'Homicide' provides killer publicity for Baltimore


February 03, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The new show "Homicide" is not only quality TV, but apparently it's also good for Baltimore.

I know it's a good show because I watched it. Real innovative stuff. Hand-held cameras. A character named Detective Munch. This is cutting edge.

I figured out it might be good for Baltimore when the newsboys from Channel 2, in a nice piece of investigative journalism, went to a bar to ask people their opinion of the show. That "Homicide" happens to air on Channel 2 must be just one of those crazy, show-biz coincidences.

First rule of interviewing: If you want unusual, even rare, insights, always visit a place where folks are drinking heavily. The bar patrons were pretty much unanimous in their praise for the home-grown effort. The show, one guy said, is great for Baltimore because . . . because . . . because . . . anything that promotes Baltimore is good for the city.

This piece of barroom philosophy may not hold up under real scrutiny.

For instance: One little point possibly missed somewhere in all the excitement of having Ned Beatty in town is that "Homicide" is not simply about Baltimore's classic rowhouses and the city's marble-stepped beauty. It's about people getting killed in Baltimore.

This helps Baltimore?

Stop me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure the city just broke its own record for murders in a year, hitting a nice round 335. This is not exactly like breaking a record for consecutive games played. In fact, this is the kind of record you try desperately to keep quiet. It's Ross Perot's crazy aunt in the attic.

And, now, they go on national TV to put on a show about a Baltimore where police detectives are seen investigating about six murders a week -- just under the city's average, by the way -- and they're never, ever going to run out of material.

Good for Baltimore? Hmmmm. And I suppose San Francisco HTC would love to have a TV show named "Earthquake" filmed there.

And Cincinnatians are probably hoping somebody makes the "Marge Schott Story" into a weekly series.

Of course, having "Homicide" here is beneficial in many ways. As an example, Barry Levinson, the filmic bard of Baltimore, gets to write off all his visits to the folks.

Having the cast and crew in town must be good for the local restaurant and hotel business, although not necessarily for doughnut shops. Apparently detectives eat in higher class spots than your regular cop on the beat.

And there's this: If you have in mind a career as, say, either an extra or maybe a gaffer, you don't have to move to L.A. to pursue your lifelong dream.

But I don't see how it can be helpful to the tourist industry. "Homicide" is not exactly a National Geographic special on the aquarium.

Face it, some people, when they consider homicide as an act and not a show, think it's better to be someplace where there's less of it. Now, this obviously doesn't hurt New York. Of course, they have one more Statue of Liberty than we do.

There is another school of thought, favored by many in the publicity business, that it doesn't matter what they say about you so long as they spell your name right. For TV, the theory changes slightly -- just so long as they say your name right.

Let's test the theory.

Imagine a couple, George and Martha, watching "Homicide" in the mythical town of Dayton, Ohio. (Well, it's mythical as far as I'm concerned.) While George and Martha watch, they're discussing vacation plans.

George: Where you wanna go away to this year?

Martha: I don't know.

George: Cincinnati?

Martha: We went there last year.

George: Cleveland?

Martha: Gosh, it's so beautiful, especially how the river glows at night, but we went the year before last.

George: Hey, I know. Why not Baltimore? I love the way the detectives they've got there are always wisecracking. And did you see them hammering those crabs? Boy, they looked good. Plus, you can't find that many cities where there are so many interesting murders. Maybe we'll get to see a real one.

Martha: Yeah, and maybe if we're lucky, we can get carjacked.

Sure, you can see that. And here's a possible ad campaign for the tourist board: "Come to Baltimore. You'll never go home again."

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