“The Killing” is a crime show — there are no two ways about that. It begins with a murder, and the detectives investigating it are front and center throughout.
Beyond that, though, AMC’s new series, which premieres Sunday (April 3), bears little resemblance to a network procedural. That’s by design, says executive producer Veena Sud, who adapted the Danish series “Forbrydelsen” for American audiences. “One of the biggest things I tried to do in developing this show is [think about] how can we tell a cop show differently, tell a cop show in a way that hasn’t been done before?” Sud tells Zap2it. “How can we upend notions and tropes of the genre and make it fresh and unique?”
Sud, a former writer and producer on “Cold Case,” had a good template in the Danish show. She carried over its format, in which each episode covers one day in the investigation of a 17-year-old girl’s murder for the lead detective (Mireille Enos), the victim’s parents (Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton) and a local politician (Billy Campbell) who gets caught up in the case.
But she also faced some challenges in bringing “The Killing” to this country. She talked with us about those obstacles, the real cops whose stories helped her form Enos’ character and more. Some highlights of our conversation follow.
Zap2it: What attracted you to this story?
Veena Sud: I had just left “Cold Case” and was looking to develop a sort of realpolitik-type cop show. My agent told me about this Danish format and said it’s called “The Killing” — and literally, the minute I heard those words I was like, I’m sold. It’s sort of dark and brooding, the format is very much like north noir. The rawness of the title, the kind of unflinching look at the price of a life — those were all things I was really interested in exploring.
What’s the biggest challenge in adapting an existing format?
It’s the first time I’ve done it, and the biggest challenge for me was contextualizing the crime. Because unlike Denmark, and pretty much unlike the rest of the world, we live in an extraordinarily violent country. … In the Danish version, the minute this girl goes missing, it’s red-alert time in Copenhagen. And in this country … if a girl went missing in any major American city, no one even bats an eyelash. No one would care. We live in a country where Amber Alerts are the norm on the highway. That was the biggest piece I had to think of: Why should we care about [the victim] Rosie Larsen? Why should we as Americans, who are so immune to real violence and to televised violence, care about this 17-year-old girl?
How faithful is the adaptation? Did you make any major changes?
I kept the foundation of the original format, which I loved — one episode is one day in the life of the investigation, and the three worlds colliding: the family, the cops, the political world. But what I had to do was infuse each [story] with a specifically American tone and sensibility. For our version, there were things I changed. Sarah’s [Enos] backstory is a big theme for this season, and we start to learn about why this case means something to her. … And her partner [Joel Kinnaman] I totally reconceptualized as a former undercover narcotics cop, because I was just interested in these two clashing types — a deeply private, guarded homicide detective with a guy who’s this chameleon with no boundaries.
In the family story, I love the notion of how a marriage is tested in the face of this type of tragedy, but I’m also really interested in how siblings are affected by their sister’s death. … One thing I heard [in my research] that I hadn’t heard before was that siblings of a murdered child are basically the forgotten victims of a homicide. Everyone is clearly deeply compassionate for mom and dad, but everyone forgets that the brother and sister suffer as much. So the two brothers in the story, we look at them and what they go through.
How different was the experience of working on this show as opposed to a close-ended procedural like “Cold Case”?
I was really eager to write something that was … a mirror to how police work gets done in the real world; I find that so fascinating. I’ve met cops over the years who — they’re deeply cynical. The gallows humor is unbelievable. But occasionally I meet a cop who has a story, who’s had the case — the one case that mattered, the one victim who was a real victim. That was fascinating. It wasn’t a victim a week, it was the case of a lifetime. To take a deeply cynical person in a profession where you have to be cynical just to get through the day, and give them a case that’s actually going to start, potentially, not only mattering to them but destroying everything they’ve built, destroying their lives, is really interesting to me.
“Cold Case” was a really great experience because it was different than regular procedurals in that we did spend a lot of time with the victims, I think much more than any other network procedural really does. But this was setting the bar higher — now we have to spend every single day [with the characters]. What’s it feel like not only for the investigation, and for the political campaign that’s had this grenade dropped into the middle of it, but for the family? What’s it feel like to go to the morgue and ID your child, to pick out a dress for the funeral and still smell your daughter’s perfume? … That was appealing to me, to be able to go really deeply into all these stories, more than I had before.
So when we get to the finale in episode 13, it’s day 13 of the investigation?
It is. We don’t skip ahead. It’s one of the great challenges for us. The original format did it, and I love that notion — you can’t escape. You as a writer are stuck finding that story in that day. You stay up with the cops because they don’t sleep; they’re following leads. You stay with the family. You stay with the campaign, doing damage control. … You can’t conveniently fast-forward two weeks ahead.
Can we presume then that no one is being brought to trial for the crime on day 13?
There will be a satisfying ending, and questions will be answered. But my hope and desire in creating this show was, again, to upend tropes, upend expectations, to re-see the crime of murdering a child in a different way than we usually see on TV. That includes not writing toward the ending or assuming there’s a formula for the ending. From the beginning it was, We’ve got one day for every episode, we’ve got these three worlds, and let’s sit down and let [the characters] take us through these worlds and not already figure out the ending and force them to bring us to that end. Let the characters bring us where they will.
“The Killing” has a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on AMC. Subsequent episodes will air at 10 p.m. Sundays.