Rizzoli & Isles is getting a new team member this week, but you might not even realize it at first.
Idara Victor (Turn) joins the drama as Nina Holiday, who's quietly introduced on Tuesday's episode (9/8c, TNT) with such little fanfare that you might assume it's a drive-by guest-starring role. But the low-key debut was a decision executive producer Jan Nash did not take lightly. "I think usually it would be a big deal for any show, but we didn't make it too much of a thing at the beginning," Nash tells TVGuide.com. "We wanted to ease into it given the circumstances."
Those circumstances, of course, being the death of Lee Thompson Young, who played Det. Barry Frost, last August. After a tribute to Young and Frost in the second episode of the season, Nash had to figure how to go about filling that vacancy. One thing she didn't want to do was to replace him outright.
"Obviously you can't replace Lee and the Barry Frost role on the show, and in making the decision to really live in the dramatic impact of the loss, we ended up creating some new dynamics within the existing characters," she says. "We put Korsak [Bruce McGill] and Jane [Angie Harmon] on cases together, letting Frankie [Jordan Bridges] be involved and have access, and you don't want to disrupt those again by throwing a new detective into it. We really put a lot of thought into creating this new character. We think of her as a new character, not his replacement per se. She's filling a part of the show that is adjacent to, but not quite what Frost was doing."
Instead of a detective, Nash made Nina a crime scene analyst, a regular role heretofore unseen on the show. In the past, it was Frost who would handle the technical legwork for the squad before hitting the field with Jane. But, as Nash points out, that wouldn't normally fall under a detective's list of duties. "Many of the people who do it for real are civilians ... and we thought there's a role of somebody who's not gonna be going into the field, who's not gonna be doing interrogations — a dedicated function that really fits in the Boston Police Department," she says. "[She's doing] a very specific job that doesn't intersect or take away from the work of Jane, Korsak and Frankie."
Nina is not merely a civilian — she's a former cop from Chicago who was not only looking for a change of scenery, but a career change. Jane suspects there's more to it and she's right, but what exactly that is will slowly be revealed over the rest of the season. "She's not a serial killer!" Nash quips. "We're a little bit doing it ass-backwards. She sort of has a dramatic story, this secret, to tell about how she got to this place. We're really letting her capabilities and really Idara's charm, because she's an incredibly charismatic actress, develop a relationship with the audience first and then telling you those things about her."
Despite the air of mystery around her, Jane & Co. are welcoming toward Nina, whom Nash describes as "very competent and unassuming." She also wastes no time proving her proficiency and invaluableness to the squad that's in line with her background.
"This is someone who has law enforcement experience. There are so many crime shows that have a position a little like this, and they're often sort of nerdy, glasses-wearing, snarky or dresses differently, and we just wanted to go against all that," Nash says. "We don't want this character to be an irritant or be someone people would react against. She's friendly and assured and she knows what she's doing. This show has a cast and a collection of characters where everyone gets along with everybody. That dynamic is very satisfying. It allows for comedy and drama. If we were going to add somebody to the mix, we wanted to enhance that and not detract from it. Idara has done that really well and she happens to be utterly delightful."
How fans will respond to Nina remains to be seen. Nash is hopeful that they'll be "loving and accepting," but she admits it's hard to gauge. With the loss of Young still fresh, she also understands if there's initial resistance to Nina. "Lee was beloved and losing him was a blow for not just people who work on the show, but also people who watch and love the show," she says. "I think the sense of 'She's no Lee' is a possible reaction. It's one of the reasons we did a slow burn for her introduction. It's like a child loses their doll and you buy them a new doll and say, 'You should love this new doll as much as you loved the old doll.' Well, no, that's not how we all feel."
She adds: "Ultimately, I can't control that. Hopefully people will see what a talented actress Idara is, what a nice character Nina is, and over time grow to have affection for her and what she's doing on the show. I can only do things that we're enjoying and we're enjoying Idara and Nina very much. If we can just move forward and do it, hopefully the audience feels the same way."
Rizzoli & Isles airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on TNT.