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February 27, 2019

Whiskey, Romance, Action, and Comedy

David Hemingson mixes drama, comedy, and romance in Whiskey Cavalier.

Tom Knapp
  • David Hemingson on the set of Whiskey Cavalier

    ABC
  • Whiskey Cavalier

    ABC
  • Whiskey Cavalier

    ABC
  • Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan in Whiskey Cavalier

    ABC
  • Whiskey Cavalier

    ABC

What do real-life superheroes put on their playlists after a romance ends?

That's what David Hemingson found himself wondering after an unexpected late-night conversation about six years ago.

"Who died?" he remembers thinking when his phone rang at about 2:30 a.m.

No one. It was a longtime friend from the FBI - he was just back from a mission to bust up a terrorist cell in Saudi Arabia, Hemingson recalls, and he was leaving the next day to tackle a sex trafficking ring in Northeast Africa.

He was also getting over a painful breakup.

That night, Hemingson says, his friend - "I can't say his name," he confides - was worried about his playlist, which he'd generated to help him work through his heartbreak.

"The other guys in the FBI think it's a little too maudlin," he told Hemingson.

And that, Hemingson says, became the setup for his new series, Whiskey Cavalier, which premiers Feb. 27 on ABC.

"He's like this superhero, jaunting around the world helping to preserve freedom and democracy," Hemingson says. "And he called me wanting to know if there were too many Smiths songs on his playlist."

Hemingson - who has worked as a writer, director and executive producer on shows ranging from How I Met Your Mother and Just Shoot Me to Family Guy and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 - is calling from Prague, where filming is wrapping up on the 13th and final episode of Whiskey Cavalier's first season before cast and crew jet to Austria to film "an insane Alps ski chase."

He still laughs at the memory of that phone conversation.

"I just happen to have a friend who is a sensitive FBI agent," he says.

"The series is not based on him," he adds. "But it's inspired by him."

Series star Scott Foley (Scandal) plays FBI agent Will Chase (codename: Whiskey Cavalier) who, after his own heart-wrenching breakup, is sent on a mission on foreign soil. There, he runs afoul of CIA agent Francesca "Frankie" Trowbridge (codename: Fiery Tribune), played by Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead), whose mission is at cross purposes to his own.

Sparks fly in several directions as the agents butt heads.

"They're magnetic together," Hemingson says.

He hopes their on-screen partnership continues, he says, in part because their chemistry - both on-screen and off - works so well.

"I was bowling with them last night, of all things, in Prague," he says. "They get along really well, which gratifies me completely. From what I've seen from the 13 episodes we've shot, and from drinking beers and rolling balls with them last night, I think we have a great team-up."

Putting two agents - one from the FBI, the other from the CIA - together in a contentious relationship isn't as unrealistic as it might seem, Hemingson hastens to add.

There are more than a dozen intelligence agencies in the United States, he explains, and "they don't always share information. They don't always cooperate. I have friends in both agencies and, from my understanding, there is a lot of rivalry among them."

But Whiskey Cavalier wouldn't work as a straight-up spy thriller, he says. It's more Mission: Impossible meets Cheers.

"Scott Foley is Diane Chambers, and Lauren Cohan is Sam Malone," Hemingson says. But, instead of a Boston barroom, their workplace is a black-ops task force that unites their disparate talents.

"They've been seconded, or removed, from their respective agencies," he says. "As a team going forward in the series, they have been removed from those obligations and restrictions."

The result, he says, is a blended stew of comedy, action and drama.

"It's a sliding scale," he says, when asked where on the spectrum the series falls. "It's surprisingly relentless as a drama. The action is great. And the comedy is informing it all.

"I see it as genre-fluid. At its heart, it's all about relationships and people."

In some ways, Hemingson says, Whiskey Cavalier is a reaction to the current success of Marvel Comics' cinematic universe.

Viewers, he explains, want their heroes to show human emotions.

"Look at Infinity War. Look at all the Marvel stuff, which is blowing up like crazy," he says. "The reason Marvel works is because all of those characters, Iron Man and Spider-Man, are flawed. They're human. They have issues they're dealing with."

That's true, even when the heroes are ordinary people rather than god-like beings with radioactive blood, robotic suits or Asgardian genes.

"It's a great genre, the espionage genre," Hemingson says. "We've seen Bond, we've seen Bourne - the icy superhuman. But having your heroes be both incredibly strong and incredibly vulnerable - we could not have a better time for that."

The series, he says, offers "tremendous excitement, romance, intrigue, betrayal, unexpected alliances, gunplay, romance and whiskey."

Hemingson pauses for a moment when it's pointed out he said "romance" twice.

"Yeah, man," he says. "That was an accident. But use that. Double the romance."

Hemingson, who was an attorney before becoming a writer, says he dabbled with the idea of acting "but I wasn't good enough" to work in front of the cameras. "But I've always loved writing," he says. "I think I found the career I was meant for."

Comedy in particular speaks to him, he says.

"Comedy is about making sense of the universe, making sense of life," he says. "It's a good way of seeing the world, because there's a lot of absurdity."

There are some great comedies on TV these days, he says, but there are even more phenomenal dramas. Whiskey Cavalier, he says, crosses boundaries in a way he believes to be rare.

When the series first airs - a special sneak preview is scheduled after the Oscars on Feb. 24 - Hemingson says he'll be on pins and needles until he knows what its reception will be.

"Are you kidding me? Yeah, man. The jitters is putting it mildly," he says. "There are other euphemisms that I could use that would put it less politely.

"But I love these characters. I want to protect them. I want them to do well," he adds. "This is a show about two people, Will and Frankie, who couldn't be more different, but are fated to be together. Watching that chemistry grow and flourish, and taking the audience all over the world with them, is going to be thrilling. I hope people enjoy it."

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