Rose Rollins as Coach Abernathy in Long Slow Exhale
Pam Veasey was done with cops. As a longtime executive producer and showrunner on various procedurals (CSI: NY, CSI: Cyber), she had lost interest in the cop-show formula of letting the investigation lead the story. "I had always done the murder scene, where the cops follow the clue trail." She suspected it was time for a different approach.
Channel-surfing one day, Veasey came across an Oprah Winfrey interview that has since haunted her. It concerned a man who had committed a murder, fled, started his life over and become a pillar of a different community — only to be arrested anyway one day.
"I kept thinking, 'What's that like? To know what you've done, to change everything, but still be waiting for that knock on the door?'" The concept inspired her to rearrange the traditional puzzle pieces of a crime show and highlight something new — the coverup. Sports would be in the mix, too, as would her experiences teaching at USC and being a mother of two athletes, as well as her fascination with the politics of policing sexual assaults on college campuses. She says she "threw it all in a big vat and shook it around."
What resulted was Long Slow Exhale, airing on Spectrum Originals. The twelve-episode series is about a college basketball coach named J.C. Abernathy (Rose Rollins, Bosch, The Catch), who kicks things off with a dead body in the trunk of her car.
"Despite what you know, you find yourself cheering for her," Veasey says. "She's a leader, she's inspirational and she has good intentions, even if she does some stupid stuff."
Casting J.C.'s national championship team was a challenge. Veasey wound up using a mix of actresses who could play basketball and a few basketball players who could act. WNBA champion–turned–coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke conducted a boot camp for the team and then helped the writers get in shape by answering their basketball questions.
Making the crucial murderer-reveal a surprise was the easy part — Veasey had plenty of expertise in that area. Like, could J.C. be the killer... or is she protecting someone? Early on, Veasey planted enough clues to lead to a particular character, but then she changed course "because viewers would see that a mile away," she says. "We can do better."
She folded in multiple suspects — three at first and then more. One day, she decided the culprit should be someone else entirely. "I got bored and said, 'It should be someone else. We've got to figure that out,'" she recalls. "At first, the writers were like, 'What?!' I was like, 'Just hear me out.' Then they were like, 'Wow.'"
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #3, 2022, under the title, "Transition Game."