'Necessary Roughness' based on sports therapist

Wed, Jul 6

In the opening scene of "Necessary Roughness," USA Network's new sports-oriented dramedy series, the New York Hawks' Terrance "T.K." King -- a character in the vein of the showboating, prima donna, wildcard wide receiver -- goes over the middle, short-arms a catch and gets obliterated. Later we learn he's in the midst of pass-dropping crisis, and the team's paying him $15 million over three years. To remedy the situation, the team calls on Dr. Dani (played by Callie Thorne, aka, Jimmy McNulty's wife on "The Wire"), a recently divorced hypnotherapist. In their first meeting, the coach tells her she has two weeks "to get him to catch the damn ball … and to keep him out of jail."

And that's the premise for "Necessary Roughness," which airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET. Based on the life of Dr. Donna Dannenfelser -- who started working with the New York Jets, which then led to a host of other high profile clients -- the show follows the career and personal life (Dr. Dani's love interest is played by former Wake Forest basketball player Mark Blucas) of a woman entrusted with curing very flawed, very "important" people. And it won't just deal with football players; the show includes an episode with a NASCAR driver who's suffered a crash, and another with a poker player. The executive producers say the source material is endless.

"Athletes are people who have money and access to all sorts of things. Trust us, we have more than enough material," says executive producer Jeffrey Lieber.

"All we have to do is go to the ESPN.com headlines," chimes in Craig Shapiro, who created the show along with Liz Kruger.

Shapiro and Lieber both pointed to Ron Artest's postchampionship news conference when he thanked his therapist as an example of the pivotal role therapists sometimes play in athletes' lives.

Dannenfelser says about seven years passed between the time they first pitched the idea of dramatizing her life and the pilot actually being filmed. She is a producer and consultant for the show, sitting in on script meetings to help maintain integrity and authenticity. It's clear she holds her clients in high esteem and empathizes with them.

"Athletes and especially football players are like these modern-day gladiators," she says. "And they're judged every week. … They think they have to be perfect. And it weighs on them to the point that they need help. That's what this show is about."