Forget "Law & Order" or any of those other "Law & Orders." For Kyra Sedgwick, star of TNT's new crime drama series "The Closer," the best cop shows came from the '70s.

"I like 'Columbo,' 'Baretta' and 'The Rockford Files' because I was totally into them," she said. "So much of those shows are about those characters."

That's exactly what attracted Sedgwick, the 39-year-old actress whose breakout role in the 1992 Seattle grunge-scene flick "Singles" made Hollywood take notice, to the lead role in "The Closer." She plays Brenda Johnson, a top-notch interrogator who's been brought to Los Angeles to head up something called the Priority Murder Squad under the auspices of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Unlike "Law & Order," which she said she doesn't get half the time, Sedgwick's show shines the spotlight on Brenda's day-to-day life.

"I think it centers more around this one character," she said. "It has so much to do with her personal life. She approaches her job very personally.

"Her job is her personal life."

Make no mistake, Brenda is something of a mess. As Sedgwick describes her: "She is deeply flawed personally. She's not great socially. I think she's a terrible dresser and she's a compulsive eater. She's out of step with L.A., and she's a fish out of water. She's very much a loner." And Sedgwick didn't even mention that Brenda is divorced and once had an affair with her new boss.

Brenda's quirks are brought front and center on the "The Closer," much like her mentors from those '70s shows: the bedraggled Columbo with his trench coat and cigar who tools around in a beat-up car; the ex-con Jim Rockford living in his trailer and always getting into fights; and the funky Tony Baretta with his pet cockatoo.

Of course, this show is about more than her fashion issues and eating habits. In the first episode she's got a murder to solve -- and a fairly important one, at that. A woman is found dead in the home of a software executive who had just come up with a new program destined to revolutionize the computer industry.

But, as is true with many mystery shows, all is not what it appears, and it takes Brenda's unique and effective interrogation style to get the truth from the woman's assailant.

"Closer" consulting producer Gil Garcetti, the former Los Angeles district attorney who became a household name during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, said police interrogation can be one of the toughest jobs in the squad room.

"You have to be born with some of those attributes. If you don't have the attributes, forget it," he said. "But once you have those attributes, then you have to learn something."

Segdwick's character has the smarts and the innate ability to size people up, Garcetti said, but there's one other important factor.

"She's often unintentionally sexy and appealing, but there are times when she is intentionally so," he said.

Viewers quickly learn from the first episode that the grunts of the LAPD are less than thrilled to be working for Brenda, a CIA-trained Atlanta detective with a Southern accent.

Garcetti compares the fictional situation to the real-life circumstances when Willie Williams became the chief of police in Los Angeles in 1992 in the wake of the city's riots. "Willie Williams came from the outside," Garcetti recalled. "That simply wasn't done at LAPD. When he came in, the institution just rebelled against him."

Brenda's staff rebels on her first day on the job as a united front of officers presents her with requests to be transferred out of the unit.

"It would be almost easier if she were a black-and-white bitch," Sedgwick said. "But instead she's like [in her best Southern accent], 'Good mornin' and 'How y'all?' It's disarming. You don't want to like her, but you can't help but like her."

Although Sedgwick did not follow a real-life interrogator for the role, she did draw inspiration from husband Kevin Bacon's memorable role as a homicide detective in the 2003 film "Mystic River." "I think about him," she said. "He had a couple of interrogations where he loses his cool, and I hearken upon him often."

Sedgwick joins a growing list of movie stars who are returning to the small screen to take on a weekly series, such as Glenn Close, who played a captain this season on FX's gritty "The Shield."

Sedgwick is not a complete stranger to television. She had an unmemorable (and short) run in 2000 on CBS playing a bouncy radio talk-show host in "Talk to Me." But she likes to mix it up between film, theater and the telly. "I've always gone where the characters are, and that's just what I'm doing here," Sedgwick said.


Mondays at 9 p.m. on TNT