The all-too-familiar topic of international terrorism is the subject of "The Grid," a new series that dramatizes the war against evil, complete with power struggles between the players.
The limited-run show stars Julianna Margulies, Dylan McDermott and Tom Skerritt as members of a team aiming to stop a global terrorist cell. Opening with a deadly nerve gas attack in London, the show follows the resulting investigation by both U.S. and British counter-terrorism units.
The friction between the factions, the presence of a new terrorist organization, the emotional toll on the characters, and the conflict of a devout Muslim doctor -- torn between his faith and the violence embraced by extremists -- are all part of the plot.
The series was executive producer Tracey Alexander's way of "processing the tragedy of 9/11, and getting a handle on who the fundamentalists are, who the terrorists are and why they hate us. And are the counter-terrorists a bunch of people who can't connect the dots?"
In developing the story, which she began working on more than a year ago, Alexander consulted with experts, including state department sources, and knew she could create a drama.
The show's title refers to the global grid of terror organizations and the counter-terrorists who fight them, said Larry Seaquist, the show's technical adviser. " 'The Grid' is shorthand for these networks interacting and intersecting around the world."
Seaquist, a former security strategist at the Pentagon, said the drama contains "some terror incidents and threats but nothing that will make you wake up in the middle of the night screaming," he said. "It will help Americans to ask, 'Is this accurate, and where are we in the war on terrorism?' "
The intense storyline unfolds from the viewpoints of American, British and Muslim characters, in a style similar to documentaries, with events happening in real time.
"We really focus on the characters, because the main theme is about the enormous price of warfare and how everybody struggles emotionally," Alexander said. "Families are ruined, and terrorists and counter-terrorists alike have awful things to grope with."
Margulies plays Maren Jackson, director of the National Security Council's counter-terrorism team in Washington. She seeks the help of CIA Middle Eastern analyst Raza Michale, played by Piter Marek, and FBI agent Max Carney, played by McDermott, in the nerve gas investigation.
Skerritt portrays Acton Sandman, the CIA deputy director of counter-terrorism who heads the overseas operation. The British side of the task force, staffed by Jemma Redgrave as Emily Tuthill and Bernard Hill as Derek Jennings, runs into territorial tension with the American agents.
"In the end, we all work together, and in order to get there you have to see three points of view," said Margulies, who said she loves her character's renegade attitude. "We need more of her in the Pentagon. She brings out the human aspect. Tom Skerritt sees it strictly as war. But she wants to distance herself, and you see her trying to do good."
For McDermott, the project's appeal was the issue at large."It's daunting. You turn on the news and it's a new world. [Before this film] I didn't know as much as I know now. I knew it existed, but not the depths of it," he said.
Carney, McDermott's character, lost his best friend in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Now he's dating his friend's widow, and working with the NSC.
"He is angry that he lost his friend, angry that he is in this relationship with this woman who is his best friend's wife and is haunted by his feelings," said McDermott. "And at the same time, he is having to track the terrorists. So he is living in a very vulnerable place, and it was interesting to go and live there for a second."
To prepare for his part, McDermott "hung out with the FBI for a while to watch them and talk to them about their daily existence," he said. "They're doing a noble job of trying to crack this problem. But their body language, it's devastating. These attaches who travel from Turkey to L.A. to D.C., gathering information, relying on their sources, and not being able to talk about it. They're just bottled up."
Margulies said the same about her character, a single woman who lives for the job. "How do you do a job like this and not go home and talk about it? I couldn't live in that world, but it was great to figure out where to put it all," she said. "And you pray that she has a good shrink."
Alexander said the show's characters make the war on terrorism human.
"We tried to show how the wrong decision [by Margulies's character] can kill hundreds, thousands of people, and how she has to live with that. Can't tell a soul. And that is what counter-terrorists do," she said.
Margulies said she couldn't imagine the series not affecting people. "But, at the same time, someone asked if it is the wrong time for something like this," she said "It may be, for those who are fed up with terrorism."