LOS ANGELES - In CBS' new drama The Guardian, there's on-screen chemistry between Simon Baker, who stars as troubled attorney Nick Fallin, and Dabney Coleman as his crusty father.
There's chemistry as well between Mr. Baker and Alan Rosenberg, who plays the tough director of the child-advocacy office where Fallin must perform community service after a drug arrest.
The potent cast has helped make The Guardian the highest-rated new drama this season - in a competitive 9 p.m. Tuesday time slot. It has averaged 14.3 million viewers weekly against NBC's Frasier and ABC's NYPD Blue. It has even managed to outdraw Fox's much-hyped new drama 24.
Off-screen, there's equally important combustion involving Mr. Baker, series creator David Hollander and executive producer Michael Pressman, the diverse trio shaping the drama.
Mr. Baker, 32, is an Australian with international film credits (including L.A. Confidential and the new The Affair of the Necklace with Hilary Swank).
Mr. Hollander, 33, is a TV novice, a playwright and screenwriter who shifted his focus because he had an idea that was better suited to the small screen's extended storytelling.
Mr. Pressman, 51, is a series veteran, a director and producer whose work includes the David E. Kelley dramas Chicago Hope and Picket Fences, as well as TV and feature films.
"The way I write the show, the way Simon acts, the way Michael Pressman oversees the direction of it," Mr. Hollander said, "we're really a small band of three guys that are sitting down every day and responding to each other."
The pilot for The Guardian was the first work Mr. Hollander had done for television.
"I wanted to write about a flawed character that wasn't going to redeem himself instantly, that would change by degrees, and that those degrees would be measured over time and not by one event," said Mr. Hollander, who also serves as executive producer.
The Guardian turned out to be first pilot script Mr. Baker read when he decided to give television a try. A husband and father of three, he was looking for more stability than movie work offered.
"It was good, sharp, intelligent writing," Mr. Baker said.
And he liked Fallin, a hotshot aiming for a partnership in his dad's corporate law firm, only to be nearly derailed by the drug bust.
Sentenced to 1,500 hours community service, Fallin becomes a reluctant advocate for youngsters who have suffered abuse or other hardship that thrusts them into the legal system.
He battles his own demons while finding his way in an emotionally charged world of troubled youths, far different from the business terrain he slickly navigates.
"I've always been attracted to characters that allow the audience to see their ugly side," the actor said. "I think what saves it is there's a lot of hope for this character."
CBS wanted Mr. Baker for the role, and so did Mr. Hollander - after his one doubt was put to rest.
"Literally the only thing that didn't make me feel he was the guy for the role was the accent," Mr. Hollander said. "Everything else was what I was looking for: The way he looks, the sort of pugilist's nose and the intensity behind his eyes."
"I love watching Simon slip into the character and see him connect the dots of the character."
The network agreed that Mr. Hollander could act as "show runner," the person in charge of the production, as well as primary writer. But they made it clear they wanted an experienced guide next to him.
Mr. Pressman, Mr. Hollander said, "was a very good match for my personality. Michael is a very collaborative, direct person. ... He's also an enormously talented director, so it was a really easy match."
When he first read The Guardian script, Mr. Pressman said, he reacted as he had to pilots for Picket Fences and Chicago Hope.
"I have no idea if it will work, but I have not seen it before," he recalled thinking.
CBS was firmly behind the series, but there was "a kind of nervousness before the show aired," he said.
"The very thing that people were all worried about is the very thing that makes the show a success: Its uncompromising honesty, no happy endings, a flawed character, a father-and-son struggle," Mr. Pressman said.