A Toast to WHITE COLLAR at PaleyFest 2011

It was another night of fun and festivity as WHITE COLLAR was honored on Day 3 of the PaleyFest at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. Fans had arrived early for a glimpse of their favorite stars and by the time the panel began, the auditorium was abuzz with activity and excitement. After a brief introduction by creator/executive producer Jeff Eastin, the fans were treated to a special early screening of the second season finale. With treasure, lots of good-natured teasing and moments of comedic terror, the finale kept everyone on the edge of their seats. If the laughs and cheers were any indication, the episode is a guaranteed to be a fan-pleaser.

So as the lights went up, there was a palpable feeling of anticipation. As Jeff Eastin introduced the evening’s moderator, David E. Kelly (known for creating/producing such legendary shows as ALLY MCBEAL, THE PRACTICE, BOSTON LEGAL and HARRY’s LAW), he shared a brief humorous story about how David came to be the event’s moderator. Apparently Jeff had challenged Tim DeKay to contact David after Tim had bragged about meeting David at another event. So, in what could have been a potentially egg-on-his-face moment for Tim, worked out as apparently David’s daughter is a huge fan of the show and was only too happy to act as moderator.

With the mutual love-fest part of the night concluded, the remainder of the panelists were introduced: Matt Bomer, Tim Dekay, Tiffani Thiessen, Willie Garson, Sharif Atkins, Marsha Thomason, executive producer Jeff King and executive producer Mark Groffman. As each was introduced with enthusiastic applause, David appeared impressed at the warm reception. He later enviously noted that it made his shows’ fans seem “tepid” in comparison – which got quite a laugh.

In response to the first question about the genesis about the show, Jeff explained how he initially came to pitch WHITE COLLAR to USA Network. Jeff, having envied what Shawn Ryan on THE SHIELD, wanted to do a much darker show originally, along the lines “Vic Mackey gets outta prison to help solve cases.” But knowing that USA Network is known for its “blue sky” (“blue sky” meaning that the storylines tend to be a bit more upbeat and the visual look is meant to emphasize how blue and beautiful the world is, opposed to shows that adopt a darker, grittier look), Jeff elected to pitch WHITE COLLAR as seen through USA Network’s “Blue Sky Happy Filter” — and that, he explained, is how the character of Neal Caffrey popped-out – kind of like the anti-thesis of Vic Mackey. Right away, USA Network was excited about the project – though Jeff had to change the name. He had wanted to call the show “Commuted” with the tagline: “He ended his sentence with a proposition.” This naturally had the audience roaring with laughter — for as everyone knows, that tagline is not that far off the mark.

So WHITE COLLAR was a “go” right from the start. The next part was to cast the shows leads and casting director Gayle Pillsbury made that easy for Jeff, as she promptly pulled both Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay out of her casting rabbit-hat. She was so confident about Matt’s appeal in this role that she promised Jeff, “He’s a star.” Two seasons later and it looks like she was absolutely right!

While their talent and good-looks may have caught the casting director’s eye, from Matt and Tim’s perspective, they were drawn to the writing. For both, the secret to happiness for any show is great writing and they were tickled to be working on a show that offered such a rich combination of dialogue, characters and a fun backdrop of stories. Thus, the chance to work on WHITE COLLAR has been an extraordinary opportunity for them.

Feeling a bit left out of the revelry, David made sure to praise Tim’s earlier work on David’s shows, which prompted Tim to humorously say, “ I look back on the episodes I did of ALLY MCBEAL and THE PRACTICE as the finest writing I’ve worked on.” Laughing, David thanked Tim for “kissing my ass.”

Then, not wanting Matt to feel left out of the fun-and-games, David turned to Matt and semi-seriously said, “I am going to ask you the question I get asked all the time: what’s your phone number?” Playing right along as the room erupted, Matt playfully replied, “867-5309.” Seeing Willie’s expression, David then told him that he gets asked for Mozzies’s number all the time. To which Willie quipped, “Different people.”

Trying to get a hold of the quickly out-of-control laughter as the jokes kept flying, David tried to steer the questions back on track by asking Matt if he thought that Neal Caffrey ever feels remorse for his victims. Matt then candidly replied, “No. He believes they had it coming.” Matt also explained that, “Neal won’t ever sell Girl Scout cookies. He has a Robin Hood complex. He straddles both worlds, gets the best of both.” Jeff chimed-in to add, “[Neal] may want to be good, but he was born bad.” Clearly a bit tongue-in-cheek, the audience could see that this was meant to be a joke. But given how finely the show walks-the-line of whether Neal will stay on the new path before him, that laughter may be a bit premature.

Also taking a deeper look at the role of FBI Agent Peter Burke, David asked Tim whether Peter ever feels envious of Neal’s cavalier and lush lifestyle. Tim admitted that while there may be a little envy, Peter makes sure to keep it strictly at the admiration level. Peter perfectly well knows that Neal’s lifestyle is like playing with fire – you will get burnt. However, Tim also noted that what initially began as Peter using Neal for his expertise to catch white-collar criminals soon turned into more of a relationship of admiration and affection. “Peter loves that Neal loves to attack a caper the same way Peter does. Peter actually likes Neal, which is a problem.” So as Peter has grown fond of his new partner-in-crime-solving – Neal also has a new appreciation of what the FBI do as well. It has become a new game for Neal: the con within the con – conning the bad guys for the FBI.

In fact, both Tim and Matt confessed to loving how in the episode “Power Play” they got a chance to switch roles. (With a naughty glint in her eye, Tiffani Thiessen chimed-in to add that she “enjoyed it, too!”) Talking a bit more about the challenge of portraying his more statuesque co-star, Matt explained how he tried to imitate Tim’s physicality by putting his hands on his hips. But the really funny part when, as he explained “We don’t get a lot of takes . . . and I always go to Tim for guidance . . . and he says, ‘You know, that’s good, it’s OK, but you gotta stick your chest out.” It was only after Matt saw the dailies that he realized how ridiculous he appeared in that pose. He chuckled as he recalled, “I looked like a chicken . . . I didn’t have the same pectorals . . . I was compensating with my spine.” So despite the challenges of trying to mimic each other, both Tim and Peter would love to do more episodes playing the role reversals.

Turning to Tiffani, David noted that one of the things he loves about WHITE COLLAR is how strong the marriage is between Peter and Elizabeth – in fact, their marriage is the “rock” on which the show stands. Tiffani admitted that is her favorite part too – as it is a rare thing to see a marriage work on television. She loves that Elizabeth is Peter’s “rock.” When David asked if there was a bit of flirtation going on between Elizabeth and Neal, Tiffani hastened to reassure him that while Elizabeth may be curious about Neal, that curiosity is not in a “flirty” way. She explained “She fancies Neal . . . and she really likes Neal for the effect he’s had on her husband.” Just as everyone was buying into her explanation, Tim mischievously added, “[But] there’s a sizzle there!” Forcing Tiffani to laugh along with the audience.

As for what is cooking in Mozzie’s world, Willie Garson would only say that Mozzie exists to do capers. Like Neal is learning, it does not matter which side of the fence, so long as he gets to play in the game. Capers are like “oxygen” to Mozzie. During the discussion about whether the cast has the freedom to ad-lib lines, Willie provided the example of how he would not use the word “frenemy.” In fact, he called the writer up to berate him about including such a word in the script. He said, “Frenemies? Really? I’m almost 50.” To which David humorously interjected, “I’m beginning to see why your character got shot!”

Not wanting Willie to corner all the laughter, Marsha jumped into to share that next season, “I am going to be meeting my lady, Christy — maybe Diana’s gonna get some!” She also recounted one of the funny pranks on set where Sharif Akins pulled a great prank on her, “So this one day, I was going on and on and on about a celebrity that I can’t stand, and I was going on and on and on — and then the next day, this enormous bouquet of flowers from the celebrity with a note which said, ‘I heard you were talking about me. Thank you so much.’” As Marsha explained, “Because we all work with so many people, it’s six degrees of everyone,” thus she just assumed that word had gotten back to the person. She was immediately horrified and terrified that someone had told the woman about the comments she had said. Imagine her relief and outrage when she found out that Sharif had pulled a joke on her! Having been outed as a major player in the pranking department, Sharif shared that it was his greatest practical joke ever and he is quite pleased how successfully he pulled it off.

Because the cast had so much love for each other, David insisted on hearing about an incident where they were not feeling so warm-and-fuzzy about working together, which prompted Jeff to recall an incident and said, “The one time we didn’t all get along was the season finale last year when we shot in a pool that wasn’t heated.” To which Matt smilingly countered, “Well, what did you expect? I was wearing less than a thong. I was freezing! Of course I was grouchy. I was freezing! Icicles were forming on my nose. I might as well have shot a scene from the Titanic!” As evident, even on their worst day, clearly this cast keeps their humor intact.

Finally, with one last query about the show, David asked why it seemed in the first season that a lot more of the crimes were white-collar oriented, but during the second season, the show had begun to delve into darker storylines, such as murder and kidnappings. Which forced Jeff to ruefully admit, “We just ran out of white collar crimes!”

After sharing so many funny stories and revelations, the evening ended on a high note and more than a few teasers. So despite the shrinking world of white-collar crimes for Peter and Neal to solve, the world of WHITE COLLAR continues to expand as they embrace even bigger and better capers this next season. To see a hint as to what the third season will offer, tune in tonight to see “Under the Radar,” where Peter and Neal continue to stir up trouble about the mystery of the music box, and Neal stirs up an affair of the heart too.

The second season finale of WHITE COLLAR airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower). Tiffany also writes as a columnist for NiceGirlsTV.

  • Thank you very much for this long and detailed article. It’s like we were there with them! I can’t wait to see the season 2 finale…!