It used to be only cops, doctors and lawyers were worthy subjects for TV series. It's time to add stockbrokers to the mix.
Tonight, TNT premieres the Wall Street drama series "Bull," and in November, Fox rolls out "The $treet."
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When: Tonight at 8 on TNT.
Starring: George Newbern, Stanley Tucci, Malik Yoba, Alicia Coppola, Elisabeth Rohm.
"Bull," named for the "bull market" that was in force when the series went into development, is easily the better of the two series. Although both deal with young traders and investment bankers, "The $treet" is immature and sex-obsessed. In its pilot, two young turks peddle an IPO for ivygene.com, "buying and selling the semen and eggs of Ivy League grads over the Internet."
"Bull" deals more with power, politics and breaking free of the past.
Autocratic old man Robert "The Kaiser" Roberts (Donald Moffat) strides into the Merriweather Marx bull pen, spouting money-grubbing proclamations: "The one reason God put us on Earth is to make money. Let the ill-informed call us venal, let them call us greedy ..."
But the venal, greedy grandpa gets blindsided tonight when his grandson, Robert "Ditto" Roberts III (George Newbern), breaks away from the firm, taking several top associates with him.
Ditto can't put up with the Kaiser's willingness to flout the law, particularly when it comes to insider trading. To this, the Kaiser says, pish posh:
"Only a child would think the world doesn't work with a wink and a nod and a handshake between old pals, smoking Cohibas and sipping Grand Marnier behind closed doors."
Moffat is a godsend to "Bull," and the rivalry between the Kaiser and Ditto is at the heart of tonight's premiere. Moffat isn't a series regular, but he will return in future episodes. Better to use the Kaiser sparingly anyway. The rest of the characters need more development.
Ditto's co-conspirator, Alison Jeffers (Elisabeth Rohm), proves to be an inadvertent liability for the new firm. Others making the jump to join Ditto and Alison include Corey Granville (Malik Yoba), who makes a killing for The Kaiser selling bonds but still feels the sting of discrimination. Marissa Rufo (Sofia Coppola) worked hard to rise at Merriweather Marx, so she worries about rocking the boat. Newbie Carson Boyd (Christopher Wiehl) just tries to learn how it all works.
Stanley Tucci appears in the first six episodes of "Bull" as Hunter Lasky, a negotiator who can help the young'uns as they strike out on their own in the world of high finance.
"America is not about mom. America is not about apple pie," Lasky says. "America is about ownership."
"Bull," premiering tonight at 8 with repeats at 9 and 10 (the show will regularly air Tuesdays at 10 p.m.), moves at a brisk pace that's punctuated with staccato dialogue like Lasky's. The characters need more time to develop and gain depth, but there's an energy to the show that makes it a smart investment of your TV time.
Michael S. Chernuchin created "Bull" for TNT after pitching the idea of a finance industry drama to the broadcast networks for 10 years.
"I kept getting this reaction that nobody cares about people who make money," Chernuchin said at a press conference last month in Burbank, Calif. "But something happened the last couple of years, and I think it's the Internet. Everybody is in the stock market."
Chernuchin, who spent six years writing for "Law & Order," worked as a lawyer for a New York City firm before getting into television. It was his days as a lawyer that stoked his interest in creating a show like "Bull." He's not worried about the show's lingo -- IPOs, arbitrage, greenmail, margins -- distracting from the drama.
"On 'Law & Order' I think I helped explain the law to America," he said. "We never cheated the law. We're going to try to do that in 'Bull' using real business terms."
That's also what Fox's "The $treet" will do. Luckily for "Bull," it gets a three-month head start. Chernuchin said "Bull" is going for a more sophisticated audience than "The $treet," created by Darren Star ("Melrose Place," "Sex and the City"). Both programs follow on the heels of the Wall Street-themed theatrical release "Boiler Room," which featured actor Tom Everett Scott, a leading player in "The $treet."
Newbern, who stars in "Bull," said the two TV shows are in the same universe, but they're set on different planets.
"This is more about a venture capital firm and less about business in the bull pen on Wall Street," Newbern said. "It's almost like 'Chicago Hope' and 'ER.' It's different energy."
Actor Malik Yoba said "Bull" is less about money and more about chasing opportunities and dreams, the entrepreneurial spirit of America.
"We broke off from a big firm to do our own thing," Yoba said of the characters on "Bull." "People really appreciate the underdog, and I think that's what the show is really about."
Although it's a cable show, "Bull" obviously can't get away with as much as HBO's "The Sopranos" because of the differences between basic and premium cable. That's fine by Chernuchin.
"When I first sat down with [TNT executives], they said, 'We want to see something we can't see on network television,' " he said. "By that they didn't mean nudity or four-letter words or violence, they meant substance. We're trying to do a different kind of drama."
Chernuchin points to a scene in the show's third episode in which Lasky "does a totally legal business deal that's also disgustingly immoral. And Carson is caught in the middle of it. There's plenty of conflict."
Upcoming guest stars include David Ogden Stiers, Kathy Baker, Bruce Weitz and Nina Foche, who plays a pivotal role in another scene that made Chernuchin proud.
"Donald Moffat and Nina Foche are in the most tender love scene you've ever seen between two people who are in their 70s," Chernuchin said. "I was allowed to do a scene that wasn't plot-driven. This was pure character. On the networks they have buzz words -- 'What's the button on the scene? What's the act-out?' We're coming closer to theater than we are to network television."
That may or may not be a bunch of bull. Viewers who watch "Bull" in the coming weeks will decide for themselves.
Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.