`Homicide' in cyberspace

Television: The show has a counterpart on the Web, and tonight's episode brings the "Second Shift" to the tube.

February 05, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Homicide: Life on the Street" becomes "Homicide: Death in Cyberspace" tonight in a new twist on the old trick of crossover episodes.

We've already seen "Homicide" cross over with another prime-time NBC series, "Law & Order," in an effort to boost ratings. The crossovers involved detectives from both series working on the same case, often with the New York cops coming to Baltimore and the "Homicide" crew going to New York.

But tonight, the crossover is between two media, as "Homicide" joins forces with its online sister production, "Homicide: Second Shift," which can be found on the Web at http: //www. nbc.com/homicide. The on-air/online crossover is a first for the network, according to Thomas Hjelm, director of interactive programming and executive producer of NBC Digital Productions.

For those not familiar with it, "Homicide: Second Shift" is an online companion to the weekly drama series broadcast on NBC -- an online companion in a "parallel medium," in the words of Hjelm.

"Second Shift" is a drama about the homicide detectives who take over when the men and women of "Homicide: Life on the Street," who work for Lt. Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), end their work shifts. Think of it as a drama produced to be broadcast on a computer screen instead of a television set.

"Second Shift" has its own cast of actors and its own story lines. So far, four episodes have been filmed on location in Baltimore using the same sets as "Homicide: Life on the Street." Normally, what you see when you visit the Web site are still photographs and pages of script from "Second Shift." While the episodes are written and produced by NBC Digital Productions, all have to be approved by Tom Fontana, executive producer of "Homicide."

Tonight's TV episode deals with a man who stages ritual killings on the Internet, "streaming" images of the murders. Hjelm describes them as "interactive snuff films." "Second Shift" Detectives Bonaventura (Michael Ornstein) and Austin (Murphy Guyer) team up tonight with "Homicide" Detectives Sheppard (Michael Michele) and Bayliss (Kyle Secor) to investigate.

The online images of the ritual murder are fairly graphic. They involve a woman with her hands tied above her head and a man in a mask about to plunge a knife into her chest. To participate fully in the streamed video, you need Microsoft Media Player software, which you can download for free. Only Microsoft software will work, though, and, not surprisingly, Microsoft is the sponsor for "Homicide: Second Shift," according to Hjelm.

Online visitors to NBC have been able to witness the ritual murder and follow the "Second Shift" investigation of it since Wednesday.

In that story line, the "Second Shift" detectives determined the online killing was a hoax involving an actress and no real murder was involved.

But tonight on television's "Homicide," bodies are discovered, and we learn that online murders are taking place. The detectives track the killer and invite him to stage another ritual killing online on Bayliss' home page on the Web.

Hjelm says tonight's television episode is totally self-contained and can be enjoyed by viewers whether or not they have made any online visits or ever heard of "Second Shift."

As to what's on Bayliss' home page, Hjelm says, "Well, you know that part of his character arc has dealt with explorations of his sexuality, so that's something you can find referenced on his home page, as well as his interest in Eastern mysticism. Put it together, and you've got Bayliss' Web site. A Buddhist's Guide to Bisexuality is what it amounts to."

Finally, something we can all relate to.

Television

What: "Homicide: Life on the Street"

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Where: NBC (WBAL, Channel 11)

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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