One of the most daunting tasks for the executive producers of Fox’s new Lethal Weapon series, based on the famed ’80s/’90s film franchise, is getting TV viewers to forget the iconic performances of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, who respectively played buddy cops Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.

The new series dives into the duo’s relationship, but it’s more touchy-feely and less crazy high jinks than what we saw onscreen.

LETHAL WEAPON
Richard Foreman/FOX

“The most recent movie, Lethal Weapon 4, was grounded in comedy,” said EP Matt Miller, “but in order to do something that had legs, you have to have some depth. So we rebooted the story with their backstories. It’s really about two guys who are broken and need each other.

“With the movies, you have 90 to 120 minutes and there’s several years between installments,” he added. “We wanted to draw on this painful, emotional experience. We didn’t want the audience to catch up to them. We wanted to see the moment where Martin Riggs breaks and that visceral impact.”

In the show, we see when Riggs’ wife dies and lose her child, a moment that sends him over the edge.

In the movie, Gibson played Riggs as unhinged man. Speaking about whether he’ll harness that aspect of the character, Lethal Weapon star Clayne Crawford explained: “In the films, I believe the character was doing cocaine, which jacked things up a bit. This is Fox, it’s family hour, and there’s no cocaine. I was playing more to the sadness (of Riggs), to ground him in an honest place. What Mel Gibson did was so incredible in 1987, but I think that character has to be more grounded today.”

Said Miller: “Of all the challenges in remaking this property, I’m most proud of the fact that you (the audience) don’t think of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.”

He added: “Casting this show is everything, and we started the process with this show, we sat down with (Lethal Weapon) director Richard Donner to get his blessing. … (He said) ‘If you don’t have the guys, you’re screwed.’ We knew casting was going to be everything. It’s a challenge because the two guys who played these roles did so really famously. To find guys who have chemistry and forget about those two was the biggest challenge of the pilot.”

Damon Wayans was the first to commit, and the actor’s comedic nuance on Murtaugh made all the difference for the EPs in bringing a different take on the character from Glover. Miller credits the series casting director for discovering Crawford, an Alabama-based actor, in an independent film.

Miller said that Leo Getz and Lorna Cole, the famed characters originally played by Joe Pesci and Rene Russo, eventually would appear on the show. But, like the films, they would be injected at a point in time “when it needs that shot of adrenaline. We’ve got so much story with these characters.”

Lethal Weapon, which debuts on Fox on Wednesday, September 21 at 8PM, will feature cases of the week, but there will be a grand mythology for the show. EP Dan Lin mentioned that despite the WBTV/Fox series and the mythology it is hammering, “there’s still potential for a Lethal Weapon 5 movie.”