NBC’s track record with adapting international series for American audiences has been rather hit or miss (Highs: The Office. Lows: Coupling. New Lows: Kath & Kim.) so the recent news that the peacock is set to adapt the groundbreaking UK drama series Prime Suspect is a bit…suspect.
The original ran in seven parts from 1991 to 2006 and starred Helen Mirren as lady-of-a-certain-age chief homicide detective Jane Tennison, a role that made waves when the series debuted as it was the first to feature a woman as the head of a murder investigation unit. A hit with critics, it earned Mirren two Emmy awards for lead actress in a miniseries and made her a household name in the US when it aired as part of PBS’s Mystery series.
With such a stellar pedigree, NBC should take measured steps to ensure that their Prime Suspect will have its own tone that sets it apart from workhorse Law & Order procedurals (no L&O: Across the Pond, thank you). The crux of the show’s success will be in casting the lead. Considering such an acclaimed and formidable actress originated the role, someone award-winning caliber must come on board to give the US version some clout in standing up (and out) to the plethora of other crime-centered dramas scattered around the dial, especially ones with strong female characters (NBC’s own Emmy-winning Mariska Hargitay, for example). American producers will no doubt want to sex up the role, which means skewing the age range down, considering the hesitancy to cast women over 40 in high-profile leads. This actress age-ism is a shame because, like a fine wine, the best only get better with time, and this kind of role demands someone who’s been around the block.
Topping my “For Your Consideration” list would be Jean Smart. While most well-known for comedy – first gaining recognition on Designing Women, but racking up 3 Emmy wins in the last decade for her guest role on Frasier and one for supporting actress playing Christina Applegate’s martini-swilling mother on Samantha Who? – she’s also proven a knack for the dramatics, and earned rave reviews, with her portrayal of the president’s unstable, whistle-blowing wife on the fifth season of 24.
Opening the forum for discussion: Who else is an ideal contender to take up the American “Queen” of police mantle?