In this corner, `The Contender,' to be filmed here

TV: UPN network announces plans for series about a boxer to be co-produced by Tim Reid and Hugh Wilson.

September 29, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Plans call for a new television series to be filmed in Baltimore, and two of Hollywood's more accomplished producers will be here early next year to shoot its pilot episode.

The show, a weekly drama about a young boxer titled "The Contender," is being produced by Hugh Wilson and Tim Reid, co-producers of the short-lived but critically acclaimed "Frank's Place" series on CBS, said Paul McGuire, a senior vice president at United Paramount Network in Los Angeles.

"The pilot is shooting in Baltimore -- totally in Baltimore -- that's the plan, and that's about all I can tell you right now," McGuire said.

Wilson, who won an Emmy for his writing on "Frank's Place," confirmed the Baltimore location yesterday, explaining that it was a matter of convenience and the result of the pleasant time he had in Baltimore directing Nicolas Cage and Shirley MacLaine in the 1994 feature film "Guarding Tess."

When UPN approached Wilson, who lives near Charlottesville, Va., about producing a weekly series, he said he would only do one near his home.

"Baltimore is perfect," Wilson said in a telephone interview. "I can be with my family on weekends, and they can visit me here during the week. Beyond convenience, I just really like Baltimore. The crews are professional, and anything you need from New York is only an Amtrak ride away."

Wilson said he has been to Baltimore several times, including last week, visiting small gyms and meeting boxers in the area. "The Contender" will be the story of a recent graduate from a prestigious Catholic prep school who scores 1400 on his SATs but bypasses college to pursue his dream of a career in the ring. Wilson said beyond that he's reluctant to discuss details of the story or production plans.

"As you know, pilots are iffy," Wilson said. "I'm writing the script right now. We'd like to come to Baltimore in December or January and film it, but I'm not sure where in Baltimore at this point. All kinds of things can happen to make a pilot disappear before it becomes a series, so I'm just taking it step by step."

Pilots are screened by the networks in the spring. Theythen announce their fall schedules in May. Because UPN is eager to work with producers the caliber of Wilson and Reid, there is a good chance the network will order a minimum of 13 episodes. UPN is working hard to build prestige by signing producers known for quality television. Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson are producing a New York cop drama, "The Beat," which will join the UPN schedule in midseason.

Such a series as "The Contender" should affect the local economy. Production costs of $500,000 to $850,000 per episode are likely from a network like UPN, which currently ranks sixth in overall audience size. The pilot will cost more because materials for sets and equipment must be purchased.

As for Reid's involvement, he also lives near Charlottesville and has his own production facility there where he makes the Showtime series "Linc's," a drama about life in a D.C. restaurant-bar. In 1993, Reid and his wife, Daphne Maxwell Reid, filmed a daily syndicated talk show in Baltimore.

The relationship between Wilson and Reid goes all the way back to "WKRP in Cincinnati," a CBS series that debuted in 1978 and was created by Wilson and featured Reid as a disc jockey. Wilson then created the CBS series, "Frank's Place," in which Reid starred in 1988.

Coupled with last week's confirmation that Fontana will be returning to Baltimore later this year to make a "Homicide" movie-of-the-week for NBC, "The Contender" pilot should help keep local film production perking along nicely.

HBO's miniseries, "The Corner," is about halfway through its production schedule, while John Waters went into production last week on his next feature film.

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