The plot of the new FOX drama, “Shots Fired,” sounds like a too-familiar story from the evening news: A police officer is under investigation for fatally shooting an unarmed teenager.
The difference is that in this production, the police officer, Joshua Beck (Mack Wilds) is black and the young man who has been killed is white. The incident draws national attention and sparks an investigation that will play out over the 10-episode event series.
Their plan was to flip the narrative as a way to make it easier for those who don’t normally identify with certain characters to empathize with them. They believe change can only come with empathy.
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Reggie Bythewood says, “We had a creed for the show, when we put it together, which is to get the audience to the edge of their seats and, while they’re leaning forward, hit them with the truth.
“So we clearly wanted to do a show that had great characters, really dealt with the social issue that we delve into, but the mystery element was, I guess, just the kind of glue that kind of keeps us coming back.”
The mystery will unfold through a Department of Justice inquiry by seasoned investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) and a young special prosecutor, Preston Terry (Stephan James), both of whom are African American. Their work is complicated by the governor (Helen Hunt) who wants to use this incident as a political tool.
Both executive producers knew that before they could make social and political points with their story, they had to be able to hold the interest of an audience that is being pulled in a massive number of directions by all there is to watch on TV.
Prince-Bythewood suggests it’s very easy to see a piece about a shooting on the news and turn away if the viewer doesn’t identify with who’s on the screen.
“We felt the best way to address this issue for us and to get people who don’t normally go through this issue to understand was to give them a way in and give them a way to understand,” Prince-Bythewood says.
A lot of the potential understanding falls at the feet of Beck’s character, who is at the center of a political, social and emotional hurricane. Wilds was sent the script at a pivotal point in his life.
“I was at a time right then and there where I didn’t realize if I wanted to do just music or if I wanted to get back into acting or something like that. I think reading that script, I was like, if I’m going to do it, I want to use my art as a weapon, especially with everything that was going on at the time,” Wilds says. “It felt like the most appropriate thing to do instead of sitting on my hands or writing a tweet, to actually do something with everything that you possibly can.”
All of the points the series creators and actors are trying to make will be played out as the story will wrap up in 10 episodes. Right now there is no news of whether there could be a second season with the same actors in the way “American Crime” works for ABC.
- 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, KMPH (Channel 26.1)