Art imitates life to a degree in "Necessary Roughness," an engaging new dramedy premiering at 10 tonight on USA.
Inspired by the story of Dr. Donna Dannanfelser, who worked as a therapist for the New York Jets in the mid-1990s, the series stars Callie Thorne ("Rescue Me") as Dr. Dani Santino, a Long Island psychotherapist whose marriage implodes when she discovers that her husband (Craig Bierko) is a serial philanderer. Throwing the cad out of their home, the stunned Dani is fretting over how she'll be able to support her two teenage kids as a single mom when she meets Matthew Donnally (Marc Blucas, "Knight & Day"), a trainer for the New York Hawks, in a club.
After a torrid one-night stand, Dani and Matthew discover they enjoy each other outside of bed as well, and after she uses hypnosis to help him shake a longtime smoking addiction, he helps get her a trial gig with his football team, entrusted with turning things around for high-maintenance bad-boy gridiron star Terrence "TK" King (Mehcad Brooks, "True Blood"). Thus Dani finds herself drawn into a strange new world that pays well but puts incredible demands on her as she tries to juggle the all-consuming nature of this job with her responsibilities as a single mother.
"You will never find another show that has such perfectly balanced testosterone and estrogen components like you do on this show," says executive producer Liz Kruger, who created the series with husband Craig Shapiro after having a meeting with Dannanfelser, who had been trying unsuccessfully for years to generate interest in her personal story. "It really has something for everyone, a lot of emotion and action and comedy -- and yes, sports, but through a totally different lens than you are used to seeing it."
The show's roots in real life were an added incentive for Thorne, best known as Sheila Keefe, Denis Leary's volatile sometimes-lover in the FX drama "Rescue Me."
"Partly it was that I knew this woman, and I wanted to explore telling this story, but there was also part of me that didn't know her world at all," the actress explains. "When I read the script for 'Necessary Roughness,' the fact that it was inspired by a real woman made me feel like it was so rich in its detail, because I knew it was coming from a real place. It just felt much more grounded for me, and I liked the idea of playing a woman who was ordinary to a degree but then put into extraordinary circumstances. I'm used to playing extraordinary women who are in normal situations, and then you just watch them destroy everything around them."
The romantic comedy aspect of the show fell into place with the hiring of Blucas, the former real-life college football star whose calm, masculine sweetness (he spent two seasons as Riley Finn, the title character's boyfriend, on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") strikes a perfect balance with Thorne's intensity.
"So many times actors will say 'Oh, (this character) was so opposite, so different to who I am, so it was so great to go do that role,' and I've had that experience, but I thought this character was probably the most like me that I've ever read," Blucas says. "They didn't know me when they wrote it, and they've given me a voice in helping create it, but I saw a character who was a part of the sports world, which was a prominent part of my upbringing. I thought the character was sarcastic and smart, not that I'm necessarily smart, but it's something I can put across. I just didn't think this apple was falling too far from the tree. I knew I could bring a lot to it just from my own experience."