September 23, 2013



THE BLACKLIST:  Monday 10PM on NBC – If Nothing Else Is On…

NBC has made it very clear that its top fall priority is the launch of the new Monday drama THE BLACKLIST.  The show has been given the network’s plum post-The Voice slot, and clearly, NBC sees the series as a more consistent hit than Revolution turned out to be, and a potential key to the turnaround of its sagging scripted fortunes.

The Blacklist‘s script was written by Jon Bokenkamp, but since he’s a TV novice (he’s worked in features, most recently writing the Halle Berry thriller The Call), the series showrunner will be the more experienced John Eisendrath, who created NBC’s short-lived Jimmy Smits vehicle Outlaw and also worked on Alias and My Own Worst Enemy.  Its genre could be called “procedural-plus,” a structure that combines stories-of-the-week with a underlying serialized mythology.  The concept is a spin on Silence of the Lambs:  an elegant, amusing, menacingly knowledgeable and perceptive master criminal–but not a serial killer–Raymond Reddington (James Spader) turns himself in to the FBI and offers to give up all his criminal colleagues, in exchange for complete immunity–and an agreement that he’ll only communicate with fresh-faced new profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone).  What’s the connection between Reddington and Elizabeth?  The pilot has plenty of talk about fathers (Reddington abandoned his wife and child before turning to crime) and children (Elizabeth’s father was a criminal, and she’s desperate to adopt a child of her own), but it won’t be anything as simple as a biological link.  Still, Reddington doesn’t just know a vast amount about global criminals, he also has a disquieting amount of information about Elizabeth and her life, including things she doesn’t know herself.

The Blacklist pilot seems to offer a fair account of what the series will look like.  Crisply directed by Joe Carnahan (he most recently directed The Grey), it has Reddington providing information about a Bosnian terrorist who plans to take revenge on the death of his own family at American hands by kidnapping a US General’s daughter and planting a chemical bomb in DC.  Meanwhile, Reddington outrages the FBI establishment, represented by stodgy Assistant Director Cooper (Harry Lennix) and Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), by demanding to be put up in a luxury hotel and generally making them look like fools at every turn.  And he finds time to set Elizabeth up for a big reveal about her own life at the episode’s close.

It’s entertaining enough, but there are already some evident flaws.  While Spader is in his element here, oozing good-humored smug superiority as he manipulates everyone in his path, so far neither Elizabeth nor Boone is terribly interesting–and since the show’s concept will have us with her more than with him in most episodes, that’s a problem.  The supporting characters, too, are generic for now, and the hints we have about Elizabeth’s secret reality appear to be taking us down a very familiar TV road.  Also, the plotting of the criminal-of-the-week plot is far-fetched and contrived even by the standards of the genre–Reddington will always parse out information that’s incomplete or seemingly misleading so the episode can have twists, and we’re always going to have to believe that he’s five steps ahead of everyone else (unlike, say, in Person of Interest, where the Michael Emerson character, despite his knowledge and resources, often doesn’t know exactly what’s going on).  Of course, once the series is underway, Eisendrath may help to fix some of this, but they’re issues that will need to be addressed eventually.

Although CBS’s newcomer Hostages could provide significant competition, the Voice lead-in should propel Blacklist enough to have little trouble controlling its timeslot, with Castle as the only other network entry in the hour.  It should also hold up better over time than Revolution, which simply turned out not to be very good.  Blacklist doesn’t seem like the breakout hit NBC desperately wants it to be, however–just a sturdy piece of everyday business.  Of course, for NBC right now that’s pretty much a grand slam.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."