Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
The third-year CBS hit crime drama Person Of Interest introduced its two newest regulars, Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker, tonight during the second of the Paley Center’s five-night PaleyFest: Made in NY celebration honoring TV shows that shoot in New York. Both actresses had been recurring on the show before getting upped – Acker for two seasons, Shahi for just one. “It was one of those when I first got the job where, if the audience took to me, if the storylines worked, maybe they’d make me a regular,” Shahi said. “So even when I had the job I felt like I was auditioning for the job.” But clearly, the audition went well, as Shahi is now a full-timer in portraying government assassin Samantha Shaw on the series. It worked out nicely for Acker, too, as her character root (a highly intelligent computer hacker and contract killer) received her promotion to regular cast status for the third season. Yet she admitted during the fairly subdued session that getting comfortable in the character’s skin has taken some getting used to since she’s “not a computer person.” She added, “I can barely check my email. So sometimes I’ll get lines and say, ‘What the heck am I talking about here?’” Showrunner Jonathan Nolan was also asked early on what the point was to add regulars to an already successful show. He explained that he and his fellow producers (including J.J. Abrams) simply couldn’t pass up the chance to work with actresses the caliber of Acker and Shahi. “Plus, when you add a few new characters, that actually winds up adding five or six new relationships,” Nolan said. “It gives us that much more of a challenge, which is great fun.”
TV Guide senior critic Matt Roush moderated the session for the series that’s also facing a new night (Tuesday) and time (10 PM) following its September 24 season premiere. Besides Nolan, Acker and Shahi, stars Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson and Kevin Chapman also were on hand. During the Q&A portion, an audience member asked the panel what it was like shooting in New York. Shahi said she hates the cold, which sometimes leaves her lips looking blue on camera. Chapman loves the unpredictable part of filming on the streets of the city. He recalled a scene where the cameras were shooting from across the street when suddenly “this little old lady elbowed me on her way walking by,” he recalled. “I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ And she says, ‘Hey, you were in the way!’ That’s New York. Nolan joked that they would only consider shooting someplace other than NY “if New Jersey comes up with a tax credit. Then we’d be all over it.”
But on a more serious note, Nolan said that it’s a particular honor to be making a drama series during such a wildly creative moment. “You keep hearing the phrase Golden Age thrown around,” he said, “but from the writer’s perspective, that’s absolutely the case. There’s such a diverse crop of amazing shows out there…I grew up with shows like Hill Street Blues, Magnum P.I., The Equalizer and The X-Files, shows that are capable of telling an entertaining story with a beginning, middle and end. Now that I do this myself, I can relate to the epic challenge of telling an epic story in 43 minutes.” When it was pointed out that Person of Interest is adding a seemingly endless collection of villains, Nolan quipped, “Our writers all actually get contractual salary bumps with each bad guy we add. That’s motivation.”