Jeff Eastin isn’t expecting a whole lot of Emmy love for White Collar, the USA Network personality procedural that he created and runs. But if his show isn’t in a league with the Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire crowd, its ratings eclipse them all as the top-rated scripted drama on cable with both adults 18-49 and 25-54. Now that White Collar has launched its 3rd season on June 7, Eastin spoke with Deadline TV contributor Ray Richmond about how the perception of USA is beginning to change and the frustrations of the dramatic comedy hybrid:
DEADLINE: Why do you think it is that shows like White Collar always are passed over at Emmy time?
JEFF EASTIN: There are probably a couple of reasons. First probably has to be the fact that there’s been a perception in years past that shows on USA are lighter and fluffy and don’t have the gravitas of a Mad Men. But I think that especially lately, there’s been a move toward being taken more seriously. The second reason we’re not on the awards radar is probably that we’re so successful. I think the prevailing wisdom is that you can’t be the top scripted drama in the prime demos and also embody quality. I was in Paris last year, and it shocked me how many Americans living over there watch the show. But the conversation always went, ‘Of course I watch Mad Men, and I have to say I also watch White Collar.’ It’s like they’re saying, ‘I understand quality television. I’m in the club. And I watch you guys too.’ So we’re slowly moving toward recognition. The greatest thing that I don’t hear is the term ‘guilty pleasure’ ever applied to our show.
DEADLINE: So you think Emmy voters dismiss your show based on its tone and subject matter?
EASTIN: Yeah, pretty much. There’s also the thing with straddling that interesting fence between comedy and drama as we do. It’s traditionally tough for dramedies like our series to generate any kind of awards discussion. If we’re going up against Mad Men and Breaking Bad, we’re not going to win that race. Being a hybrid makes it tough to get the recognition. I only wish people would judge us solely on the quality of the show and not the perception of it due to the network it’s on, and base their decision to watch or not solely on how good we are.
DEADLINE: But you did get honored by the Paley Center in Beverly Hills last March.
EASTIN: That was a huge thrill for us, especially because David Kelley volunteered to moderate because he really likes the show. That was a big moment for us. It represented a kind of continuing movement toward the realization that people are taking us more seriously and we aren’t just considered a lightweight show. The fact we have two exceptional actors in Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay has helped an awful lot and that relationship we have between our lead characters. When I sat down to write the original pilot, one of the big debates I had with the studio was, is this 48 Hrs? Traditionally, of course, what you do is you have the guys hate each other until the very last second of the final frame and then it’s, ‘OK, we’re not friends, but I guess we can be partners.’ I’m surprised that every year there are a fair number of reviews that basically say, ‘Get rid of the con man’s anklet and have him work for the FBI.’ And then of course you’d have a show about two wisecracking guys solving crimes. It would be like asking Dr. House to get rid of the Vicodin addiction and the limp.
DEADLINE: But didn’t you get some criticism last season that your leads got a little too chummy with each other?
EASTIN: Yes, that happened. And that’s one reason why we decided to reset the mythology for Season 3 and start over with something closer to the relationship the guys had in the original pilot. We’ve taken it back now to where Neal (Matt Bomer) is a little more bad boy and adversarial. We feel like that’s going to a bit of a darker edge, where they smile and laugh with each other but once they walk out of the room they wonder what the other is really up to. But one of the great things about being on USA is they give us the freedom to play around a bit with the show’s tone.