'Homicide' lives Seventh season: Baltimore-based police drama wins surprise renewal from NBC.

January 24, 1998

THE SHOW IS CALLED "Homicide: Life on the Street," but fortunately for Baltimore, it has nine lives. NBC announced last weekend that it was renewing for a seventh season the police drama set and shot in Charm City.

That's good news for the superlative crew and cast members, who admitted surprise that they heard this early in the season, if at all, that the show was to continue. Though the series has won two Peabody Awards and been praised by television writers, solid ratings (and Emmys) have been missing. The network brass had told executive producer Tom Fontana that "Homicide" had to beat a competing police show on CBS, "Nash Bridges," to survive.

It has done that only for one week. But Sun television critic David Zurawik quoted NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield as saying events this month -- the network losing "Seinfeld" and its National Football League contract and paying $858 million to retain "ER" -- increased the worth of a proven, quality production such as "Homicide," especially one able to draw a young audience.

The series has meant a lot to this city, financially and emotionally. That result seemed unlikely when it was unveiled by Baltimore native Barry Levinson on Super Bowl Sunday 1993. A show about murder, some folks winced, wasn't exactly what the city promotions department needed. But "Homicide" has been good business for Baltimore. It pumps $20 million and 120 jobs into the local economy, filming around town. Its presence helps the state encourage more on-location movie-making. It has even spawned direct tourism of its own, with travelers coming to see the Fells Point haunts that double as the "Homicide" set.

The show is especially delicious for area viewers with its frequent references to real-life people, places and events in and around Baltimore and cameo appearances by Maryland pols, ballplayers, newscasters and the like.

Based on a book by David Simon, a former Sun reporter and now a co-producer, this quirky creation that once thwarted a real-life robbery in progress, has always "felt" like Baltimore. As a survivor of prime-time TV's high-stakes poker, it feels even more that way.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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