‘Graceland’ Boss on Creating a ‘Darker Story,’ Script Tweaks and Series’ Big Twist

Know what we think is cool?

We think it’s cool that when writers talk about themselves they’re really talking about writing.

(But, yeah, we can see how some peeps might view this the other way around.)

gracelandby Philiana Ng

Welcome to Graceland.

Created by White Collar‘s Jeff Eastin and based on actual events, USA Network’s Graceland revolves around a group of diverse law-enforcement agents from the DEA, FBI and Customs whose worlds collide when they’re forced to live together in an undercover beach house in Southern California. Rookie FBI agent Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit) enters the fray after graduating top of his class at Quantico, when he is assigned to work undercover with seasoned vet Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) and his motley crew.

For Eastin, it was years of struggle to get Gracelandoff the ground — and he credited fellow USA mateMatt Nix (Burn Notice) for being instrumental. As he tells it, Graceland, written well before White Collar, fit exactly what USA was looking for as they sought a way to transition into deeper storytelling and darker arcs, evolving their tried-and-true “blue sky” brand. “My big concern was that it was too dark for USA, and it was a weird situation where it was me trying to talk them down,” Eastin tells The Hollywood Reporter.

And dark it is. Over the span of the first few episodes, Graceland unabashedly tackles drug cartels, torture, heroin use and questionable police ethics, just to name a few. Eastin, whose White Collar is family fare compared to Graceland, is well aware of the risk. “The big question for me is, will the audience embrace it as much?” Eastin ponders.

In a chat with THR, the creator/executive producer discusses the differences betweenGraceland and White Collar, the biggest changes he had to make and why the premiere’s closing scene — a twist setting up the entire series — almost didn’t happen.

The Hollywood Reporter: How far of a departure is Graceland from White Collar? Were there certain things you wanted to explore that you felt you couldn’t on White Collar?

Jeff Eastin: I didn’t in any way do this as an answer to White Collar. I didn’t set out to do a darker show. This happened to be a script I wrote before I wrote White Collar. I did consider Graceland to be the best script I had written up to that point in terms of character interaction. Right before USA picked up White Collar, I met with Matt Nix on possibly being his number-two on Burn Notice, and the sample he read was Graceland. Even though he said no to me [about working on Burn Notice], I asked him, “So you read Graceland?” “Yeah, it was probably one of the best scripts I’d read.” “Help me understand why nobody would make it.” He goes, “I don’t see what the week-to-week story is.” I thought:interesting.

But after four years of White Collar, I have a really good relationship with USA. The story goes: [USA executive] Bill McGoldrick was out with some of the assistants and mentioned that he wanted a beach cops show. My assistant at the time said, “Have you read Jeff’s Graceland?” They went back and reread it: “Hey, we love this thing!” My big concern was that it was too dark for USA, and it was a weird situation where it was me trying to talk them down. One of my demands was if we’re going to do it, I want to do it right with a much darker story. It was less about telling something I’d never told on White Collar or couldn’t tell, but rather telling a darker story because that, to me, was the point of Graceland.

Read it all