In "Wanted," an alphabet soup of specialists -- from ATF to SWAT -- team up to take down 100 of Los Angeles's most wanted criminals. The brutal and bloody police drama on TNT is rooted in reality, modeled after an L.A. law enforcement unit from the mid-1980s.

"The murder rate was huge, the individual police departments had no resources, and they had a list of 100 to 150 felons out there being knuckleheads," said series creator Jorge Zamacona, whose other TV titles include "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "Oz." "So they put together a hodgepodge of local guys and then later disbanded."

Headquartered in a warehouse outfitted with up-to-the-minute technology, the federal, state and local crime fighters track their targets across the city's neighborhoods with speed and precision. Their methods can be violent, sometimes just this side of legal, and their language is gritty, befitting cops who cope with criminals and bureaucracy.

"That's something you want to get right or you can smell the bull a mile away," Zamacona said. "All the scripts are combed through by my tech advisers."

Gary Cole, who plays L.A. Metro SWAT Lt. Conrad Rose, the unit's leader, said the series feels "almost like a Western done with cars and trucks." The idea of a police team handpicked from assorted agencies and various backgrounds appealed to him.

"We're not sure where they're coming from personally, but we know they'll do the job," he said.

Rose's unit includes Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms field agent Jimmy McGloin (Ryan Hurst), a political conservative who can recite the Bible, chapter and verse; FBI special agent and womanizer Tommy Rodriguez (Benjamin Benitez); U.S. Marshal Eddie Drake (Lee Tergesen); and Los Angeles Police Department techno-genius Rodney Gronbeck (Josey Scott of the rock group Saliva). The men are less than thrilled when hostage negotiator Carla Merced (Rashida Jones), a former Navy intelligence officer, is assigned to their team.

"She walks into an unfriendly environment, but it's not new for her, being in such a heavy male situation," Jones said. "She's quite intense, and when the guys realize she is capable, they give her the benefit of the doubt."

Initially Rose balks at allowing Merced on his team, angry because he perceives her as a liability who requires protection. "He resents her, but I think that's mostly out of paranoia," Cole said. "This is not a character steeped in political correctness, and that is both more interesting and, to a point, more believable about the guy."

Aside from spearheading the multidisciplinary force, Rose is in the midst of a divorce, torn between a demanding job and his two young children. In the first episode, Rose promises his son and daughter that he'll pick them up after school. Instead, he winds up at the hospital bedside of a girl who was raped by an escaped death row inmate in front of her father.

"The glimpses of his personal life against the brutal violence has that schizophrenic quality," Cole said.

Zamacona was asked to develop a show that would appeal to so-called NASCAR dads. But women also responded well to the series, which is rated for mature audiences.

"There's a certain appeal in a man who can be a human being," Zamacona said. "Gary's character is a bit of a romantic. The male audience will like it for the visceral, and women will respond to the safe and honorable, to the relationship with his kids."

The show is shot on location, in different neighborhoods nearly every day. Jones, daughter of musician Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton ("Mod Squad"), called it a logistical challenge.

"I can't even imagine what it's like for the crew," she said. "I grew up here, yet there is so much of it I haven't seen. But it makes it easier to be connected to your environment. If the script takes place in Echo Park, we are shooting there."

Zamacona said the location shoots give the drama a more realistic look. "Unlike a lot of shows, I don't use covered sets," he said. "I don't care if there's a slight mismatch between shots (on film) because a cloud moves in."

And unlike some cop dramas, the program's story lines and suspense don't come from forensics. "Josey Scott calls it 'CSI on Acid,'" Jones said. "Yes, you get procedural elements, but there is also that hand-held [camera], fast-paced, stylized element, so there's a balance of fantasy and reality."


Sundays at 10 p.m. on TNT