James Spader was the main attraction at the at-capacity Comic-Con panel and preview for The Blacklist, NBC’s DC-set crime show. The network has high hopes for the high-testing series which debuts September 23. In his first return to broadcast drama since Boston Legal, Spader turns up the acerbic charm as Raymond “Red” Reddington, an enigmatic ex-operative turned mercenary who kicks off the series by turning himself into the FBI with vital information, hiding his own secret agenda. “Imagine if Whitey Bulger started talking to the feds — which he ultimately did — he’d be the Rosetta Stone of crime,” said exec producer John Fox of the show’s initial concept envisioning a Bulger-esque central character. Fox joined creator Jon Bokenkamp alongside stars Spader, Megan Boone, and Diego Klattenhoff at the Comic-Con panel and pilot screening. Boone stars opposite Spader as FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen, a self-described narcissistic bitch struggling to start a family with her loving husband while balancing the demands of her top secret job. Reddington starts feeding info on the FBI’s most wanted — the criminals on every government agency’s wish list — while trying to get close to Keen for unknown reasons as the duo team up to stop a terrorist attack in the inaugural episode.

Spader’s character is being aggressively promoted around the convention center grounds in a campaign provoking the question “Who is Red Reddington?” Even Spader enjoys the mystery. “You’d better make a choice to play a character that’s going to sustain, where questions are going to go unanswered for a while — not only for audience but for me as well,” he said. “You’re immediately drawn in by these people, but by the end you know nothing about them,” he said of The Blacklist‘s enigmatic storytelling. “That’s great because when you’re shooting your 18th episode of the season you want to be surprised… the first time i ever did a series I loved that aspect, it was such a gamble. You really didn’t know where it was going to go – you grew with the show and the show grew with you.” Meanwhile the Comic-Con crowd ate up every Reddington wisecrack in the episode, which balanced its handful of violent moments with Spader zingers. “This guy was such a strange mix of someone who is dangerous and scary at times but also compelling, and part of that is his sense of humor,” Spader added.