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LOS ANGELES - Oded Fehr wasn't originally slated to play the hero on NBC's spy drama "UC: Undercover." According to the show's creator, Shane Salerno, the actor was more interested in the other side of the law.

"He had wanted to play a small villain role," Salerno tells about their first meeting. "I sat with him for an hour. When he walked out I said, `That's our man."'

In the beginning, the elite unit of the Justice Department that the show focuses on was headed by Keller, to be played by Jimmy Smits ("NYPD Blue"). However, four days before the pilot began shooting, Smits was forced to withdraw due to contractual obligations from his former boss, ABC. Caught in a bind, the producers brought on Grant Show ("Melrose Place") to fill in, planning to re-cast the role if the project was picked up as a series.

NBC did indeed pick up the pilot, even though it didn't have a lead attached to it. In short order, Keller was killed off and Frank Donovan (Fehr) was brought in.

"The original concept of the character, of where we wanted to go with the series, did not lend itself to Grant," explains Salerno. "Once we did not have Jimmy, we made a real conscious decision to find someone who could follow that story line and Oded fit that model."

Specifically, Salerno says he was looking for someone ethnic for the show's lead, and Show definitely didn't fit the bill. Still, Salerno is grateful to the actor for stepping in when needed.

"There's always been this misconception that he got fired, he got dissed - it certainly wasn't that he didn't want (the part), but what it was, was what Oded brought with him."

"The reason I picked Oded is because there's no one like him on television. He's not the blond-haired, blue-eyed `Baywatch' guy."

For his part, Fehr says that it was Salerno's excitement about the project that made him want to join the cast.

"(Salerno's) excitement, and his belief in it - he just generally believes very strongly in the show - that just swept me."

Fehr had only appeared in a handful of British TV projects before landing the very visible role of Ardeth Day in the blockbuster hit, "The Mummy." After starring in the film's sequel and the Rob Schneider comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo," Fehr decided it was time to do something different.

"I needed to make sure that I opened myself up to as many things as possible, otherwise, I might pigeonhole myself into only certain types of characters," he says.

"This fit perfectly. This was a great challenge for me to play."

Salerno's casting choices, and use of such notable film actors as Ving Rhames and William Forsythe, make even more sense once one realizes that the action series is essentially an homage to "Miami Vice."

"When I was 12 years old this show came on, `Miami Vice.' I thought those were the two coolest guys on the planet," says the 28-year-old executive producer. "It was really weird for me to understand why, in the `80s, when I was a kid, there were like 10 action shows on the air and there were none today."

"Now there's three spy shows, which is hilarious because when I was pitching the show, nobody was doing it."

Salerno thinks his show sets itself apart from the competition - and considering the recent cancellation of ABC's "Thieves," he's probably at least partly correct.

"We don't wink at the audience. I think `Alias' winks at the audience."

As for "The Agency," Salerno says the show is very "serious." "What we do is somewhere in between. We're serious, we're largely based on real-life events and, hopefully, we're not so serious that we're pretentious."

Fehr may not have much in common with "Vice's" Edward James Olmos. Jimmy Smits, on the other hand, wouldn't have been very far off. Not so clear is the link between Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas and "UC's" Jon Seda and Vera Farmiga.

"For Jake I was really looking for the ultimate cool young guy. And I saw that with Jon Seda first. With all the actors, the one thing I can honestly say is when each left the room I went, `That's Alex,' `That's Jake …"'

"UC: Undercover" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.


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