Is there truth in advertising?
New TNT series "Trust Me" (premiering Monday, 10 ET/PT) may not make viewers true believers. But the principals behind the series have the pedigree to ensure its ad-centric authenticity.
Executive producers and creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny (co-executive producers on TNT hit "The Closer") logged a combined 20 years as ad men at major agencies in Chicago, where the 13-episode series is set.
"This is definitely a show that's been percolating in our heads," says Coveny, noting that it was their on-the-job training on "The Closer" that gave the duo the experience and leverage to sell network execs on their latest effort.
The fast-paced drama — infused with sex, humor and a well-known ensemble cast — focuses on Mason ("Will & Grace"'s Eric McCormack) and Conner ("Ed"'s Tom Cavanagh), best friends and creative partners at Rothman Green & Mohr, the fictional agency that also handles real-world clients such as Unilever's Dove brand.
The untimely demise of Mason and Conner's boss ("Life on Mars"' Jason O'Mara) propels Mason into management, much to freewheeling Conner's consternation, which is a central part of "Trust Me"'s season-long plot.
Cavanagh relishes his character, a rogue with an innate ability to come up with a great tagline. "It's great to play the cad, someone with stunted adolescence, yet he can get away with it because he can be charming, witty and he's exceptionally good at his job," he says.
"Trust Me," whose cast includes Griffin Dunne as an insecure group creative director and Monica Potter as a high-maintenance copywriter, is based on "Frankenstein" composites of former associates, Baldwin says.
The ad world is usually a cutthroat business, but the two say the recession makes "Trust Me"'s agency intrigue and struggles timely and poignant. "Advertising is a business, and all businesses are going through a tough time," Coveny says. "You're going to see all of the characters try to change people's perceptions, not just for ego, but for survival."
Cavanagh says he found "Trust Me"'s setting intriguing. "It's about the modern-day workplace where someone can say, 'I can help you with that,' but what they're really saying is, 'I'm going to steal your job.' It's fresh, smart and (Coveny and Baldwin) have got a million story lines."
The first two episodes focus on the wrangling and backbiting behind the ad campaign pitches for Arc Mobile, a faux phone carrier signed only after Mason fumbles through a last-ditch pitch.
When Arc Mobile's CEO later says a focus group found Conner's "What Can You Do With One Hand" tagline offensive, the creative team struggles to come up with a second, only to surreptitiously scuttle it when they realize it inadvertently was stolen from an annoying potential hire.
"Trust Me" follows a tradition of ad-themed shows, but its tone is lighter than AMC's noirish "Mad Men" and has little of the sappy boomer angst that dominated '80s drama "thirtysomething."
Baldwin and Coveny hope viewers connect to the show's premise and characters.
"Commercials are a part of our shared experience — even more than movies and some TV shows," Baldwin says. "For good or bad, there's a natural curiosity about how they're made."