By RICK KISSELL
Fans of “White Collar” were greeted to a special surprise Monday night at the William S. Paley Television Festival event in Beverly Hills: An advance screening of the second-season finale.
Afterward, David E. Kelley presided over an hourlong Q&A with the show’s primary cast as well as series creator Jeff Eastin and producers Jeff King and Mark Goffman.
An obvious fan of the show, Kelley used no flash cards and flawlessly referred to the six actors on stage by both their real and character names.
He asked Eastin if the lighthearted crime show, a solid performer on USA Network, wouldn’t be a “juggernaut on CBS,” suggesting that it would fit nicely alongside “The Mentalist.”
Eastin said the combination of action, comedy and suspense was perfect for the cabler, which scooped up the show very quickly.
“They put it through their blue-sky filter and it’s really a great fit,” he said. “They like shows that make you feel good.”
The unconventional relationship between con man Neal (Matt Bomer) and FBI agent Peter (Tim DeKay) is at the forefront of the series — and took center stage at the panel as well.
DeKay said that Peter started out just using Neal for his expertise, but he has come to admire that Neal loves solving the crime as much as he does. And Bomer described his character as “having a bit of a Robin Hood complex” and that Peter keeps Neal grounded as he straddles the worlds of capers and cops.
Kelley asked Tiffani Thiessen, who plays Peter’s wife, Elizabeth, if there were any underlying sparks between Elizabeth and Neal, but she said no.
Thiessen went on to say that she was most pleased with the show’s portrayal of the married couple. “I love the fact that it’s a marriage that works. You don’t see that a lot on TV.”
King had kind words for d.p. Russell Fine, who has created a “template of simplicity” that allows the drama, which shoots on video in New York, to adhere to its tough seven-day shooting sked, which consists of three days in the studio and four on location.
“There are no crane shots or steady cam, but a lot of dolly shots,” he said. “It’s a very classic style, and he (Fine) is a perfect fit for the show.”
Kelley asked the producers what cable notes were like since he has only dealt with broadcast shows, and Eastin said that most of what USA has asked for is to punch up the visual.
“It’s usually been about shoes or wardrobe,” Eastin explained. “Or maybe, ‘Hey this scene is too bland, can you add a fruit bowl?’ You see a lot of fruit bowls on our show.”
The cast couldn’t come up with too many instances when there have been anything but smiles on the set, though Eastin did recall that Bomer wasn’t in the best of moods when shooting the first-season finale in a pool that wasn’t heated.
Said Bomer: “Well, what did you expect? I was wearing less than a thong. I was freezing! Of course I was grouchy.”
In the closing moments, Eastin seemed touched when, at Bomer’s urging, the entire crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the show’s creator.
And in wrapping things up, Kelley said: “I’ve had seven of my shows here (at the Paley festival), and I’ve never seen such devout, boisterous fans.”
Other tidbits about the show’s future:
— The third season, likely to bow in July, will again consist of 16 episodes — though some in the crowd let it be known they wanted more.
— Hilarie Burton, a cast addition in season two who was not on Monday’s panel, will be back. And the show hopes to feature more of Diahann Carroll, whose character June was prominent in the pilot and who was featured in a memorable episode this season with Billy Dee Williams.
— Thomason, whose character Diana is a lesbian, says fans will see “my lady, Christine” next season.
— Eastin confirmed for any harboring hopes for a Neal-Kate reunion that Kate is indeed dead.