LOS ANGELES — On a balmy midsummer evening at Griffith Park, a game of TV cops and mobsters is afoot.
Guns are holstered, trench coats are cinched and bruises are being smudged onto actors. And then, in mock dramatic fashion, Frank Darabont steps out of the shadows on the set of his 1940s L.A. noir drama “Mob City” and lights a cigarette.
“Time to play,” said the 54-year-old writer and executive producer of the upcoming series, which premieres Wednesday on TNT. “We want people to dig this show.”
He’s not the only one. For TNT, which has largely trafficked in middle-brow crime procedurals, sitcoms and reality programs, the new mob drama with an enviable pedigree among its creative talent represents a bold gambit into the world of prestige drama — the kind that draws widespread critical acclaim, enhances a network’s standing and garners award nominations.
Success may even be more important to Darabont, who in the mob-speak of “The Godfather” films, would like to send a message to his former employers at AMC, whom he now publicly refers to as “sociopaths.” Two years ago, the basic cable network unceremoniously booted Darabont from “The Walking Dead,” a powerhouse show he had developed for television and for which he had served as show runner. His latest program is billed as a limited series, but if sufficient ratings are generated, it could easily slide into a regular spot on TNT’s prime-time schedule.
“Mob City” is loosely based on John Buntin’s nonfiction book “L.A. Noir,” which focuses on the tumult swirling around the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1940s. In particular, the long and often bloody struggle between LAPD Police Chief William Parker (Neal McDonough) and gangster kingpins Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (Ed Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke) forms the narrative spine.
Two years ago, Darabont stumbled across the book at an airport shop. He soon connected with executive producer Michael De Luca, who had optioned the book, and now, the work is finally coming to light.
With elaborate production values, the TV show certainly takes its cues from the era and makes full use of noir staples: shadows, voice-overs, and mood-setting jazz music. Naturally, there’s a conflicted hero, Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal, a “Walking Dead” alum), a cop who walks a crooked line between good and bad.
“It feels like this is my life’s work,” Darabont said recently at his editing facilities in Los Angeles. “I’ve traded in the zombies for mobsters.”
TNT is billing “Mob City” as a limited series. Its six-episode launch will unfold over three weeks during the traditionally quiet month of December. Two back-to-back episodes will be shown beginning Dec. 4.