Once upon a time, Dylan McDermott played a turtleneck-wearing softie who had to convince a skeptical 6-year-old to believe in Santa Claus, in the 1994 remake of "Miracle on 34th Street." Now, on CBS's "Hostages," he's a beefed up, bulletproof vest-wearing, tough-talking bad guy, pointing a gun at a suburban family and demanding its matriarch – a high profile Washington, D.C. doctor – assassinate the president.
"The good news is that early in my career, I played a lot of good guys. I was saving Santa Claus and being a lawyer, and I had a lot of good behind me," McDermott says, "I don't think I would enjoy just playing bad if I hadn't been good for so many years."
"Hostages" is the latest in the growing field of glossy TV political thrillers (think "Scandal," "Homeland" or "The Americans"), chock-full of twists and turns, conspiracy theories and characters who are not what they seem. In the pilot, before McDermott's character Duncan Carlisle is taking the titular hostages, he first shows up as daring FBI agent with an adorable daughter and a comatose wife. McDermott hints that there is more to the character than straight up bad guy, describing his "duality." And McDermott didn't go to playing the villain overnight, having recently shown his sinister side on FX's "American Horror Story," the film "Olympus Has Fallen," and other darker roles.
"Hostages" reflects network television's attempts to be more like its "prestige drama" cable counterparts, where mysterious anti-heroes rule the landscape and complex, over-arching narratives replace serialized, procedural tidiness.
(To be fair, "Hostages" also appears to be a bit inspired by ABC's "Scandal," which has amassed both a rabid following and critical acclaim for its over-the-top political thriller theatrics).
"Hostages" is based on an Israeli series – one more thing it has in common with "Homeland" – and like "Homeland," looks to be just as much about the family drama among the kidnapped kin (think a pregnant daughter, a drug dealing son and a father with corporate secrets) as it is about the high stakes stand-off between Duncan and the doctor, played by Toni Collette.
Furthermore, "Hostages" also borrows from cable and premium shows its format, a consecutive 15 episode limited run.
"Network television certainly has to change in order to survive and I think that 'Hostages' is the first foray for CBS to step into that pool because I think they see the future," McDermott says. "I think they see that reruns are probably a thing of the past. I think that limited series is certainly the thing of the future. It's hard to sustain 22, 24 shows with all the reruns that go with it."
He had a two season run on "American Horror Story," which also experimented with limited episode, single-storyline seasons and led the Emmy nomination count this year,
Of course, the format and the high-concept premise has critics asking how CBS plans to make a multi-season series out of it, an issue McDermott brought up multiple times.
"People are intrigued by it, but they're also nervous by it, because they're talking, 'How can it be a series?' I think the network just saw the third episode and they were like, 'Holy sh-t, this is a series,' because, you know, nobody's sure," he says.
With the pilot, "Hostages" filmed a teaser clip for the entire season, which helped McDermott understand where his character and the show was going – at least for this season, because he's not thinking too far into the future
"I learned my lesson with 'The Practice.' I thought that was going to be [just] a pilot and I was there for seven years. So you know, you just don't know with these things," McDermott says. "I always believe in everything I do and I believe in 'Hostages' and if it's there for a season or if it's there for eight seasons, I am going to believe in it the whole way."