Popular BBC police drama Line of Duty's fifth season dropped on Acorn TV this week and I had the opportunity to chat with the show’s creator/writer Jed Mercurio. Learn how an internal medicine physician became the showrunner of the highest rated U.K. program of 2019 and what to expect from this newest installment.
If you aren’t familiar with this critically acclaimed British series, it’s a tense thriller set in the fictional police anti-corruption unit known as AC-12. Unrelenting twists and turns reveal dangerous secrets about shady law enforcement officers in cahoots with OCGs (Organized Crime Groups). The troubling question for the investigators and the viewers alike is, who can we trust?
After dutifully Googling around in advance to my phone interview with the Line of Duty head honcho, I learned that Mr. Mercurio was a physician prior becoming a very successful television series showrunner. How this career shift came about is quite an unexpected turn of events. Jed was working in a hospital as an internal medicine resident when he saw an ad in the British Medical Journal seeking doctors’ guidance for a new medical TV series. His suggestions for a more authentic, revisionist approach to portraying the medical profession morphed from a consultant role into a commission to write the 1990s BBC drama Cardiac Arrest.
When asked if he’d had any television ambitions previous to this venture, Mercurio said his only writing experience was penning some comedy sketches for a hospital review. He learned story lining and other scriptwriting skills on the job as an apprenticeship of sorts.
Mercurio’s method for creating Line of Duty starts with outlining the episodes on his own. He then takes the outline to his editorial team to collaborate on the development of characters, story and so on, developing what he calls the “taste of the new series.” From there they go back and forth with drafts until the episodes are ready to shoot.
Mercurio also explained that while actual news stories may inspire plotlines for the show, he relies on a team of police advisors to get the procedures and tone right. For those familiar with Line of Duty, you know there is a virtual alphabet soup of law enforcement acronyms to keep track of. Like any profession, the police have their own jargon and idioms. When new concepts are introduced, they are quickly “initialized into abbreviations to replicate how officers talk.”
Our discussion then turned to the core cast, AC-12’s crack team trio (Adrian Dunbar as Superintendent Ted Hastings, Vicky McClure as DI Kate Fleming and Martin Compston who portrays DS Steve Arnott). When asked which character was most like him, Mercurio said he identified with certain aspects of each character’s personality. More importantly though, once the actors start to embody their roles, they imprint their own personalities onto the characters we see on-screen.
Each series of Line of Duty introduces new characters for AC-12 to investigate and interrogate. Guest leads have included respected British actors such as Keeley Hawes and Daniel Mays and, since I fancy myself a casting director, I wondered ifMercurio ever has specific actors in mind for a given role. He replied that he avoids writing with an actor in mind because, in TV, availability of the talent is key, particularly when it comes to actors based in the U.S., such as the series' very first suspected corrupt officer Lennie James and Season 4's Thandie Newton. Pinning an actor to a role early on then is often a waste of time.
Fans are very aware of the interconnectedness of the various series, be it strands from past plotlines or the mention of characters long gone. I asked Jed if he had a master plan when he set out to create Line of Duty’s web of police corruption and organized crime including the identity of the high-ranking bent copper known only as "H." He said it developed as he went along, with certain dramatic elements and characters lending themselves to a “future arsenal of possible stories.”
Regarding Season 5, I asked Mercurio how this set of episodes differs from previous years. He described it as “going behind the mask” of an Organized Crime Group. Starring Stephen Graham (Boardwalk Empire and This Is England) as ruthless OCG leader John Corbett, it’s the first time the show has dramatically explored the planning and execution of criminal activity and corruption, rather than just the investigation of it after the fact.
And as for the future of this phenomenally popular drama, Mercurio confirms that the BBC has ordered a sixth series which is currently in the planning stages. No writing will begin until the schedule of cast availability is worked out.
Are you looking forward to the newest installment of Line of Duty? Season 5 is now streaming exclusively on Acorn TV, with all six epsiodes available to binge immediately.