Jon Bokenkamp works in Los Angeles but lives in Kearney, where he and his wife, Kathy, grew up.
The couple moved from L.A. back to Nebraska in 2007, he said in a phone interview to discuss his latest project, the new NBC hit “The Blacklist.”
“I loved L.A., and my wife loved L.A., but we have kids,” he said. “After my son was born, an industry person asked me which private school we were looking at. I thought, ‘This must be the mindset.’”
But it wasn’t Bokenkamp’s mindset. He graduated from a public high school and attended Kearney State College (now the University of Nebraska-Kearney) before transferring to the University of Southern California to attend film school.
“We came back during the Writers Guild strike,” he said. “It was a weird time, a sort of quiet time, and I actually had a LOT of time. It was a good opportunity for me to reboot.”
Bokenkamp, 40, is creator, executive producer and writer for “The Blacklist,” the government crime thriller starring multi-Emmy Award winner James Spader.
In it, Spader plays ex-government agent Raymond “Red” Reddington, who has been one of the FBI’s most-wanted fugitives. He mysteriously surrenders and offers to help the FBI catch others like him with one caveat -- he will do so only if he’s paired with a rookie FBI profiler (Megan Boone).
The series, which airs 9 p.m. Mondays on NBC, is Bokenkamp’s first venture into television after several years in the movie industry. His resume includes collaborations with such directors as Tony Scott, William Friedkin and Joe Carnahan, who directed “The Blacklist” pilot, and he’s written scripts for Academy Award winners Halle Berry (“Perfect Stranger”) and Angelina Jolie (“Taking Lives”).
“All my experience has been in features, and I frankly sort of fell in love with ‘Breaking Bad’ and that sort of storytelling,” Bokenkamp said. “I thought it would be fun to do television.”
He began with a spec script he took to Chris Carter, creator of “The X-Files.”
“I was certain it was going to be a great show, and Chris was the guy, but for whatever reason, it didn’t connect, and we didn’t sell it,” Bokenkamp said. “But out of that, we came up with another opportunity to write a script for Sony (Pictures Television), and this idea sort of came along.”
Bokenkamp and co-executive producer John Fox started with a show about the FBI capturing an 80-year-old criminal who chronicles his life in crime.
“What if we were to flashback to the guy who knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried and all the great unsolved crimes, like where the Lindbergh baby was?” Bokenkamp said. “And we just sort of contemporized it. That’s how it started.”
And, no, Bokenkamp didn’t have Spader in mind when he wrote the pilot, but admitted he can’t picture anybody else in the role now.
“We sort of landed on James, and I don’t know why,” Bokenkamp said. “We had a conversation, and he was super smart about the material, and he had all the right questions -- not questions about the look of the character, but deep questions about who is this guy and mythological questions.”
“The Blacklist” premiered to 12.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Co., and logged 11.3 million the second week. It beat ABC’s “Castle” and CBS newbie “Hostages” both weeks. So the drama is off to a strong start.
Bokenkamp, however, is proudest about those who turned out for the sneak peek Sept. 21 at the World Theatre in Kearney. When he moved home, he established the World Theatre Foundation, a nonprofit created to restore and reopen the movie theater. He serves as its executive director.
“NBC was cool about letting us do it,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be more watch parties there.”