Word on the street: 'Homicide' crew to shoot the series in Baltimore

May 13, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The NBC drama series "Homicide" is coming back to ` Baltimore to film at least 13 new episodes, which will mean about an $8 million boost to the local economy.

"We will be back in Baltimore," Tom Fontana, the show's co-producer, said yesterday.

"We will be coming back in stages starting next week. And, by mid-July, we'll be cranking [filming]. It starts with a trickle, and suddenly there's hundreds of us."

Production of the Emmy Award-winning series at Recreation Pier in Fells Point will probably continue until Christmas, said Fontana.

"People are actually moving there," he said. "People are moving their kids to Baltimore. Andre Braugher [who plays lone-wolf detective Frank Pembleton] is giving up his apartment in New York. Everybody's intention is to stay."

Fontana's confirmation that the show will return ends months of local concern that "Homicide" would film elsewhere this season after spending the last two summers in Baltimore.

In February, The Sun reported NBC had unofficially picked up "Homicide" for the 1993-1994 season by ordering scripts for 13 new episodes. That renewal will be made official either today or Monday, when NBC announces its fall schedule.

But, at that time, Fontana said the series might not return to Baltimore. There were two problems, he said: money and public criticism of the show. He and co-producer Barry Levinson were concerned about the cost of producing the show on location, as opposed to being shot more inexpensively at a studio in Los Angeles.

In terms of criticism, they believed that, perhaps, they weren't welcome in Baltimore. Fontana cited an Associated Press story that questioned the effect on Baltimore's national image of being the backdrop for a show about homicide.

Following the report in The Sun, both Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt Schmoke contacted the producers and assured them that local and state officials wanted them back, according to Michael Styer, head of the Maryland Film Commission.

"Whatever ill feeling there was, I guess, has disappeared," Fontana said yesterday.

There are still some outstanding issues. For example, the lease agreement on the Recreation Pier between the city and the producers has yet to be finalized.

Recreation Pier is the fictional police headquarters for the show's homicide detectives, played by Yaphet Kotto, Daniel Baldwin, Clark Johnson, Kyle Secor, Ned Beatty, Richard Belzer, Melissa Leo and Braugher. The site also serves as the production crew's offices.

In return for letting "Homicide" film there, the city wants the producers to hire local youth to work in the building and make it available to the public when not being used, according to Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the City of Baltimore Housing Authority.

Germroth said they are in "final negotiations," and everybody expects the deal to be closed soon.

The $8 million figure for the estimated impact of the show on the local economy comes from the state film commission, which pegs the value of each episode at about $600,000.

"And that's direct dollars," Styer said. "When they figure total economic impact, they usually estimate $2 for every one spent. So, this could mean as much as $16 million to us."

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