“The FBI is a national organization, and the LAPD happens in L.A.,” summed up series co-creator Alexi Hawley of the difference between The Rookie, which just kicked off its fifth season on ABC, and The Rookie: Feds, a new spin-off premiering on Tuesday, September 27th. Fans of The Rookie got an early preview of the series last season through a two-episode arc that introduced the lead character. During a recent TCA press conference, the cast and creative team assembled to answer a few questions about the show and what sets it apart from The Rookie. “The unit has a jet, and so we can tell bigger stories. And at the same time, there is a different hierarchy. There is a different systemic system in place that we can also address in the FBI. We take it upon ourselves to be a show that deals with matters of policing and systemic injustice, and so it was very much in our hearts when we created this show that Terence [Paul Winter] and I really wanted to address what it would be like for Niecy [Nash-Betts]'s character to be inside an organization that is traditionally male, which is traditionally white and is traditionally stuck in the past. And so the clash of those two cultures and those two forces makes it inherently dramatic.”
“Scream Queens is more like Keystone Cops, this is more like the real deal,” star and executive producer Niecy Nash-Betts said of the difference between her role as Simone Clark on The Rookie: Feds and the FBI agent she played on the Ryan Murphy dark comedy series. Niecy was involved early on in the development of The Rookie: Feds, which gave her the opportunity to work with Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter in helping to craft her character. “We have become a family almost at the gate,” she added about the closeness of the ensemble. “I came in the first day for us to all meet each other and do our weapons training. It was the day that I found out my grandmother passed away. I came in, I sat down, I was kind of quiet, and I think it was James [Lesure] who looked over and said, ‘Are you okay?’ And I immediately started to cry like a baby. And everybody got up and just put their arms around me like a group circle like they had known me all their lives, and I said, ‘Man, I've got the right bunch right here.’”
“I get to be the straight man, the Costello to her Abbott,” bragged executive producer Nathan Fillion, who stars in The Rookie as John Nolan and routinely shared the screen with the star of The Rookie: Feds through crossover moments. “Niecy finds comedy very, very easy. It's not, but she finds it very easy. So all you have to do is stand next to her and watch the whirling dervish react as every man would.” Nathan Fillion is no stranger to comedy, with much of his work walking the line between comedy and drama, including Castle where he first worked with the creators of The Rookie. “I think comedy is far more difficult, whereas drama has challenges. Drama can be exhausting. If you come to work and you've had a big day or you are really down and really heavy, you go home exhausted. But the challenge of making people laugh, I find difficult. It's hard to do. Niecy can do that, and she makes it look easy.”
Viewers get a taste of the humor of The Rookie: Feds almost right away through a show-within-a-show called “Vampire Cops” which one of Simone’s fellow agents acted in. “Our next spinoff is going to be ‘The Rookie: Vampire Cops,’” joked series co-creator and executive producer Terence Paul Winter. “It's a run that's going to live throughout the series, and we are going to learn more about Brendon's journey as Vampire Cop and how it relates to him being a rookie Fed. We are not going to let it go. We are going to have a lot of fun.”
But through all of the fun, The Rookie: Feds is still a drama and one that has to have its pulse on what’s happening in the world, including racial tensions between law enforcement and the Black American community. With Black women comprising less than 1% of the FBI, Simone Clark is already a unique lead character, but the background of her father adds a whole other layer. “To bring a character like Cutty, who was incarcerated by the same people who his daughter is now working for, it's amazing drama,” said Frankie R. Faison, who plays Simone’s father. “I look for transformation, something that will bring Cutty closer to understanding law enforcement and will bring law enforcement closer to understanding that there is a domestic side, a human side of these people that needs to be touched upon. That's exciting.”
“These characters have been created in such a beautiful way and given such a great launching pad to come from that it's just a matter of time before you get to know each and every one of them on a personal level and see them both in their personal life and in their professional life,” added Felix Solis, who plays Supervisory Special Agent Matthew Garza who assembled and leads the special unit that includes rookie Simone Clark, former actor Brendon Acres, and promotion-hungry Laura Stenson. “There is a level of formality that Matt Garza has had to live with for 20 years, and he's taking a stab at this out-of-the-box way of doing things,” the actor added, who warned that he may be Simone’s boss, but he’s part of a hierarchical chain of command. “It's a pressure upon a pressure. Matt Garza has people above him, he isn't the top and the last word and furthest from that. And so he has the pressure of the tradition of the FBI and the traditional way of doing things and so on and so forth, and that pressure is challenged in the unorthodox approach to try and solve cases are coming from the other characters, which I think is kind of cool. It's a fun way to watch. It's a fun way to also add the comedy and the brevity and the thing that makes the show unique, that that's where the fun begins.”
For audiences, the fun begins at 10/9c on ABC on Tuesday, September 27th. Episodes of The Rookie: Feds will be available to stream on Hulu the day after they air.