In the intriguing new crime drama “Wisdom of the Crowd” (8 p.m. Sunday, CBS), Jeremy Piven (“Entourage,” “Mr. Selfridge”) plays Jeffrey Tanner, a Steve Jobs-like tech innovator who creates a cutting-edge crowdsourcing app to solve his daughter’s murder, and revolutionize crime solving in the process.
To assist him, Tanner recruits Detective Tommy Cavanaugh (Richard T. Jones), the cop who originally investigated the murder but was abruptly forced off the case. The cast also includes Natalia Tena and Monica Potter.
Though set in the Bay Area — Oakland, specifically — “Wisdom of the Crowd” is filmed in Los Angeles. Still, Piven recently dropped by the Bay to promote his new endeavor. We caught up with the actor over drinks and snacks at Bourbon and Branch, a historic speakeasy bar in San Francisco.
Q: So what attracted you to this series?
A: It’s an idea, in terms of the tech aspect of it, that could absolutely exist today. It’s realistic and people get that. But also, you’re dealing with the humanity of a father who has lost his daughter.
Q: Tell us what you find particularly interesting about playing Jeffrey Tanner.
A: He believes he’ll solve his deep feeling of loss if he finds the killer, which, of course, isn’t the case. He’s completely driven and will stop at nothing to find the killer — and I think that ultimately leads to some very interesting behavior. Doing the wrong thing for the right reason.
And he’s paired with a totally old-school detective who doesn’t use a computer unless he has to. The only app on (Cavanaugh’s) phone is probably Postmates, so he can get some food when he needs to. So it’s an interesting relationship and duality.
Q: How much did the idea of playing the driven, swaggering tech tycoon aspect of the character appeal to you?
A: Well, I’ve never met Mark Zuckerberg, or Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk, or any of these guys. I’ve only read about them and seen their interviews. But these are people who all come by it very honestly. They’ve made sacrifices and put the work in. There’s some luck involved, obviously, but they figured out a way to make things that are so incredibly useful and universal and accessible. Everyone wants to, but very few do it.
So, yes, I wanted to play a version of all that — but a guy who, when we’re introduced to him, is at the end of the road. It’s almost like meeting Steve Jobs when he finds out he has cancer. So it’s meeting Steve Jobs when he becomes spiritual. That’s when we meet Jeffrey Tanner. All he cares about now is justice for his daughter — as opposed to crushing the game. And I think that’s kind of fascinating.
Q: Did you do a lot of research into these personality types? Did you read the Walter Isaacson book on Jobs?
A: Yeah, I did, and one of the things that I found really fascinating and confirming is that Jobs wasn’t necessarily smarter than everyone else. It’s just that he didn’t allow himself to be hemmed in, in terms of his thoughts and his creativity. He allowed himself to be very free-wheeling with his ideas. And I think that’s the same in any arena: You have to dare to look foolish and make mistakes. The moment you start monitoring yourself or second-guessing yourself, you sell yourself short.
So I’m playing a guy who has that ideology and has been walking that walk for a long time.
Q: So what was your first reaction to the show’s concept — this crowdsourcing app?
A: My first thought wasn’t even the tech aspect of it because I couldn’t relate to it. I was more of a (tech) caveman than I am now. What I related to was the humanity of it in terms of the character being broken and mourning the loss of his daughter and trying to figure out a way to make it right.
For a guy from the tech world to figure out a way to find the killer of his daughter is kind of preposterous. But if you think about it, ultimately, this does make sense. So it comes from his need and his drive and his passion and obsession to do what he believes is the right thing. And any time you’re dealing with obsession, we don’t know how it’s going to end. But we know it’s going to be a pretty dramatic journey.
Q: Your co-star, Richard T. Jones, has said you both have tried to find ways to inject humor into this dark subject. How important is that to you?
A: It’s really important, but humor, obviously is a very subjective thing. It’s about figuring out how to do it where it’s appropriate to the characters … I think all the great shows that have dealt with high stakes and drama have utilized comedy in certain ways. … And I think that when you have professions like police work or the military, they embrace gallows humor because they need that release. … So we bust each others’ balls and its fun, and I think that’s something viewers will enjoy.
Q: On “Entourage,” you were part of a talented ensemble. Now, you’re the main star on a major network series, and you also have a producer’s credit. Are you feeling more like a leader — someone carrying some responsibility on your shoulders?
A: I do. You know, I’m not a kid anymore. I’ve been doing this for quite a while and I feel I’ve come by it honestly. I’m ready now to help in any way I can. The actors know that they can come to me for anything — from ants in their trailer to changing dialogue in the scripts. I love being able to help my fellow actors and put them in the position to win on the set.
Q: The story line involving the search for the daughter’s killer is the main thrust of the show. But additionally, you’ll have other cases. Can you give us a feel for what kinds of stories the show might explore in its first season?
A: Well, I can’t say too much. It’s funny, though. Some of the stories were written months ago and as we were filming them, they were happening in real time. … What I think our writers have brilliantly done is figure out ways to not make it just a by-the-book procedural. Things are really organic in terms of how my character is seduced into helping others. Because he really doesn’t want to help. He just wants to find his daughter’s killer.
He feels like it’s going to side-track us and distract us if we solve other cases. I think that’s a great point of view. But he can’t help himself because there are parents trying to find their kids and cases where he would have to help. So they’re all very human stories that I think the audience will gravitate towards them just as my character does.
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