Behind every smart TV show, there is a tireless script coordinator, technical adviser, researcher or producer who makes sure the jargon is right, the science is accurate and the pop culture references are on-point. To get a better sense of who keeps the angry nerds at bay, Wired.com spoke with fact checkers behind the fall TV season’s geekiest shows.
Everybody thinks they know what it’s like to be a cop these days, thanks to the recent wave of gritty, hyper-real TV dramas that bring law enforcement to the small screen.
Former New York Police Department detective Jim Nuciforo will be the first to tell you that being a cop is not like what you see on TV — and he’s often charged with making on-screen depictions as accurate as possible. For much of the last decade, Nuciforo has advised writers for TV shows and movies on proper police procedures and jargon.
“They use a good amount of what I give them,” Nuciforo, 50, told Wired.com. “But they have to take some license — it is a TV show.”
His latest gig is advising on the new CBS show Unforgettable. The show stars Poppy Montgomery as Carrie Wells, a woman whose medical condition gives her a flawless memory, making her a valuable asset to police investigators. One of those detectives is (Nip/Tuck’s who asks her to consult on a homicide case.
Nuciforo doesn’t have total recall, but he can put actors like Montgomery and Dylan Walsh, who plays her ex-boyfriend and former partner, through his own on-set NYPD boot camp. Check out Nuciforo’s TV Fact-Checker bio below.
Title: Technical consultant, Unforgettable (premieres Tuesday on CBS)
Bona fides: Twenty-three years in law enforcement. Started with the New York City Transit Police doing patrols and undercover work. Worked for former NYPD commissioner (and one-time Hollywood starlet truth-speaker and Scotland Yard adviser) Bill Bratton. Investigated homicides as part of a DEA task force. Retired as a first-grade detective.
TV shows and movies he’s advised on:Law & Order, New Amsterdam, The Unusuals, Life on Mars, Blue Bloods, Castle, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Salt and The Other Guys.
How did you come to be a law enforcement technical adviser?
“It kind of happened by accident. I was very close friends with a gentleman by the name of Jack Maple and he was a deputy commissioner of the NYPD. He was very colorful, very charismatic. So much so that they fashioned a television show after him. That show was The District and Craig T. Nelson played Jack. After the third season, Jack passed away, so they needed someone to keep Jack alive. [The creators] knew I was a close friend of his so I would fly out to the writer’s room in L.A. and give the writers and producers Jack’s stories. It went on for two more years with those stories. Some of the writers went on to different shows, so they would call and say, ‘Hey, we need a technical adviser, are you interested?’”
What kind of things are you asked to advise on? How do you work?
“As the writers are writing the scripts they’ll call me or have writer’s assistants call me and ask questions: ‘How do we do this? How do we do that?’ And I’ll give them suggestions…. I’ll read the script. Then I’ll read it through again and make hand-written notes on the script. Then, as I’m reading it the third time, I’ll begin making typed-up notes. Like ‘Act 1, Scene 35, Page 2? and then I’ll write what the issue may be. Then I’ll address that issue. It could be jargon, procedure, anything NYPD-related…. Once they start shooting, any of the days they think they’ll need a technical adviser on the set, I’ll be there and help the actors work through that. Everything from holding a gun to attire.”
How detailed do you have to get when explaining complex police procedures to writers?
“Sometimes on a 60-page script I may have 13 or 14 pages of notes, depending on how procedural it is. I’ll just have to spell it out for them. I give them the reality and then they can call me and take it from there. If they want to use my wording verbatim, that’s great, but usually they really can’t.”
What about the actors? How much do they welcome your suggestions?
“The actors are very hungry to learn…. When there’s a lull in the shooting, I’ll run a little NYPD school. Just to give them tips on different things, things you might say or things you might do [as a cop]. Things I’ve learned over the years that may seem like nothing, but a cop would certainly say, ‘Wow, where’d they get that from?!’ I love that.”
Do you ever hear from old friends on the force about the shows you work on?
“After every one of these shows air, my phone rings with someone saying, ‘Hey, that was great!’ Guys that are on the job will say, ‘Hey, how come you made them do it that way?’ I have to tell them, ‘Well, I didn’t make them do it that way, I just gave them reality and this is what worked best. Reality doesn’t always work best for television. This isn’t a documentary we’re making.’ As much as they want to keep it real they can’t always do that.”
‘Reality doesn’t always work best for television. This isn’t a documentary.’
What are some of the obstacles for keeping it real for TV cops?
“One of the hardest parts of my job now is just staying current. The technology every day is evolving. With every script, I have to go back and check the new procedures. They’re changing every day. Most of the databases have changed. Let’s say Jim Nuciforo here was our suspect. I might’ve had to check and run him through 10 different databases to see if we had anything on him a few years ago, because none of the databases interfaced. One may be for narcotics, one may be for robberies, summonses. But now the NYPD has the Real Time Crime Center. You give them the information you have and within minutes or hours they’ll give you everything on the location where the homicide was committed, information on the suspects, background on your victim. I maintain ties with the NYPD for going back and seeing how it’s done.”
Has anything ever made it to air on a show that you advised on that you wish hadn’t?
“Nothing that’s made me cringe, no. I’m of the mindset that I know I gave them the note and they couldn’t use it.”
Have you ever tried to pitch story ideas?
“Many of the scripts that are written are based on stories that I’ve given the writers. Or parts of the scripts are based on things that have happened to me in the past. But no. It’s not that I don’t have the writer in me, it’s just not something I aspire to do.”