Executive producer Gideon Raff wanted to do something truly special for his newest series. It was a simple idea, initially. He wanted to bring Jerusalem, the city in which he was born and raised, to American audiences. Out of that idea came a thrilling murder mystery, set against the backdrop of modern day Jerusalem, that involves a centuries-old conspiracy. USA's Dig premieres tonight and will air on Thursdays at 10 PM ET.
“Avi Nir the head of Keshet, our partners in this – Keshet is the biggest broadcaster in Israel – he said to me, let's make a show about archeology in Jerusalem, and I immediately jumped on that opportunity because I love this city so much, so I thought let's bring to the American screen something they haven't seen before,” said Raff.
“What's so great about Jerusalem is that it really also dictates the way you shoot it. Because of the narrow alleyways and because of the crowded streets, and because of the lack of control...It's so not a controlled set like you have here in America. Anything can happen. It so unpredictable that at the end of the day it's really...you're shooting this guerrilla style. The cameraman has to throw the camera on his shoulder and you're running behind the actors or in front of the actors. There's an unpredictable factor to Jerusalem. Everything can happen. You have to be very light on your feet and that energy translated very well to the screen.”
Dig follows FBI agent Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs) as he is drawn into a murder mystery of a young archeologist he meets who reminds him of his deceased daughter. But what starts out as a simple whodunit turns out to be much more, as he begins to uncover an international conspiracy involving the Holy Land's deepest and darkest secrets. Dig comes from Raff and Tim Kring (Heroes), and also stars Anne Heche, Lauren Ambrose, Omar Metwally, Richard E. Grant, and Regina Taylor.
“Both Tim and I love the whodunit thriller aspect to the show. We love tackling so much story in each episode. We love the plot twists and turns about this. The idea that Peter's investigating one murder of one archeologist in Jerusalem. but unveils a conspiracy 2000 years in the making. So, all of that is the fun part,” said Raff.
"In addition to that, I think Dig deals with faith and with fanaticism, and that is very timely in our world today. Every one of the characters in Dig deals with that spectrum,” he said.
To come up with the complex internation story, “it's really just researching and then running with your imagination. A lot of these characters, a lot of these priests and rabbis and police officers are in the paper every day. You just have to dig them out,” said Raff.
Beyond reading books and newspapers, Raff and Kring went a farther with their research and did something a little unusual for executive producers.
“When we started researching this conspiracy, Tim and I went undercover to some of these organizations in Israel. We went together and met with some of these people, and then we ran with our imaginations,” said Raff.
“I call it undercover, but it was a lot less exciting. We went in to explore some of these organizations and we didn't tell them we were making a TV show. We pretended to be someone else, yeah,” he said.
So yes, indeed it was undercover. However, what that experience gave them not only helped color the elements of their story, it also gave them a unique look at the people behind those conspiracies.
“You also discover that they're not cliché, that they're not a stereotype, that they're actually people. And what they do they do because of love of God or because they think they're really saving the world or they're very dedicated. It's not bad people or good people. It's a completely different ideology that we cannot be blind to. In Islam and in Judaism and in Christianity if we decide that these people don't exist, there's a real threat on us. It's really fascinating trying to understand their motivations,” said Raff.
The producers took that material and infused it into Dig. “Every one of our characters is doing it for the greater good. In their mind, of course.”
While developing the story was thrilled for Raff, Kring and the writers, they were not without their challenges. After shooting the pilot, they began shooting in Jerusalem until they ran into a major problem. Eventually they had to leave because of unrest in the region.
“It was heartbreaking and we were scared for a while. But then, we made a decision not to compromise the show, not to show less of Jerusalem, not to make it suddenly an interior show. And we hopped around the world looking for the best place to shoot Jerusalem. And thankfully we had amazing partners in UCP and USA. They supported our capricious look. We found Jerusalem in Croatia...that was challenging, but we had wonderful crews all over the world,” he said.
According to Raff, Dig has become a rich, unique, murder mystery the likes of which you haven't seen on television. And better yet, it's a closed ended story, so the ten episodes of Dig will be one complete story with an ending.
“We know exactly where it's going,” he said.
And if the series gets picked up for a second season?
“Well, then Peter Connolly will wake up in a different consulate, in a different part of the world and investigate a different crime. This season is just about the End of Days in Jerusalem. It's a close-ended story. So after that it will be a completely different story. We have ten episodes to tell the story. We knew exactly what the story is, and not only do we know what the ending is, we already shot it.”
Here's a look at Dig:
Are you going to watch?