In 2014, Mark-Paul Gosselaar put on the director’s hat for the first time, helming an episode of his TNT legal drama, Franklin & Bash. Gosselaar’s desire to direct had been increasing for years, dating as far back as his days on N.Y.P.D. Blue. But, there had always been one small hump.
Legendary TV creator Steven Bochco (N.Y.P.D. Blue, Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law) believed in keeping his actors focused on the task at hand; as an invaluable member of Bochco’s oft-used stable of actors, Gosselaar couldn’t find an opportunity to try something new. “He has a policy where actors act and they don’t direct their own shows,” the 42-year-old actor recalled in an August chat with ETonline, following a day of press for his new Fox show, Pitch.
Now, Gosselaar is taking the reins on another TNT show, Taye Diggs’ cop drama, Murder in the First, which will air on Sunday. It’s almost surreal to think his second turn in the director’s chair almost didn’t happen.
After one of the original directors fell through, Gosselaar received the green light in February -- which happened to be the same day he went in for his camera test on Pitch. Then, Pitch got picked up to series in May, complicating matters for him to be able to complete his directing duties on Murder in the First. In the end, though, it all worked out.
“Coming onto a show like Murder in the First, it has a set parameter and boundaries that you have to remain within but there are moments where you can make a mark and do things that haven’t been done before on that particular show,” Gosselaar said. ET exclusively premieres a scene from the episode he directed featuring Diggs and guest star Kim Delaney, as they talk through Terry’s relationship issues during an intense counseling session.
To prepare for his stint, the former Saved by the Bell star took inspiration from FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and USA Network’s Mr. Robot, shows he was obsessively watching at the time. His episode also featured an unusual amount of courtroom scenes -- “It was more courtrooms than they’d done all season,” Gosselaar pointed out.
Gosselaar admitted that directing his own show, Franklin & Bash, was “tricky” at times, and though he didn’t verbalize it, there was a sense of relief walking onto a set where he wasn’t also the star.
“I’m only as good as the cast is. I can give them notes, but if they can’t take it, then it goes nowhere. They were amazing,” he said of the Murder in the First ensemble. “Every day, I was happy to be a part of the process and I was getting performances out of them where I was behind the monitors smiling, knowing that we had a good product.”
It’s fair to say Gosselaar has been bitten by the directing bug. He and his Pitch co-star, Mo McRae, have teamed up to do more commercials and episodic television -- “the ultimate goal is to do film,” Gosselaar says -- as they gain directing experience. “I just want to do it all. I want to be behind the camera more. I appreciate being in front of the camera, but I’m finding that creatively sometimes I’m more fulfilled being behind the camera,” he said.
In fact, Gosselaar and McRae recently pitched potential commercial ideas featuring a few of their Pitch co-stars that Fox liked enough to give them the go-ahead.
“We’re currently working through that at the moment and hopefully we’ll have some promos for Fox at the end of this month,” Gosselaar revealed, adding that Fox will ultimately decide whether they’ll air them.
And, he already has his sights set on his next mission: Direct an episode of Pitch, which would be a challenge on a much grander scale. “I’ve already asked,” Gosselaar admitted. “Hopefully in success, we’ve already talked about possibly doing it next year.”
Murder in the First airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TNT. Pitch premieres Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.