For a TV writer/producer, this was a familiar moment.
Someone called, John Eisendrath said, and “wanted to pitch me an idea for a show. Usually, … I brace for a polite way of saying, ‘Thank you, but it’s a terrible idea.’”
Except, this one didn’t seem terrible at all. Now “Alert” (show here with Scott Caan and Dania Ramirez) has a two-night debut on Fox – 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 8 (after football) and 9 p.m. Monday (after the season’s second “Fantasy Island”).
The caller was Datari Turner, whose producing partner (Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx) wanted to make a series based in Philadelphia’s missing-persons unit.
“Jamie had an experience one afternoon, when he thought his child had gone missing,” Eisendrath said. “It was not the case, but for about six or seven hours, he wasn’t sure.”
That was a while ago — Foxx’s daughter is now 28 and works as his DJ on “Beat Shazam” – but the crisis made an impact, Eisendrath said. “He did some investigating about the people who find missing persons, and it fascinated him.”
For Eisendrath – previously a producer of “Blacklist,” “Alias” and “Beverly Hills, 90210” – this was a chance for variety. “One of the great things about a missing-person show is the range,” he said.
But he also tacked on a serialized sub-plot, built around Nikki (Ramirez) and Devon Caan). Their marriage crumbled yeara ago, when their son disappeared.
“We also have a daughter that we co-parent,” Ramirez said. “You have two people who have to … move forward and go through a divorce, but still feel there’s a lot of love there.”
He stayed in the military, becoming an action hero; she joined the missing-persons unit. Then circumstances get them working together.
“Nikki is the heart and soul of the show,” Eisendrath said. “She is the one who is centered around empathy.” She helps people who “need a hug as much as they need a forensic analysis.”
Ramirez, 43, has had roles ranging from Cinderella to a devious maid and the leader of a band of outcast mutants. Caan, 46, the son of the late James Caan, is coming off a decade co-starring in “Hawaii Five-0.”
They worked together long ago on “Entourage,” when he played an annoying agent and she was Turtle’s girlfriend, nudging him to promote her dad’s tequila.
“What a completely different vibe that was,” Ramirez said. It was simply “fun and we were completely different people back then. We didn’t have kids back then.”
Now he has a daughter, she has twins and they start to imagine the agony when someone is missing. An actor can’t help being affected, Caan said. “After we do five, six years of this show, I’m going to (say), ‘Put me in a half-hour comedy immediately, please.’”