Why the Missing and Marginalized Are the Real Stars of NBC’s Hit Drama ‘Found’

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Months before Found made good on NBC’s decision to move it from a midseason to fall premiere, its creator Nkechi Okoro Carroll and star/producer Shanola Hampton, best known for Shameless, could hardly contain their enthusiasm. “I knew I wanted to do in my next project something that had meaning or purpose,” the Shameless star revealed during a set visit in Atlanta late February.

Since its Oct. 3 premiere on the heels of The Irrational — another NBC procedural starring Jesse L. Martin as celebrated behavioral science professor Alec Mercer, who helps solve high-stakes cases with his expertise in psychology, body language and other areas — Found has drawn millions of fans, reportedly becoming “Peacock’s best launch to date.” Hampton’s Gabi Mosley is a D.C.-based recovery specialist and master crisis manager leading a diverse team — most of whom, like her, were kidnapped — as they find missing people from marginalized groups.

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On her team is tech genius and financial backer Zeke Wallace (Arlen Escarpeta, American Dreams) who is still traumatized by being abducted as a child and never leaves his home; law student Lacey Quinn (Gabrielle Walsh) is quasi-family to Gabi, since they share the same kidnapper; lead investigator Margaret Reed (Kelli Williams, Army Wives and The Practice) still searches for her missing son over a decade later; while ex-military brains and muscle Dhan Rana (Karan Oberoi, Roswell, New Mexico) still hides his trauma. The cop Mark Trent (Brett Dalton, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), with whom Gabi has chemistry, is both foil and ally.

But Gabi has a dark secret: She’s holding her kidnapper Sir (Saved By the Bell’s Mark-Paul Gosselaar) captive in her basement and, in good Hannibal-like fashion, even puts him to work to help solve some of her cases. Naturally, this reality, noted Okoro Carroll, hampers any budding romance with Trent. “It’s hard to date a cop when you’re keeping a human being in your basement,” she rationalized. It’s this twist, shared Hampton, that sealed the deal.

“Once I saw the man in the basement,” she said her reaction was, “Oh, she got it all together, but not really.” As an actress, Hampton, who played Veronica Fisher on Shameless for 11 seasons and has since added director and producer to her wheelhouse, shared “you want to play roles that are layered and multi-dimensional, but, also, in the same breath, in the same script, we’re making an impact for the world.”

Law enforcement is “not looking for transgender [people], they’re not looking for the homeless, they’re not looking for the elderly,” lamented the South Carolina native. “There’s a specific group that gets media attention.”

FOUND Shanola Hampton as Gabi Mosely, Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Sir
Shanola Hampton with Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Found.

Making an impact is a major driving point for Okoro Carroll, whose been highly successful with The CW dramas All American and its spinoff All American: Homecoming, and is also the mother of two sons. “We’re drawing attention to the kind of missing people we don’t seem to be looking for,” she said, echoing Hampton.

Recognizing that she’s also making television, she promised to “have love triangles and trauma and all of that stuff” audiences tune in for. “But, if underneath it all,” she mused, “I could do something that helps make this world a better place for my sons to raise their kids or their kids to raise their kids, then I feel like I’ve done my part.”

The Bones and Rosewood alum disclosed that the concept for Found came to her nearly a decade ago, roughly two years before All American. Prompted by the social media storm over the 14 missing Black and Brown girls in D.C. over a purported two-week period, Okoro Carroll got to work, becoming even more enraged by the lack of mainstream media attention. Fortunately, coming upon one of the whys explaining some of it. In the throes of research, the married mother, then unaware of the Black and Missing Foundation, the subject of HBO’s four-part 2021 docuseries titled Black and Missing, said she “stumbled across an article that talked about public relations, and the role public relations plays when people go missing.

“We’re taught if someone goes missing, you call 911, you file a missing person report. Other families are taught to call 911, file a missing person report, and hire a PR person to make sure your child stays at the forefront of the news. Because if you’re at the forefront of the news, the cops [feel] ‘we have to focus on this because [otherwise] we look like fools,'” she dished.

As Okoro Carroll began fleshing the series out, she used Gosselaar as Dhan’s prototype before later switching it up. At the time, she hadn’t pictured Hampton, mainly because she intended Gabi to be much younger. Meeting Hampton, initially for directing, changed everything. “I literally got off that Zoom, called Greg Berlanti [her producing partner] and [said]], “So, I found Gabi,'” she recalled.

“I was so certain it was her,” she continued “[that] I called the studio with the network and NBC already loved her. They had a talent deal with her previously and were like, ‘You don’t need to convince us; we love Shanola!'”

With Hampton in place, the former economist really went to work, creating a younger version of Gabi played by P-Valley’s A’Zaria Carter. “The characters,” she explained, “were always conceived as multicultural. I wanted it to feel like a United Nations because it is not a singular story to Black missing girls or to the LGBTQ community.”

“There’s a lot of forgotten people and a lot of forgotten communities who deserve their story to be told, who deserve their time in the spotlight, who we need to be looking for as aggressively as we look for the Natalee Holloways and Gabby Petitos,” she stressed. “And that was part of my frustration, because I can list all those names in my sleep. Ask me to name one missing Indigenous girl and I’m embarrassed that I can’t roll off those names the same way I could those other missing people.”

But Okoro Carroll has never wanted people to stop looking for those already in the spotlight. Instead, she just wants everyone to see “we are all worthy of being found.”

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