'Prime Suspect' casts Maria Bello; 3 other things NBC needs to do to get it right

maria-bello-gi-320.jpgNBC's remake of "Prime Suspect" has cast its lead actress: Maria Bello will play the role of Detective Jane Tennison in the pilot.

Bello said last week that she was "interested" in the part. Now EW reports that she's signed on for the project, which was first developed last year, then shelved after the network had trouble casting the lead. Bello will step into the shoes of Helen Mirren, who won two Emmys (and was nominated four other times) for playing Tennison over the course of seven miniseries from 1991-2006.

We like the casting of Bello a lot: She's a very good actress ( "The Cooler" and "A History of Violence" are our favorites among her roles) whom we have no trouble seeing in the tough, no-nonsense role of Jane Tennison. She's also about the same age as Mirren was when she originated the role.

But in order to get "Prime Suspect" right, its creators (writer-exec producer Alexandra Cunningham, director-EP Peter Berg and EP Sarah Aubrey) and NBC have to go beyond Bello's casting.

If we were making "Prime Suspect," we'd try to do the following:

Emulate, don't imitate: The few successful remakes (reboots, re-imaginings, whatever you want to call them) in recent TV history have something in common: They retained the spirit of their source material without becoming episode-for-episode re-creations. Look at "The Office": Its first episode was almost a word-for-word adaptation of the British show's debut, and it wasn't great. When the writers and cast started making the characters their own, though, the show blossomed.

When Bello talked about her interest in the part last week, she also said this of Mirren: "C'mon! How could anyone compete with her?" It's a good point: The new show will need to stand on its own; if we want to see something very close to the original "Prime Suspect," we can just rent it.

Let it breathe ...: One of the beauties of the British series was that because each story was told over three hours or more, it had time to dole out its plot slowly, while also focusing on Tennison's life (such as it was) away from the job. We'd love to see NBC's version tackle a few big cases per season, rather than hew to the bad-guy-of-the-week format of most crime shows. If NBC wants to do a straight-ahead crime procedural with a female lead, that's fine; it just probably shouldn't call that show "Prime Suspect."

... But keep it short: The economics of network TV probably means this won't happen, but a cable-length season of 12 or 13 episodes would make a lot of sense for "Prime Suspect." From a creative standpoint, it would allow the show to focus on only a few story arcs each year (or maybe just one). It alleviates (at least to some degree) the churn-it-out grind of making the network-standard 22 episodes a season.

In terms of promotion, NBC could make an event of it, telling viewers that for these 13 weeks, you're going to get to see an excellent actress at the center of meaty stories that go deeper than the average crime show. Similar strategies worked for the final seasons of "Lost" and the majority of "24's" run, as well as for any number of cable shows -- just ask former Showtime head Bob Greenblatt, who's now running NBC.

Will any of those things happen? We'll have to wait and see. But the casting of Bello is a very good step in the right direction, and it gives us hope that NBC wants to do "Prime Suspect" right.

Photo/Video credit: Getty Images
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