It was The Social Network that influenced executive producer Nicholas Wootton's midseason entry Golden Boy.
"When I saw The Social Network, [I thought] that feels to me like the modern young male. There is this drive, ambition, this thoughtless, forward-thinking, 'I don't care who gets burned' ambition," he told reporters at the CBS drama's Television Critics Association's winter press tour session Saturday. "I thought, 'What if it was a cop?' "
What if there was a show centered on "a young man who has this ferocious ambition and always wants more than what's on his plate," Wootton said. "What's the next thing?" Golden Boy follows the meteoric rise of a New York City cop from his days as an officer to homicide detective to police commissioner in seven years.
It was executive producer Greg Berlanti who brought the idea of seeing where Walter William Clark Jr. (Theo James) ends up seven years down the line. Employing the use of flashbacks was also a key structural choice that Berlanti felt was important to bring to Golden Boy, citing the use of them in The WB's Jack & Bobby. "I think it works well for television," Berlanti said, having "that extra layer."
Golden Boy hit a snag when Ryan Phillippe dropped out as the title character, before producers filled James in the role. The panelists noted the shift from the show being a "one-star vehicle" to becoming a more "mentor/mentee" feel between James and Chi McBride, who plays a more veteran NYPD detective.
"It developed naturally from when we started the pilot," James said. "It was a little bit of art imitating life. I'm a young English punk ... Chi has been doing this for a long time, he's a veteran," likening their onscreen relationship to a father-son, Obi-Wan/Luke Skywalker dynamic.
Wootton referred to his previous experience working on NYPD Blue as being a significant reason why he decided to pitch a show like Golden Boy, which wrapped production on its 13 episodes earlier this week.
"The thing I thought worked amazingly about that show was [that] it was a show about its time," Wootton said. "There was something fascinating to me about a character that would make mistakes and be redeemed. If I was ever to do a cop show, that would have to be the genesis."
Think of Golden Boy more as a character-driven drama with mythology than a straight cop procedural. And that means not everyone is safe.
"Pretty much every single thing that's talked about in the pilot takes place in the series," said Wootton. "I certainly know where certain characters die. ... I know that Theo James' character does not die."
In terms of the show's format, Wootton noted that the pilot essentially sets up a potential seven-year plan, with each season serving as one year of the over-arching mystery.
Golden Boy premieres Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. on CBS.