Adrian Dunbar is Ted Hastings in LINE OF DUTY - Season 6 | ©2021 World Productions/Steffan Hill

Adrian Dunbar is Ted Hastings in LINE OF DUTY – Season 6 | ©2021 World Productions/Steffan Hill

LINE OF DUTY is now streaming its sixth season on Britbox in the U.S., with new episodes dropping on Tuesdays. (All five previous seasons are available.) When the Season Six finale of LINE OF DUTY ran on the BBC earlier this year, it was the highest-rated show in the U.K. of the twenty-first century.

Viewers of LINE OF DUTY will easily understand the appeal. The twist-filled police drama, which aired its first season in 2012, deals with an internal affairs division, called “anti-corruption” or “AC” in England. LINE OF DUTY follows one such department in the English Midlands, AC-12, tasked with investigating police wrongdoing.

Season 6 finds formidable Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and newly-promoted Detective Inspector Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) still trying to get to the bottom of a mystery that has gone on throughout the series, namely the ties between corrupt police officers and organized crime. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure), having burned out on investigating fellow cops, is now at the Hillside Police Station. Here, Kate assists Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Davidson (Kelly Macdonald) look into the murder of a journalist, but she is inevitably brought back into the orbit of AC-12.

LINE OF DUTY was created by Jed Mercurio, who has written every single episode of the series. Mercurio was born in Lancashire, UK, and grew up in Staffordshire. He trained as a medical doctor, was a practicing physician for several years, and joined the Royal Air Force before becoming a writer. Mercurio’s other creations include the international hit series BODYGUARD (currently streaming on Netflix), CRITICAL, BODIES, THE GRIMLEYS, INVASION: EARTH, and CARDIAC ARREST.

Speaking by phone from England, Mercurio talks all things LINE OF DUTY.

Regarding the immense popularity of the series this season, Mercurio says, “It’s incredible. We’re all a little overwhelmed by the LINE OF DUTY mania that we’ve been experiencing the last couple of months over here. We couldn’t be more thrilled with the fact that so many viewers have been tuning into the show.”

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you originally come up with the idea for LINE OF DUTY?

JED MERCURIO: When we started pitching the show, there hadn’t been a police drama that dealt with police corruption for a long time on U.K. TV. There were certainly some misgivings among network executives about how the audience would respond to seeing cops committing misconduct, and possibly even some crimes, and possibly being involved with miscarriages of justice, and that was the reason initially that the show played on one of the smaller networks. But what we’ve seen is that the audience is able to understand that, in the real world, unfortunately, there is police misconduct, and a drama can explore it in a thought-provoking and entertaining way.

AX: I’m not sure a U.S. network would do a show about what we call Internal Affairs at the police department, but in England, you don’t have as much of a problem with police shooting people …

MERCURIO: No. I think there are specifics with U.S. policing in relation to the abundance of firearms, and that makes encounters between police officers and citizens more combustible than in a lot of instances in the U.K., where firearm usage is much less commonplace. We do see similarities here. There are occasions when police officers use lethal force and are investigated as a result of it, and this happens regularly, and currently there’s a high-profile case going on here in the U.K. right now, where two police officers were involved in the death of a former professional soccer player, who was Black. And the fact is that, on both sides of the Atlantic, people are asking questions about police conduct.

Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald in LINE OF DUTY - Season 6 | ©2021 World Productions/Steffan Hill

Vicky McClure and Kelly Macdonald in LINE OF DUTY – Season 6 | ©2021 World Productions/Steffan Hill

AX: Do you get pushback in the U.K. to the subject matter of LINE OF DUTY, or is the response mainly positive?

MERCURIO: It’s hard to quantify those responses, because of the distortion you get through social media, where people with very strongly-held views [go onto] social media with their point of view, and it’s really hard to know what the proportions are. There’s no strong data that I’m familiar with about how many LINE OF DUTY viewers support the message that police officers should be investigated if they are seen to commit misconduct. Or we can go [by] the viewing figures, and the viewing figures suggest that the audience supports our regular characters, who are strongly determined to ensure that any police officer who commits corruption is made accountable.

AX: How do you design your seasons of LINE OF DUTY, which have somewhat linked storylines? As the show has progressed, do you try to figure out, what’s an interesting thing to have going on, and then how to plug AC-12 into it, or do you figure out what’s the latest revelation with the organized crime story, and then what goes around it, or do you think on what you want to do with your main characters, and then work the rest of it around that?

MERCURIO: The first one – what is a groundbreaking and distinctive way to kick off the season. There’s a brand-new character, and a brand-new event, and then, from that starting point, figure out how it would connect to AC-12 and any overarching meta narrative. But generally, the objective is, firstly, to create something that is accessible to new fans, so you don’t need to be familiar with previous seasons, and then, secondly, to be able to move through the dramatic vehicle you create, the cat and mouse thriller between Internal Affairs and the new guest character.

AX: Now, in some cases, you bring people back. For example, Gregory Piper, who plays Ryan Pilkington, was on the show as a boy in Season 1, and now he’s back. From his IMDb page, it doesn’t look like he’s done much other screen work in the interim …

MERCURIO: [laughs] Well, he was completing his education. He was twelve or thirteen years old when he appeared in Season 1, and then he returned in Season 5. To be honest, we only started thinking about where that character might be when he did become an adult, and we were very fortunate that Gregory Piper had continued acting, and gone to drama school, and was still a professional actor. So, we brought him back.

AX: How do you design seasonal arcs for your three regular leads?

MERCURIO: Yeah. I’m very fortunate that, over the course of the last decade of working together, there’s a really close collaboration with the regular cast. So, when we’re planning a season, we tend to get together and talk about some ideas for where their particular character is in their career and their personal life and just [unint.] a few thoughts around, and I’m very open to their feedback.

Kelly Macdonald is Joanne Davidson in LINE OF DUTY - Season 6 | ©2021 World Productions/Steffan Hill

Kelly Macdonald is Joanne Davidson in LINE OF DUTY – Season 6 | ©2021 World Productions/Steffan Hill

AX: What have you learned about your main characters that you didn’t know at the start, that you’ve highlighted as LINE OF DUTY has continued over the years?

MERCURIO: Well, I think the way that the actors have grown up with the show – Martin and Vicky were in their twenties when we started, and since then, they’ve matured as actors, and they’ve gone through changes in their personal lives, just like we all do as we get older. I think one of the things that creates a really strong relationship between the audience and those characters is seeing them mature onscreen. If you go back and look at the first couple of seasons, people are always shocked about how young the leads look, because they forget that they were so young when the show started.

AX: And then Adrian Dunbar as Ted Hastings?

MERCURIO: He’s an interesting character as well. Because if people go back and watch Season 1, he isn’t in the show a huge amount. He’s actually what you would call a breakout character from Season 2 onwards. There were no plans that that character would continue if the show was picked up for a second season. But we all really enjoyed working with Adrian Dunbar, and the character really stamped his authority on the show. And so, when we were lucky enough to produce a second season, we brought Adrian back, and that was the point from which we established that there were three regular leads in the show. And that’s something that we’ve continued with, and in some ways, we’ve been using that character to explore a police officer nearer the end of their career, that time is catching up with him, whereas the other two characters are still in the formative years of their professional careers.

AX: LINE OF DUTY is set in the English Midlands, but you shoot in Belfast, in North Ireland. Did you already have Belfast selected, as where you were going to shoot and then chose the Midlands because it looks like Belfast, or do you shoot in Belfast, because you wanted to set it in the Midlands, and Belfast is cheaper to shoot in than the Midlands?

MERCURIO: It was something that was actually out of our control. Initially, for Season 1, we did shoot in the Midlands of England, and in Birmingham, which is [England’s] second-largest city. And that went very well. But then the BBC asked whether we would shoot the next season in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, because as a public service broadcaster, they have a responsibility to distribute TV production all around the country. And so, we went there, and it worked out very well. So, we continued to film in Belfast for the rest of the seasons. But there is no financial upside to that – it’s not cheaper to film in Northern Ireland, and actually, there are some additional costs to shooting there. But overall, it all works out, and we have great crew work there, and great support from the local community. So, we’re very pleased with it.

AX: LINE OF DUTY airs on Britbox in the U.S. and Canada, but in the U.K., it runs on the BBC, but seems to be produced by ITV, which is a different network How does that work?

MERCURIO: It’s ITV Studios, who own the production company. But they didn’t own the production company at the time that we started the show. So, the show originally started on the BBC. And Britbox is something that was brought into being after LINE OF DUTY first aired. So, it’s more recent. a collaboration between the BBC and ITV to pool content of the best of U.K. TV, and make that available through Britbox U.S. to our fans in the U.S.

AX: To ask a very tweaky question, in Season 6, there’s a photo of someone who fans of British television will be familiar with. Did you use that to get the audience to expect something, or is that just a complete in-joke?

MERCURIO: No. It was entirely about tantalizing the audience. I think if that particular image showed someone that the audience didn’t recognize, then possibly the story wouldn’t have had any impact. Whereas by exploiting the participation of someone very well-known to the audience, it gave them a sense of expectation that we were able to play with.

AX: How do you decide when you’re going to do big action sequences? You’ve flipped vans and blown up buildings on LINE OF DUTY …

MERCURIO: We really love to do action sequences, but they have to be justified, they have to affect the plot, and there have to be recognizable stakes for characters that we care about. The real challenge with Season 6 was COVID. It’s much harder to do complex action sequences while following all the restrictions that are put in place because of the COVID pandemic. So, in the end, I think we were very fortunate that we achieved as much as we did. But also, it’s really important that we’re unpredictable, that we shouldn’t be signposting the action sequences.

AX: Season 6 wraps up on a bit of a cliffhanger, but you always have wrap-up credits saying what happens to certain characters. The first few times seasons of LINE OF DUTY, were you thinking with each one, “This will be the end,” and that’s why you have the little season-ending postscripts?

MERCURIO: That was something that we initiated in Season 1, and it was something that we think worked very well, because the show has to be authentic about law enforcement and the criminal justice system. I think people realize that the wheels of justice turn very slowly, so that, maybe in a [more conventional] cop show, you can put the cuffs on the bad guy and feel that’s it, there’s going to be a successful conviction, and they’re going to prison for their crimes.

But LINE OF DUTY isn’t that kind of a show. We understand that, just because you catch the bad guy, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be convicted. So, rather than dramatize all the [courtroom proceedings], which would be very difficult to craft, because this isn’t that kind of show, we created this kind of epilogue sequence, where we use graphics to convey the way in which the criminal justice system works.

AX: You personally write all of the episodes of LINE OF DUTY. Do you feel like, “I don’t want to hand this off,” do you feel like each season is kind of like a long film …?

MERCURIO: I think the first thing to say is that I’m very grateful that the BBC and the production company are very supportive of me writing all the episodes. They’ve never suggested that I step aside so other writers can come on board the project. And I think the main reason in my view that it works to have one writer is that it’s highly serialized. The events of each episode significantly impact on every other episode. If we had multiple writers, we would have to plan the series in particular detail. And then we wouldn’t have the freedom to change things significantly as we go along. Whereas, because I’m the only writer, if I come across something when I’m drafting an episode that I want to change, because I’m familiar with all the other episodes, and I’m responsible for them, I can take an informed decision about whether I should proceed and change things, or I can go back to the editorial team about how we should handle a proposed change.

AX: What else are you working on right now?

MERCURIO: Well, I have my own production company, which made BLOODLANDS, which aired here in the U.K. earlier this year, and it’s going to come back for a second season, and I believe it was shown in the U.S. as well. And we are in production on a new show, which I’m executive-producing. I’m not writing it, but that stars Vicky McClure, and that’s a thriller series set in a bomb disposal unit. It’s called TRIGGER POINT.

AX: A friend of mine sent me a photo of little woolen dolls that somebody made of the three main LINE OF DUTY characters, plus the wee donkey that’s mentioned in the dialogue.

MERCURIO: Yeah, that’s right [laughs]. I think the fans have really outdone themselves with creating these incredible works of art. We’re just so grateful that people love the show the way they do.

AX: Does this bode well for LINE OF DUTY Season 7?

MERCURIO: I don’t know. We haven’t had any official confirmation of what the future holds for LINE OF DUTY. I think there will be discussions with the network and with the production company and with the cast, but at the moment, everybody wants to step away. It’s been kind of crazy, the last couple of months, and a little overwhelming. The show has been talked about so much. I think we’re all kind of involved in other projects right now anyway. So, I guess this is a conversation we’ll return to when the time is right.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about LINE OF DUTY Season 6?

MERCURIO: Well, I think the first thing to say is that we’ve got an enigmatic guest character, played by Kelly Macdonald, who is kind of a slow burn character. We take our time getting to know her, and I think that the audience won’t be able to get a handle on her quickly, which is a real contrast with characters we’ve had in previous seasons. And the stakes for the department, AC-12, have never been higher. I think as Season 6 goes on, the audience can see that they are really up against the forces of corruption in a way that they haven’t been before.

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Article: Exclusive Interview: Creator Jed Mercurio on Season 6 of the Britbox series LINE OF DUTY

 

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