A lot of Dutton --and Baltimore --go into 'Roc'

July 19, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

LOS ANGELES R — It was so quiet you could hear a pen scratching on paper as a reporter wrote down the words of Baltimore's Charles "Roc" Dutton.

Dutton met the press here yesterday, and he blew them away both with the story of his own life and with his new show, "Roc," which will premiere on Fox stations Aug. 25.

Baltimoreans may already be familiar with Dutton's remarkable odyssey from a Maryland State Penitentiary cell after a conviction for manslaughter, to parole, Towson State University, the Yale School of Drama and Broadway fame in such plays as "The Piano Lesson."

The silence described above came to the room as Dutton recalled his days in isolation at age 21 and told how an anthology of black playwrights -- the one book he was allowed -- turned his life around.

But, as Dutton said yesterday at the press conference, that's old stuff.

The new stuff is "Roc" is a terrific television show.

And it's going to put Baltimore back in prime time in a big way. The show, set in Baltimore, features an opening montage of local streets that gives a real sense of the city. And the show is based on a real-life city sanitation worker, John Woods, whom Dutton and the show's producers hung out with while in Baltimore.

In the show, Dutton plays a Baltimore garbage man who believes 110 percent in the American Dream. He and his wife, a nurse, work night and day and save every penny for their "dream," which Roc describes in the pilot as "a semi-detached home, a home with one free wall."

Dutton said yesterday that he wouldn't be surprised if some folks are reminded of "The Honeymooners" when they see "Roc."

"My performances in "The Piano Lesson," he said, "reminded some people of a Jackie Gleason character. And I was a big fan of Gleason's. So initially, we talked about getting a show where I could explore some comic possibilities."

But Dutton said they went beyond straight comedy after visiting Baltimore and meeting sanitation workers. "We moved from a kind of Gleasonesque idea to what you see here in the pilot," he said. "Although it's a comedy, when it gets serious, it gets serious for real."

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