The Editor: How did you come up with the idea for WANTED?
Jorge Zamacona: WANTED was created from a bunch of conversations I had with my technical advisor and with other police officers who, in the mid-1980s, had told me about the skyrocketing murder rate in Los Angeles. The LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department were just overwhelmed, so the mayor of Los Angeles, the LAPD chief and the sheriff of Los Angeles County put together a group of federal, state and local officers and they went and sort of cherry-picked the worst problem makers in the city. And it’s still going on today with most of the U.S. Marshal Service. They have a southwestern district that has a fugitive task force. I didn’t want to do a detective show. I wanted to do undercover, and I wanted to do a show that was a little bit more about how incredibly difficult it is to make the decisions regarding law vs. justice that our guys deal with.
The Editor: There’s a definite style and tone to WANTED. When you were creating it, how did you come up with that?
Jorge Zamacona: I just like the rhythm of how these guys talk. I spent a lot of time with police officers, and a lot of police officers aren’t written the way they behave – they’re written a little too stiff. These guys are a heck of a lot of fun to hang out with. They’re vulgar, they’re irreverent, they’re professional and they’re heroic, and I just wanted to capture the essence of what these guys do. And I keep using the word authentic when I ask questions about the show. I want these officers to seem authentic. The style of the show visually was conceived jointly between me and Davis Guggenheim, who directed the pilot, and we borrowed a little bit from Michael Mann and from Joe Carnahan’s Narc. I’m delivering only 44 minutes of story, so those 44 minutes have to hook you.
The Editor: How do you manage to make the story authentic without going overboard?
Jorge Zamacona: Oddly enough, I try to push the envelope and bust it because it’s easier to come back. If I shot or told a story that isn’t tough enough or engaging enough, it’s much harder to add it in later. So I get these stories from sort of a pool of ideas and stories from a lot of interviews I’ve had with police officers. Sometimes it’s from things I hear on the news, and sometimes it’s stuff that’s just making me angry that’s going on in the world. I had an episode come up about a serial child molester that came to me about a month ago just because there’s been such a rash of it in the country in the last few months. It’s one of those stories that is compelling that I absolutely will not exploit, but I want our guys challenged with those emotional highs and lows.
The Editor: Once you have your idea, what’s your process to get to the final script?
Jorge Zamacona: I spend probably a day outlining, just to figure out what the big beats are. I’m not good at line-by-line outlining. I hate it because I’m being asked to write before I have a chance to write it, which is why I resist the outlining process. Or I try to figure out structurally what’s the end the story. And I work my way backward – this will be a good third act out, this will be a second act out, this will be a good first act out and so on. And then I’ll write it, which takes about two weeks for a first draft or, if I’m under the gun, a day. From pen to paper to production is about a month.
The Editor: How’d you come up with the characters? What was key for you coming up with their development?
Jorge Zamacona: It’s really difficult to make each character distinct. And it’s difficult to make them distinct without giving them a five-minute polemic on camera saying, “When I was a child growing up in Cedar Rapids …” You need to learn these characters by the way they behave and the way they speak.
The Editor: Do you feel any pressure or responsibility to honor what real police officers do?
Jorge Zamacona: Absolutely, I do. That’s why our technical advisor is a 22-year veteran of law enforcement. I want it to be authentic to the men and women who go out and do the job. When I worked on Homicide, one of my favorite moments every year was getting a letter from a national police officers’ association lauding us for being real.
The Editor: Why on-location in Los Angeles?
Jorge Zamacona: Los Angeles is an enigmatic melting pot of just madness and weirdness and beauty, and it’s a massive city with no real central core like New York City, Chicago or even San Francisco. I think the contemporary law enforcement show about L.A. cops or L.A. crime hasn’t been told. But a lot of the crime stories that we’re telling here will speak to other parts of the country too. It’s just an interesting city to shoot in.
The Editor: What has been your goal for WANTED?
Jorge Zamacona: I’m trying to entertain, to move and to intrigue. I want people to lean into the screen and be compelled by the stories we tell, but I also want them to get a better understanding of what law enforcement agencies are doing out there and maybe feel a little bit safer. I do.