Can a Police Procedural Be Aspirational in 2022? How ‘The Rookie: Feds’ Is Tackling ‘Copaganda’ and Systemic Change

“It became very clear that ‘aspirational’ wasn’t enough, that we were portraying a version of policing that was alien to a lot of people,” Alexi Hawley tells TheWrap

the rookie feds niecy nash

By focusing on Niecy Nash’s Simone — a Black, queer woman and rookie agent — in “The Rookie: Feds,” co-creator, co-showrunner and executive producer Alexi Hawley knows that the spinoff series cannot shy away from discourse about systemic change and structural racism. In real life, less than 1% of feds are Black women, and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the 2020 protests against police, calls for the termination of law enforcement procedurals have swelled in tandem with discourse about defunding. 

The uprisings against racial injustice broke as Hawley and his writers room opened for “The Rookie” Season 3, and the sensitivities of more nuanced depictions of cops has colored his and Terence Paul Winter’s approach to “Feds.”

Hawley told TheWrap in an interview, “[‘The Rookie’] had always been aspirational about policing, but it became very clear that ‘aspirational’ wasn’t enough, that we were portraying a version of policing that was alien to a lot of people. And so how do we hold on to the aspirational nature — because I think that’s what gives people hope — but yet start to deal with the issues that everybody was focused on?”

That’s the question “Feds” is also trying to balance: While Hawley said he wants to prioritize the show’s entertainment value, sans “preachy” qualities, the producer also emphasized the show’s core in enacting change from within an unjust system — something that in and of itself is a murky debate and is exemplified by Simone and her father, Cutty’s (Frankie Faison), continual disagreement over her chosen career path.

In our Q&A below, Hawley discusses everything from ensuring authentic depictions through consultants and diverse writers rooms, as well as his response to the idea that there can be no ethical police procedural under the current system.

TheWrap: Right off the bat, ‘The Rookie: Feds’ zeroes in on the debate of whether institutional change can be enacted from the inside, and Simone and her father return to that conversation often. Could you talk about how that will continue and evolve throughout the season?

AH: It’s the heart of the issue that outside pressure can only do so much — that if these institutions are actually going to change the way they operate, there have to be people on the inside who are pushing from the inside because a lot of places circle the wagon, so to speak, when there’s outside pressure. So we think it’s really important. We try and tell the stories with a lot of different levels of tone, so we don’t want to get preachy about it, but I think that, at the end of the day, the bridge between or the gap between Simone and her dad about some of these issues is what helps us tell these stories, and make them feel grounded in character and not issue-oriented.

The show centers on a Black, queer woman in a space that’s often dominated by straight white men. How do you ensure that Simone’s perspective leads the show’s narrative?

The only way you can do it authentically is to fill your writers room with people who represent that perspective or pieces of that perspective. That was Terence and my first goal — Niecey too — when we first sat down with her to start talking about it. We were all on the same page about having people in the room who look like Niecy, who had a lifestyle like Niecy and all that kind of stuff. If it’s all homogenous, then you’re never gonna get that sort of diversity of perspective.

What were some of the most important considerations in getting this spinoff to air, post protests against police brutality and racial injustice, as well as calls for defunding? 

Season 3 of ‘The Rookie,’ we started breaking that story right after George Floyd was killed and we took it very much to heart as a writers room and as a show, that talking about systemic injustice was something that we were dedicated to doing. The show had always been aspirational about policing, but it became very clear that ‘aspirational’ wasn’t enough, that we were portraying a version of policing that was alien to a lot of people. And so how do we hold on to the aspirational nature — because I think that’s what gives people hope — but yet start to deal with the issues that everybody was focused on? And also knowing that that spotlight that came in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death was gonna, as it always sadly does, dim over time: the people taking to the streets and all that, that sort of faded away. We felt very much like we had a responsibility to still be talking about these issues after that burst of activity was gone.

We’ve carried that through on ‘The Rookie’ ever since, and when we were creating ‘Feds’ that was still very important and centering around Niecy and her character, Simone, says in the spinoff episode in Season 4 of ‘The Rookie’ that only 1% of FBI agents are Black women. Just by the very nature of choosing that [person] to be your lead character, you have an obligation to focus on those stories. But, again, trying to still create a show that people look forward to watching that doesn’t feel like an after-school special and really walks that line on having some important perspective, but never taking itself too seriously. And also just, trying to ground it all in reality.


Were there any network or executive level challenges in getting this series made? Although it is based on a known procedural, it’s not as long-running. How did their input differ from or reflect conversations happening in the writers room?

ABC and Disney have been very in-step with us the whole way in terms of when we were talking about the way we were going to deal with issues of policing. ABC has proven themselves very committed to diverse writers rooms, diverse directors, diverse crew — they have guidelines in place they encourage you to meet. They’ve been a really great partner in trying to tell stories about police officers in Los Angeles that look like Los Angeles. In terms of the challenges, it’s the challenge of anything. I feel very lucky that I’ve struck gold twice to find the incredible cast that we did on ‘The Rookie’ and then to find an equally talented and dynamic cast on ‘Feds.’ ABC’s been really supportive of all of our choices along the way.

What kind of experts or consultants did you lean on for this show, and was it a mix of former law enforcement and activists on the other side of things?

Going into Season 3 [of ‘The Rookie’], we really cast a wide net to talk to people with different perspectives on policing. We started working with Color of Change and a bunch of other different groups, public defenders to talk about systemic injustice. But coming into ‘Feds,’ it’s hard, as I said, if 1% of the FBI are Black women, how do you find a consultant that is a Black woman? But we magically managed to find a former FBI agent who is through one of the writers in our room. She’s been invaluable in having an authentic perspective for where Simone is coming from and what she experiences inside the FBI. Traditionally, most of the consultants for FBI shows are white men, so it was really important for us to find somebody who wasn’t that, and we did.

Will ‘Feds’ grapple with any historical wrongs from the FBI, such as unlawful surveillance of key civil rights figures? Conversations about the ethics of procedurals often only touch on the local or state level, so I was wondering if you could speak more about if the show might delve into these federal issues.

No, and we talk about it in the show; some of the conversations that Simone has with Cutty, her dad, had been about that. Her origin story in the show was that her father was wrongfully convicted by the LAPD and served eight years before a federal investigation found out that he was innocent, so she was driven by that idea that the FBI actually are who helped get him out of there. As with anything, it’s complicated. Yes, there [were] a lot of crossing lines and stuff like that, historically, with the FBI and with Civil Rights and with Black Lives Matter. But yet at the same time, [the FBI] were also at the forefront of some of the Civil Rights legal actions and stuff like that across the country. We’re always conscious of it. I’ve said from the very beginning that the one thing that you have to be as a police show in 2022 is self-aware.

What would you say to the overall criticism that centering so-called good cops or airing any procedural nowadays is ‘copaganda’?

I understand the point of view, completely, and I do think, historically, cop shows have only shown cops as righteous and justified. Jumping back to ‘The Rookie,’ our first episode of Season 3 was dealing with noble cause corruption, which is the concept that if a police officer does something in the pursuit of justice, even if it’s not an act that’s positive, the ends justify the means — that that’s OK. That has been prevalent forever. Literally, the DNA of that show ’24’ was, ‘It’s OK if he’s torturing terrorists because he’s really just trying to save the world,’ and that’s just not OK because that is corrupting. 

I mean, at the end of the day, I do think that there are plenty of people in law enforcement who are doing it for the right reason and who are trying to help people. I think the framing of a ‘few bad apples’ ultimately needs to be nuanced to the fact that you can’t be a good guy if you’re not helping to root out bad guys. This goes back to the very beginning, what we’re talking about, in terms of change from inside: Until cops start standing up and getting rid of the ones inside the force or inside the FBI that are a problem, then the system won’t change.

“The Rookie: Feds” airs on ABC on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, with next-day streaming on Hulu.