'Homicide' renewed, but location iffy

February 16, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Homicide" was technically renewed at midnight by NBC.

But there are still key contract matters that are unresolved, which could be deal-breakers. One of them involves whether the series will return to Baltimore to film.

That was the word from "Homicide" co-producer Tom Fontana, who called yesterday's developments a "qualified renewal" from NBC.

"This is going to sound complicated, but it's a very good sign," Fontana said, trying to explain the latest development in the negotiations between himself and partner Barry Levinson and the network.

"As of tonight [Tuesday], NBC is going to renew the options on the actors and order scripts," he said.

"They are anticipating ordering 13 episodes. So, everything is moving forward.

"But it's not definite yet, because it still could get tripped up. There are business complications yet to be resolved between NBC and the production company, which could derail it. As they say, the i's aren't dotted, and the t's aren't crossed."

Fontana noted, however, that NBC is committing "a lot of money by picking up the actors' options."

Last night was the deadline for NBC to make a decision about renewal, because contracts binding actors to "Homicide" expired at midnight.

An NBC representative yesterday said only that negotiations are continuing and that they had no official announcement to make.

What it boils down to is that "Homicide" is all but guaranteed not only renewal, but a slot on NBC's schedule in September.

Furthermore, an order of 13 episodes is considered very good for a one-hour drama like "Homicide." If the show does reasonably well in the ratings in the fall, the network will order nine more episodes -- "the back nine" -- making for a full order of 22 episodes.

Filming that many episodes in Baltimore could mean as much as $15.4 million in money spent here, according to figures from the Maryland Film Commission.

However, whether the show is filmed here is still up in the air, according to Fontana.

"A large part of it is financial," he said. "But part of it comes out of a kind of re-examination of, are we serving Baltimore with the show?

"We don't want to anger anybody. We don't want people not to want us there, because it's too hard to do these shows on location, even when everybody's on board.

"So, to start getting the feeling that we were unwanted made us start to go: 'Hey, wait a minute. Why are we complicating everybody's lives by doing the show there if they don't want us?' "

Fontana said he was referring specifically to a letter of complaint Levinson received from City of Baltimore homicide detectives and to a story recently written by the Associated Press.

In the letter, the detectives complained about an episode that aired Jan. 13.

They felt the episode took "literary license" and made homicide detectives look dishonest. Twenty-two detectives signed the letter of complaint.

The Associated Press press article, written out of the Baltimore bureau, raised questions about the effect a make-believe show about murder in Baltimore might have on the image of the real Baltimore. "This letter from the homicide detectives kind of implied that we were bad for Baltimore," Fontana said.

"Barry is a native son, and obviously he never [intended] this show to have an adverse effect on the city. It was all done because of his love for the city -- a city I've come to love as well and want to treat with respect.

"So, part of it is this feeling that suddenly people don't want us there and us thinking, 'OK, then why should we go there?' "

Michael Styer, director of the Maryland Film Commission, said yesterday that he and other city and state officials have called Levinson and Fontana in the past week to tell them how eager they are to have "Homicide" film in Baltimore.

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