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‘Southland’ isn’t ‘crime of the week’

BY KATE O'HARE Published: April 8, 2009
File this under "Things That Never Happened to Ben McKenzie While Working on ‘The O.C.’”

"I’ve had people ask me for directions,” McKenzie says, "thinking I’m a cop. They ask me for directions or help with a problem or something.”

McKenzie has left behind the bangs, leather choker and tank top associated with working-class "O.C.” hero Ryan Atwood in favor of a crisp, short haircut and a dark-blue uniform to star as Los Angeles Police Department rookie officer Ben Sherman in the NBC police drama "Southland.”

The show will premiere at 9 p.m. Thursday.

And he didn’t even have to change his name.

"It wasn’t intentional,” McKenzie says. "They didn’t write the part for me. I didn’t ask to be called by my actual name. It’s just a coincidence, I guess.

"As long as he’s not called Ryan. It makes it easier to stay in character.”

Created by Ann Biderman, "Southland” — which is what local newscasters call the Los Angeles area — comes from John Wells Productions, which just wrapped the long-running medical drama "ER,” whose time slot "Southland” has inherited.

Like "ER,” which blended medical and character drama in the highly charged if claustrophobic setting of a Chicago emergency room, "Southland” uses the seemingly endless sprawl of Los Angeles to tell the stories of uniformed police officers and detectives.