Clearly, TNT loves Jon Tenney.
And the feeling is mutual, since the actor has worked for the cable network for the better part of the past decade. After his long run as FBI Special Agent Fritz Howard — longtime friend and eventual husband of Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Leigh Johnson on “The Closer,” a role he’s occasionally reprised on the spinoff “Major Crimes” — Tenney launches a new TNT crime drama as “King & Maxwell” premieres Monday (June 10).
He and Rebecca Romijn play Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, former Secret Service agents now partnered as private detectives. The characters originated in best sellers by David Baldacci (“Absolute Power”), and they’re odd-couple opposites: He’s more refined while she’s the street-wise one.
Michael O’Keefe (“Caddyshack”) and Chris Butler co-star as FBI operatives in the show that includes Shane Brennan (“NCIS,” “NCIS: Los Angeles”) among its executive producers.
The friendly Tenney says his conversations with TNT about “King & Maxwell” began as “The Closer” was winding down. “I felt my piece of that puzzle was primarily the personal relationship,” he tells Zap2it. “As the focus shifted away from that, because Kyra was no longer going to be there, I wondered how much there would be for me to do [on ‘Major Crimes’]. And then they sent me this script.
“I had not read any of David’s novels about King and Maxwell, but I certainly had seen them. I mean, every time you walk through an airport, there they are. As soon as I read the script, I got into the novels as well, and all the elements seemed to come together to make this a fun thing to do.”
Much of that hinges on the stars’ teamwork, as any show title composed of the main characters’ names suggests.
“I’d seen her work, but I had never really met her,” Tenney says of Romijn. “I had done a small part in a movie her husband, Jerry [O’Connell], was in, so we sort of knew each other through that. We did a series of ‘chemistry reads,’ and we clicked right away. We fell into a conversation about kids and this business, and we just got along. Building this relationship has been a fun part of the process.”
Brennan’s presence on the production team is a big plus, Tenney adds.
“You always want to know you have somebody at the helm who knows what they’re doing,” the actor says, “and he certainly has a tremendous track record. Shane obviously has been very successful, but I sensed in him a real excitement to do something different from what he’s been doing.
“When he was on the set with us when we filmed the pilot, there was one night when it was very late, and we were doing a scene at this abandoned warehouse. It was cold, and everybody was sort of slogging through it, but he had this glee about him, that was out in the trenches making this show. I saw this kind of excited kid, and that got me excited. And that was a great thing, obviously.”
For fans of the five King and Maxwell novels — which have spanned from “Split Second” to “The Sixth Man,” with a sixth book planned for publication this fall — Tenney points out, “We’re going to be true to them on one level, then we’re going to go way beyond them as well, hopefully.
“It’s really a work in progress,” he continues. “Each day, we’re saying things like, ‘Oh, I see. This is a good way to go.’ We’re going to have fun stories and exciting plots, but it’s ultimately going to be about the relationship between these people.”
Past law-enforcement roles have worked as “King & Maxwell” prep for Tenney to a certain extent. “I’ve continued my training with this. One of the fun things is that while these people come from the same background, they share an ignominious dismissal from the Secret Service … that wound, if you will.
“They approach things very differently. Maxwell is that kind of gung-ho, good-with-a-gun adrenaline junkie, and King is much more a man of words: ‘I can talk us out of this. I can figure this out.’ He prides himself on his brains over his brawn, and we’re hopefully using that to some comedic effect. I think both of these people really need each other, though they don’t always recognize it.”
Staying with TNT for his latest series is quite comfortable for Tenney, the father of a teenage daughter with ex-wife Teri Hatcher and now the husband of movie producer Leslie Urdang (“Beginners”). He deems the network’s executives “really smart. They hire people they like and trust, and they don’t micromanage. They make everybody feel very participatory, and I’m happy to still be in the family, as they say.”
Tenney also had a multiple-episode stint on HBO’s “The Newsroom” last summer, and his earlier runs on “Brothers & Sisters,” “Brooklyn South” and “Get Real” (on which he played dad to Anne Hathaway, in her first major role) reaffirm he is no stranger to television.
“I think most actors will say they always feel like they’ll never work again,” he reflects. “In between jobs, you think your luck has run out, but they keep on letting me do what I love to do. I really can’t complain.”
“King & Maxwell” premieres at 10 p.m. ET Monday on TNT.