Stay Tuned
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Monday, June 01, 2009

Mark-Paul Gosselaar: "We've got the start of something really big here"

Last season, any magazine/Internet article about “Raising the Bar” mentioned the same thing—Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s hair. And even though it seemed like such a silly topic, I felt like it was my journalistic duty to ask his reaction to the backlash when I talked to him.

So after I said hello and took a deep breath, I dove right in. “I’m almost embarrassed to start off with this question,” I told him. But before I could even ask the question, he interrupted me. “The hair,” was all he said, but I could tell it was a bit of a sore subject.

“Were you surprised by the reaction?” I asked him.

“We’ve been surprised from the very beginning. We didn’t think it would be such a talking point. It’s still a surprise.” Gosselaar is way too nice of a guy to come out and say it was annoying, but he did mention that he wished people would have instead talked more about the different way the show portrays the public defender’s office.

Tackling the issue head on (no pun intended), in the second season premiere entitled “Hair Apparent,” Gosselaar’s Jerry actually cuts his hair. “We just thought we’d try something. We thought we would take away a distraction.”

So other than the hair, how else has Jerry changed from when we first met him last season? “I think he’s been more tactical,” he told me. “He’s still as passionate and dedicated to the cause as ever. He says first and thinks second. He’s never going to conform, but he’s willing to play the game.”

Gosselaar also provided a little bit of a tease as to what else we can expect this season. “We brought in a new judge to help out with Jane’s [Kaczmarek] character. There’s a new perspective, new romances. Jerry and Bobbie continue to roll along. The luxury of having 15 episodes is we are able to take our time. Last year we kind of had to put our heads down and get through the season. Now we can broaden our characters.”

When “Bar” premiered last year, it broke records and became ad-supported cable’s highest rated series premiere in history. I asked Gosselaar what his reaction was to the numbers. “I’m not gonna lie. That was really awesome. I used a profanity to say how excited I was. We weren’t working at the time, so we didn’t have the pressure of waiting on ratings. That can affect you on set.” Gosselaar said he is hoping for the same kind of success this season.

TNT has really changed the rules when it comes to scheduling new shows with a full slate of new series hitting the airwaves this season. I asked Gosselaar the difference between working on a network and working on cable. “Twenty-two episodes (the normal network order) can get sort of tough toward the end. It’s a long season. 10 was way too short. 15 seems like a really good number. We’ve got the start of something really big here. I really thought this is the place you want to be for television. I couldn’t have timed it any better.”

So what has Gosselaar learned while doing the show? “Public defenders actually want to be public defenders.” Gosselaar said that public defenders are usually portrayed as people who—for whatever reason—can’t be a paid defense attorney. But when he interned at the public defenders’ office in the Bronx, he learned that’s not the case. “I met some of the brightest, most fascinating people. People that went to the best schools. They want to help the powerless. It gave me a whole new perspective.”

Gosselaar also looks at the entire legal system differently now. I’m not as cynical [toward defendants]. I may be more cynical toward the other side now. I’m interested in finding out how or why a person did that. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt now.”

Gosselaar told me more than once that he is truly enjoying his experience with “Bar.” So how long is he hoping the show will continue? “I’m on board until they call it. I look at my good friend Dennis Franz (who was on “NYPD Blue” 12 years). He had the same dedication the whole time. I’m here until they make me leave.”

“Raising the Bar” returns next Monday, June 8th at 10 p.m. on TNT…
Photo Credits: Kyle Christy/TNT & Art Streiber/TNT