Veena Sud last year moved from the cancelled CBS series Cold Case to executive producer and writer of AMC’s hot new crime drama The Killing. Based on the hit Danish series Forbrydelsen, this brooding drama set in the Pacific Northwest spends its first season on a single case as Mireille Enos plays a detective trying to solve the murder of a young girl. Sud talks to Deadline TV contributor Diane Haithman about her lifelong fascination with crime:
DEADLINE: There’s a lot of critical acclaim for this freshman show. Why do you think it cut through the clutter?
SUD: I think it’s because we’ve taken a genre and expanded it and built on what we know: the procedural. The way I like to describe The Killing is a character drama wrapped up in the conceit of a cop show. To the audience’s credit, I think they are deeply interested in complex characters like Sarah Linden (Enos), a very complex, dark, really interesting female lead of the kind we haven’t seen in a long time. Refreshing, isn’t it?
DEADLINE: In Cold Case, your lead character also had a dark and lonely side.
SUD: To the credit of Meredith Stiehm, who created the show, she was always challenging us as writers to push the envelope. Especially on network, the character of Lilly Rush was very different from what we had seen before; she certainly didn’t show up in miniskirts, she dressed like a cop in a suit and pants.
DEADLINE: Could you have sold The Killing to one of the Big Three networks?
SUD: I think AMC allows for characters that clearly don’t have to fit a stereotype, and that’s the strength of cable. We get characters like Sarah Linden and Don Draper and Tony Soprano — people you don’t have to instantly like and smile at when you see them. From the very beginning we were all making the same show. Maybe people are going to be really uncomfortable with death, but that’s more of a reason to talk about it.
DEADLINE: Are we past discussing the challenge of being a female showrunner on a police drama?
SUD: There are a lot of women who are running cop shows now, there’s Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue and myself, and there was Meredith on Cold Case. I don’t know if we’re past it: it’s always worth talking about in an industry that is still predominantly male. But I think that since there have been women who broke ground for all of us, ultimately it is the job. Can you do it or can you not? If you can, then you stay. If you can’t, then you go. Nobody’s in this job because anyone is trying to hit a quota.
DEADLINE: Is there a difference stylistically in the shows that are run by women?
SUD: The female leads are very human and very real and very flawed, yet are good cops. Maybe that’s the difference: women are interested in creating real female leads.
DEADLINE: Can you speak a little bit about your own fascination with the dark side?
SUD: I’ve always been kind of drawn to the extremities of human nature. I wrote my first screenplay when I was 16. The initial idea was a friendship between two prostitutes, and I spent time with a vice squad guy in Cincinnati who brought me to a brothel and gave me the rundown on how street prostitution works. Now, before I write anything, before I create any assumption in my mind about what it’s like to be in that world, I go out there first. I’m very drawn to darkness and light, very drawn to cop drama, because there are very few places besides war and murder and a homicide investigation where you see the extremes of human nature — the darkest crevices and cracks in what people do to one another. And as cynical and jaded as many have become, you see the heroic nature of cops, who put aside a lot of their own personal concerns and their families to speak for the dead, which is a sacred thing. Over time there is this thing in them that is very powerful and interesting and provocative to me.
DEADLINE: Did you ever want to be a cop?
SUD: If I had multiple lives, I’d like to do many things, including being a homicide investigator. I’m not brave enough to chase people and draw down on them. Having spent time with that, it can be an incredibly terrifying job. I went on a ride-along about a year ago with a bunch of guys who had huge rifles with them and vests on, and they said: ‘We’ll leave you in the car. But if they start shooting, what you need to do is get out of the car and crawl behind the wheel. And be sure not to get under the car because bullets skip and you’ll get shot. But if you hide behind the wheel, then the wheel will stop the bullets.’ And I realized it was too late to go home. It’s easier to be a writer, I think — to watch and observe and walk away when things get too scary.
DEADLINE: What are some of your favorite TV shows?
SUD: Well, I was a huge fan of Oz, Homicide, The Wire, The Shield, Prime Suspect. And there’s 30 Rock, which I’m a huge fan of. Intervention is my guilty pleasure.