WHITE COLLAR -- "Promo" -- USA Network Photo: David Giesbrecht

White Collar Makes White Collar Crime Sexy

WHITE COLLAR -- "Promo" -- USA Network Photo: David Giesbrecht

Let’s get one thing straight: Neal Caffrey is no Sad Sack Bernie Madoff. As played by Matt Bomer, Caffrey is hot—smart, charming, nice to elderly ladies, wears clothes very well (especially hats), and, oh, yes, he’s a criminal. With only three months left on his four-year sentence, Neal escapes to search for his girlfriend, Kate, who visited him in prison to break off their relationship.

Quickly re-apprehended by FBI agent Peter Burke, played by Tim DeKay, the two reach an arrangement—Caffrey will be released from jail and work with the FBI to nab other white collar criminals. For USA Network, it’s a match made in heaven. The comedy-drama has become a surprise hit and was renewed for a second season. New episodes begin at 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 13.

The Paley Center for Media’s auditorium was packed recently with a very diverse crowd of White Collar fans. “The fans are what fuel us; it’s why we’re on the air,” said Bomer. Who knew that so many people railing against Bernie Madoff would embrace a rogue like Neal Caffrey? He’s the bad boy trying to go straight. Fans root for him to stay clean, while marveling at his skills as a forger and a thief. White collar crime never looked so good.

White Collar has managed to pull together a terrific ensemble of seasoned actors adding to the show’s appeal. Besides Bomer and DeKay, on hand at the Paley Center were Marsha Thomason (Las Vegas), who plays Special Agent Diana Lancing, Willie Garson (Sex and the City), who plays Mozzie, another con-man and Neal’s close friend, and Sharif Atkins (ER), who plays Special Agent Clinton Jones. Missing was the very appealing Tiffani Thiessen (Saved By the Bell, Beverly Hills 90210), who plays Burke’s wife, Elizabeth. Thiessen gave birth to a baby girl a week after the Paley event. Jeff King, co-executive producer, was on the panel, and Michelle Kung, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, served as moderator.

King admitted that the show boasts “a more glamorous set of people to represent the white collar world.” Besides the people, there’s the setting. “ New York is a character in the show,” said Bomer. “I like the New Yorkers who walk into the shot and scream obscenities at you.” King added: “We’re filming in places that, during a 20-year career in New York, we have never filmed in!” Tour buses, a ubiquitous presence on the city’s streets, often cruise by. “You hear people say, `There’s Willie Garson from Sex and the City!’” King said, eliciting a laugh from the audience.

Garson observed that the show is character driven rather than plot driven. “By episode five, we discovered that these characters could be discovering the case of the missing hot dog,” he said. “It’s the characters. What is my character doing today, not what the caper is.” And what makes Caffrey so interesting is the inner turmoil his character suffers—to be a thief, to go straight? “I want the picket fence, even though I don’t think that I can have it and I think there are things that Caffrey liked about that life,” said Bomer.

Befitting a show named White Collar, wardrobe plays an important role. “The wardrobe is how I slip into the character,” said Bomer, singling out the Fedora hats that he wears. When shots of Caffrey donning his hat were flashed up on the Paley Center screen, the comparison with other movie playboys could not be avoided. Perhaps that’s some of the character’s appeal. In Neal Caffrey we see Cary Grant (To Catch a Thief), Fred Astaire (take your pick), Sean Connery (as James Bond tossing his hat onto Moneypenny’s hatrack), even Frank Sinatra (Come Fly with Me). Neal Caffrey may be a white collar criminal, but Bernie Madoff be damned. This crook has style and has won our hearts.

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