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Police academy grads hit the streets ; On 'Rookie Blue,' new cops have a lot to learn

Being a police officer can have its challenges particularly when you're new to the job.

A group of novice cops experiences many of them in the ABC drama series "Rookie Blue," premiering at 9 p.m. Thursday. An American-Canadian co-production (as is CBS' "Flashpoint"), the Toronto-based show is an ensemble piece, but the debut focuses largely on Andy McNally (Missy Peregrym, formerly of "Reaper" and "Heroes"), a rookie with a lot to prove.

She wants to be taken seriously, and she is especially driven to surpass the legacy of her ex-cop father (Peter MacNeill), who fought his own professional demons. Andy ends up having an eventful first day on the beat, attracting a homicide detective (Eric Johnson, "Flash Gordon"), then trying to talk down a suspect who takes her hostage at gunpoint.

Gregory Smith, remembered by "Everwood" fans as brooding piano prodigy Ephram Brown, also stars as another of the newly minted officers-in-blue. Charlotte Sullivan, Travis Milne and Enuka Okuma round out the cast as police academy graduates now putting their training to work or trying to.

"The saving grace is that we really had no idea what we were doing, so we got to play into that," Peregrym recalls of starting production on the show. "We didn't have to have it all together. I think it would have been terrifying if I was supposed to have played a veteran of the job who'd been doing it for years. We weren't cool about anything we were doing. I mean, we couldn't even put the gun in the holster properly.

"Because I didn't grow up dying to be an actress, it's been a learning experience for me right from the beginning," adds Montreal-born Peregrym, "and it's the same with this show. After playing Andi on 'Reaper' -- which was amazing for me, since I got to be home and spend time with my family [in British Columbia] -- I was ready for something that had more depth. I just couldn't say 'No' to this, though I was nervous, because I didn't know what would be asked of me."

Peregrym notes that she and the other "Rookie Blue" actors had "one day of training where real officers came in and showed us how to handcuff someone, how to hold a gun, etc. There was so much to learn. You go to an academy for five months in real life, and we had one day to maybe understand the tools we would need to use. This show isn't about procedure, though, as much as it is about how the job affects the characters and defines them as people."

Beyond the appeal of working in his native Toronto, Smith was lured by the characters-first approach of "Rookie Blue," since he allows that "Everwood" left him "very particular" about signing onto another series.

"That show was such a major investment," he says, "and took so much out of me, because it was so dramatic, I knew that if I was going to make that kind of commitment again, it would have to be to something that was going to be more fun."

Indeed, Smith's new alter ego, Dov Epstein, is a risk taker much looser than Ephram of "Everwood," by any standard. The actor says "Rookie Blue" permits his "energy to be up, whereas with 'Everwood,' Ephram's angst thing really started to really seep into my life. This show is about all five rookies, but the emotional center absolutely is Missy, and I get to have the funny story lines."

"Rookie Blue" has many women on its staff -- including the show's creator, Tassie Cameron -- but Peregrym isn't sure how essential that is to the integrity of her role.

"I've also done things where men have written for female characters and have done it really well," she says, "but there is a certain depth to our communication about this character and where we want to see her go. Obviously, a woman understands a woman, so I think it was easier to get there."

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