John Rogers Offers "Leverage" on New Show

John Rogers could be a superhero and no one would know it.

A former stand-up comic with a degree in physics who now writes for TV, film and comics, Rogers has a better secret identity than any costumed crimefighter operating in superhero comics today. And with projects ranging from the re-launch of DC's "Blue Beetle" to scripting the first draft of last summer's blockbuster "Transformers," Rogers knows how to kick things off with a bang.

Up next for the Worcester, Massachusetts native is a new television series on TNT called "Leverage," which he created. Co-Executive Produced by Dean Devlin ("Independence Day," "Stargate"), "Leverage" begins airing in the U.S. this Sunday night.

In the series, Academy Award-winner Timothy Dutton ("Ordinary People") stars as Nate Ford, a former insurance investigator who leads a team of "criminals" who rob from the rich to feed the wronged. Mark Sheppard ("24," "Battlestar Galactica") plays his recurring nemesis, Jim Sterling, a partner from his old insurance firm.B oth men are "plainly familiar" with a member of Nate's team, Sophie, played by New Zealand's Gina Bellman.

CBR News recently spoke with Rogers about "Leverage," which he describes as "a modern-day Robin Hood story, combining high tech and classic cons."

CBR: How did the idea for "Leverage" come about? There are obvious nods to Robin Hood, but were you personally wronged by an insurance company and/or big business somewhere along the way?

John Rogers: You know, it was kind of a response to the recent series of heist shows - which were all very gritty and heavily serialized - and also a realization that this was a bad guy that TV just wasn't doing. As the other exec producer, Chris Downey, says, "Serial killers are pretty much covered on TV. Everyone's all over the serial killers."

So, the dozen or so scraggly white dudes out there infrequently killing, they have hundreds of hours of TV dedicated to them. The guys out there taking your house, raping your pension plan, and denying your kid medical treatment after you've been paying your insurance premiums for ten years, they just weren't getting talked about.

It's very much an homage to the great late '6os, early '70s shows like "The Rockford Files" and "It Takes a Thief," so it's meant to be a series of one-and-dones - a different con movie every week. In today's crowded media market, too, I want people who hear about the show to be able to jump in at episode three or four and not feel lost.

That said, there's definitely some mythos elements, in both the backstory and as the series progresses.

You must be thrilled to have Oscar winner Timothy Hutton in the lead role. Was he someone you even considered for Nate Ford when you were originally casting "Leverage" in your mind or were you thinking of anyone else?

We seriously, as were discussing the role, said 'Well, we'd like a Timothy Hutton-type. I mean, there's no way we'd get Hutton...' Then he read the script, really enjoyed it. He was in the mood to do something lighter, and this really worked out for us.

What can you tell us about your main character, Nate Ford?

Nate Ford was a top-level insurance investigator. Be it a stolen Monet, complicated financial fraud, he was your guy. Then, after a brutal tragedy in his own family, he was used and cast aside by the people he worked for. He's put this team together as almost a sort of therapy, but make no mistake, there's no guarantee Nate Ford isn't on one long suicide run.

You have a degree in physics. Why are you goofing off writing TV and comics when you should be doing more important work like splitting the atom?

There are plenty of dudes out there splitting the atom. The atom, she is split. Caper-heist movies and TV shows, comic books about teenagers with alien armor, I got that covered.

Does your knowledge of science play into the series at all? For instance, is one of the members of Ford's team a science geek? And I use that term with the utmost respect.

My tech obsession definitely comes into play. For example, in the opening episode, our hacker doesn't carry a tricked-out laptop, he just runs his programs off a USB thumb drive he plugs right into the computer. There were a few things - over the course of the season - we had to tone down so it didn't become Crime 101.

What's Dean Devlin's role in the project?

Dean was interested in developing a heist show on TNT at the time Chris and I were kicking around our idea. Dean and I had lunch literally the next day, and so he came on as the director/producer while Chris and I created the show and ran the writers' room. But Dean is a full creative partner, he has directed four of the episodes, and is also the studio. That is, his company, Electric Entertainment, is the financier, not some other mega-corp.

Are you working on anything else right now, specifically comics-wise?

Although my experience with DC was great, I'm much more interested in creator-owned, digitally distributed work right now. I'm researching digital formatting and sales structures during my writing hiatus.

Did your work on "Blue Beetle" open any doors in terms of getting this project greenlit?

No, although comics are definitely a way for writers to get their ideas seen right now, I was a well-established TV writer by the time this project arrived. Ironically, my work on the "Global Frequency" pilot made hiring a staff easier. A lot of writers who came in had seen the pilot, and were fans.

What will comic fans love about "Leverage?"

Good guys with amazing skills pull off impossible heists and cons, while bad guys get it in the neck. What's not to like?

"Leverage" debuts in the U.S. Sunday, December 6 on TNT.

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