought. Consider this: Network television features only a few more half-hour sitcoms than it does hour-long procedural crime dramas. Yet the overall quality of these cop shows is so rickety that it would not be unfair to suggest that proliferation of crime--think Crossing Jordan, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Numb3rs, etc.--has become a plague in its own right.

So why on earth would you want to watch the latest procedural crime drama, The Inside? (Wednesdays at 9:00 p.m. on Fox)

Well, for starters, because it's great stuff. And for seconds, because it's run by TV genius Tim Minear. And for thirds, because despite the fact that the characters are all FBI agents, The Inside isn't really about solving crime.

THE HISTORY OF The Inside has been compelling in itself. Originally created by Todd and Glenn Kessler, the series was brought to Fox in September 2003 by big-time movie director Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the show's pilot. Variety described the show thusly:

One-hour drama will revolve around a 23-year-old woman who poses as a 16-year-old high school student in order to investigate a drug ring.

Complications arise as she has to navigate the world of high school all over again and slowly becomes emotionally attached to the person she's supposed to be investigating. . . .

"This is a slice of Middle American life, with the social structure of high school, teenage cliques and how people relate to their parents--all under the filter of a really interesting law enforcement story," [producer David] Nevins said.

To make matters worse, the beautiful 23-year-old federal agent (Rachel Nichols) was supposed to be supervised by another young, beautiful agent (Peter Facinelli). One critic dubbed The Inside--not unfairly--a "distaff 21 Jump Street." Just what the world needed.

Then, in September 2004, something curious happened: The executives at Fox looked at the pilot they had just spent $3 million dollars creating, and realized it was junk.

And then, something miraculous happened: The executives at Fox hired Tim Minear to salvage the project. Minear worked his way up the TV ladder as a writer on various shows until he made his mark on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, Angel. From there he executive produced the critically-lauded Firefly in 2002 before creating Wonderfalls last year. How good is Minear? It would not be rash to consider him one of the five best minds in television.

Faced with the wreckage of the original pilot, Fox assured the Hollywood Reporter that Minear would "redevelop the series and write a new pilot script while keeping the premise about a young female undercover agent." Fat chance.

Minear's version of The Inside bears virtually no resemblance to the original. Gone are the drugs, the cliques, the parents, and the high school. Peter Facinelli, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the young Tom Cruise, has been replaced by the 62-year-old Peter Coyote. And instead of being a show about G-men chasing the bad guys, The Inside is now about the battle for a young woman's soul.