LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Big business took a bashing in 2011 from Occupy Wall Street protesters and others, but it's management consultants -- the highly-paid fixers hired by companies in trouble -- who get a drubbing in new TV series "House of Lies."
The dark comedy making its debut on cable channel Showtime on Sunday, January 8, portrays management consultants as sleazy, money-grubbing executives who are as ethically challenged as the corporate clients signing their paychecks.
The show is based on the 2005 book by former consultant Martin Kihn, "House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You The Time."
Roughly Six years later, the TV show starring Don Cheadle has the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines plots that made crime series "Law & Order" and its spin-offs feel uncomfortably real.
The first two episodes feature a New York bank whose executives try to justify big year-end bonuses in the midst of a mortgages scandal and a powerful sports franchise whose future is threatened by the owners' bitter divorce.
"Hopefully, viewers are amused. It is a comedy!" Cheadle told Reuters. "But yeah, I was surprised. I didn't know what these guys did and who they were."
Cheadle, known for trustworthy characters like the manager who shields refugees in "Hotel Rwanda", plays the slick, disreputable Marty Kaan, whose team of consultants rack up billable hours for issuing absurd management directives.
"He is a mess," Cheadle said of his character. "He is somebody who has all of this ability to be a shark, bring on a challenge, and try and manipulate it to his advantage.
"But at home he has a son who he doesn't know how to fully connect with, a dad who is always trying to school him, and an ex-wife who he loves and hates but he can't get her out of his life," he added.
Despite dubious expenses (caviar, lap dancers, first-class hotels), ego-stroking of gullible bosses, and management double-speak, Cheadle says he tries not to judge his character or his business.
"I think he is doing the best he can. He is trying to be a good father. He is skilled at this profession. It's very impolitic, the things that he does. But that is the job he signed up for," Cheadle said.
"House of Lies" doesn't focus only on shenanigans at big corporations. Cheadle's team of consultants also lend their skills to an ailing church, a no-frills motel chain and the teenage chief executive of a security software company.
Cheadle says the TV series is as much about character as corporate greed.
"Themes of greed, power, sex and money show up in a bunch of different places," he said. "The show is less about what the characters are doing for these companies and more who they are and their interpersonal relationships."
Interpersonal relationships are aplenty. The first episode sets the tone with a shot of a naked, morning-after Cheadle lying face down on a rumpled bed.
Cheadle, 47, was cool with baring it all.
"Of course, you get a little self-conscious when you have got to take off all your clothes, and you go 'maybe not so many carbs this week.'
"Thankfully I have always been right-sized, but obviously I had to work it out when I knew I was going to be there in front of God and in front of everybody," he said.
"And I have told my parents they can't watch the show."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte