On the Bus...

Today's cuppa: Barry's Classic Blend Irish tea, on-set vanilla frappucino (thanks to the good folks at "Raising the Bar").

Spent most of the day on the bus with a fair-sized group of journalists touring three sets of current or upcoming TNT dramas. Once I dig into the material, I may post some interview excerpts down the line -- but not from "Raising the Bar," that will have to wait until I put together my syndicated feature story -- but here are some tidbits off the top of my head.

First, we headed to the northern San Fernando Valley to visit "Raising the Bar" and "Saving Grace," which shoot on small lots not far from each other. "Raising" is the new legal drama from Steven Bochco and former public defender turned author ("Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey Into the Inferno of American Justice") David Feige.

The show is primarily from the P.D.s' point of view, but since Bochco knows that, "Perry Mason" notwithstanding, TV viewers generally prefer prosecutors to defense attorneys (also something TNT, the "Law & Order" network, is counting on), there are representatives from both sides of the courtroom aisle.

We screened a trailer for the pilot on the bus, and the sight of star Mark-Paul Gosselaar with long brown hair was a surprise. It looks even better in person, and he was, as always, polite and well-spoken, even leading a brief tour into the show's New York courtroom set. The full cast was on hand, including J. August Richards, an old pal from The WB's vampire drama "Angel."

Richards and I took a few minutes to reminisce about the good old days on the main "Angel" set at Paramount's Stage 5, down the row from "Star Trek: Enterprise" (nothing like vampires, demons and aliens all wandering around together) and the ongoing Scrabble tournament run by the show's dedicated "Scrabblelistas."

Over at "Saving Grace," we settled in to talk to star Holly Hunter and co-star Kenneth Johnson (known as "Lemonhead" to fans of "The Shield") in the exuberantly decorated set for the house belonging to Hunter's character, hard-living Oklahoma City detective Grace Hanadarko, who has her own personal angel, a scruffy fellow named Earl (Leon Rippy). My favorite bit of decor was the Western horse figurine standing on the fireplace right next to a Japanese robot.

We then headed to the characters' regular bar to talk to Rippy and Laura San Giacomo, who plays a medical examiner. Fans of "Deadwood" may remember Rippy as Tom Nuttall, who owned the bar where Wild Bill Hickock (Keith Carradine) was murdered.

As probably happens with fans of the show, our conversation wandered into areas of faith and science and the intersection of the two. Both actors were thoughtful and candid -- as, indeed, were all the cast members. It's a bright bunch of folks, and all the cast emphasized that Hunter and show creator Nancy Miller foster an atmosphere of collaboration.

The rest of the interviews took place in the set for the Oklahoma City police department, which cast member Gregory Cruz said was actually nicer than the real thing. He also took a moment to show me the small souvenir he has from his visit to the memorial to the bombing at the Murrah Federal Building -- a clear cube containing an image of the Survivor Tree, an American elm that bears witness to the domestic terrorism act of April 9, 1995.

We then hopped back on the bus to return to Hollywood to sit down with the cast of "The Closer," which stars Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda Johnson, a sweet-toothed Southern cop whose crime-fighting acumen and interrogation skills have brought her to the position of deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department. Although Johnson is spending this season trying to rein in her love of sugary snacks, Sedgwick interspersed her comments with bites of strawberries dipped in chocolate.

And, by the way, if you've never seen "Closer" cast member Anthony Denison, who plays Detective Andy Flynn, in his starring role in the late '80s cops-and-mobsters saga "Crime Story," treat yourself and get the DVD box set.

He plays cocky early '60s gangster Ray Luca, who's locked in a battle to the death with tough Chicago cop Mike Torello (Dennis Farina). In season two, the action shifted from the Windy City to Las Vegas, where Luca eventually runs afoul of a nuclear bomb. If you think Tony Soprano was tough, you've never seen Ray Luca go up against the power of the atom.

Before we left, producer Andy Sacks led a tour of the main sets, including a scuffed, cramped, distinctly unglamorous representation of LAPD HQ at Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles that Sacks says is very true to life. "CSI Miami," it's not. And yes, Brenda's desk drawer is still full of candy, although she's gone a bit upscale with lots of Ghirardelli chocolate.

Slightly less realistic was the set for the rented duplex Brenda shares with her FBI agent boyfriend (Jon Tenney). Even a deputy chief would have trouble affording that much square footage, which includes a huge kitchen and bathroom. According to Sacks, it's more about providing room for cameras and crew than giving an honest view of Los Angeles real estate.

Next up on the docket is a visit to the set of "Mad Men," AMC's sleek saga of early '60s ad execs. And summer used to be such a quiet time...