Vince Gilligan has never been to Battle Creek but he likes how it sounds.
A creator and executive producer behind the drama of the same name, Gilligan was eating a bowl of cereal, saw the name of the town on the side of the box and knew he'd use it someday as a show title. "Battle Creek" debuts Sunday night on CBS.
"I am fascinated by the name," said Gilligan, who also created "Breaking Bad" and came up with the idea for "Battle Creek" 12 years ago. "It's such a great name because it's got the word 'battle' in it."
The series centers on a police detective and an FBI agent who solve crimes together despite not really liking each other. Josh Duhamel ("All My Children" and "Transformers") stars as Special Agent Milton Chamberlain and Dean Winters ("30 Rock" and "Oz") stars as Battle Creek Det. Russ Agnew. Kal Penn ("House" and the "Harold & Kumar movies) and Janet McTeer round out the cast.
Although the show is shot in Los Angeles, Duhamel and Penn made trips to Battle Creek to get a sense of the culture and flavor. Both actors rode with police to learn about the area.
"You see a lot of things, including drug deals and traffic violations," Penn said. "I spent a lot of time at their offices just watching some of the more banal elements, like paperwork and what office politics are like. It was really fascinating, actually, to see how a police department like that operated, and they were all really welcoming."
Penn also hit it off with folks around town, he said.
"Everyone in Battle Creek was super nice," he said. "They wanted it to be on the air, like, while I was there. I was like, 'You don't understand. I'm doing research for the role. It takes a little time.' So it was a lot of excitement, and they were thrilled about the show. I hope to go back and maybe do some more of that."
Duhamel agrees and said his ride along with Battle Creek police officers was invaluable. For instance, he didn't realize the force had its own gang unit.
"I got to learn a little bit about the relationship between local law enforcement and federal agencies and how they really feel about each other," Duhamel said. "That's where a lot of the humor comes from in this show. The local guys don't feel like they get the respect from the agencies and the federal agents don't think the locals really appreciate the work they're able to provide."
The town's dynamics also fascinated Duhamel.
"This is a town of 50,000 and with the surrounding areas, you get something close to 80,000 and it has an all-American feel," Duhamel said. "But it gets riff raff from Detroit and Chicago. So it's all-American but it is also a pretty gritty town at the same time."
"Kellogg and Post do an amazing job of cleaning up. It's really a beautiful town, especially the downtown area. They've done a really amazing job," he said.
"But once you get on the outskirts of town you start to see they have fallen on hard times," Duhamel said. "But it's a really hearty group of people who live there and we just want to make them proud."
David Shore ("House") is also executive producing "Battle Creek" and is the showrunner while Gilligan works on his new AMC drama "Better Call Saul."
Shore said he loves Battle Creek but didn't want to be away from his family in Los Angeles. But he hopes the affection he and the cast feel for the town comes through on screen.
"I grew up in a city that's not that much different," said Shore, a London, Ontario, native. "But I've always just loved Middle America. The guys talked about how hard times have hit there but the character doesn't change. The character remains optimistic. The character remains friendly and genuine. It sounds condescending and arrogant but I just love the character of that area of the country."
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles based TV critic.