`Homicide' is back on the streets

Television: The much-missed squad reassembles for a two-hour movie. Nostalgia is thick. It's a happy set.

November 22, 1999|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

It seems like old times in the Fells Point police precinct, which is bustling with activity as the actors laugh, reminisce and, on cue, turn on the intensity.

"Homicide" lives!

The much-mourned NBC television show is being briefly resurrected as a two-hour special to air in about three months. And the happy, nostalgic cast members are grateful for the chance to breathe new life into their old characters.

"It's great! Like going to a high school or college reunion," says actor Peter Gerety, who plays detective Stuart Gharty. "During lunch, we just looked at each other and said, `God, we're sitting here talking about old times.' "

It's after the lunch break. Actor Andre Braugher -- aka Frank Pembleton -- sits in his old detective chair silently waiting for the next cue. Kyle Secor -- Tim Bayliss -- and Gerety chat it up.

Then it's time for "action!"

This scene is with Pembleton, Bayliss and Gharty. Things are the same for the old "Homicide" squad, and they're not. Times have changed on "Homicide." The story line reflects that.

Pembleton, the intellectual cop, has left the force to become a teacher. Bayliss, the New Age cop, comes back from a leave of absence. Lt. Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto) has left the force to follow his political ambitions by campaigning for mayor of Baltimore -- and that's what brings everyone back together.

The story revolves around an assassination attempt on Giardello at the Inner Harbor.

Gharty now heads the homicide unit. He is sitting behind the desk and occupying the big, brown leather chair that Giardello filled for the show's seven seasons.

In this scene, Pembleton and Bayliss are in Gharty's office watching a video of Giardello's speech and the assassination attempt. The ever-intense Pembleton sees something in the video that provides him with a clue as to who the shooter might be. He's ready to hook up with his old partner Bayliss, hit the streets and check it out.

Gharty has misgivings because Pembleton, after all, is no longer a member of the department. Pembleton, being Pembleton, fires back with an acid comment.

It's "Homicide" at its best. It wouldn't be the same without raw emotion, life-and-death situations and some degree of tension both inside and outside of the precinct house.

It's this quality that Braugher finds appealing about "Homicide."

"The challenge is trying to rise to the emotional level of the character," he says during a five-minute break, adding that "the two-hour format will help us explore things in greater detail."

And, while he's enjoying the challenge, Braugher, who left the series after six years, says the timing was right.

"I am fond of the staff and the writers. But in terms of doing the show on a daily basis, I don't miss it," he says.

That could be because the Emmy Award-winning actor has five movies due out next year and is executive producer of a Showtime movie on the life of labor leader A. Philip Randolph.

Yet Braugher and all of the main "Homicide" cast members found time to come together for the movie -- no small feat, says Eric Overmyer, executive producer and one of the writers for "Homicide."

"It continues to be difficult. It's like an unbelievable chess program," he says while watching the rehearsal. Yet it appears to be worth it for everyone involved. "It's a happy set," Overmyer says as the actors joke around between takes.

Secor says he keeps thinking about how actors felt on the "Gilligan's Island" television reunion show. "We do get to reminisce," he says of his fellow "Homicide" actors.

And they get to work hard. The script, Secor says, is a demanding one.

"It is exciting. You have this whole history of seven years you can fall back on. In a two-hour movie, you can kind of deconstruct what you were." Secor thinks about that statement for a minute and laughs. "People are going to say, `What deconstructing? He's Bayliss as usual!' "

Secor's opportunities to not be "Bayliss as usual" came as a repeat guest on the television show "Party of Five" this season. "I got to play the older love interest," he says.

All of the cast members' good feelings toward each other are put aside -- sometimes with effort -- when it comes time for work.

"We have been joking about not letting these oozy feelings of sentimentality slip into our work about the homicide unit. This is a show about tension," says Gerety, who is working on a movie starring Will Smith and Matt Damon and directed by Robert Redford.

"But I am so happy to be here," he says. "It would have killed me to miss this. I miss these guys, and I am nostalgic about Baltimore."

Now it's time to get back to work again. Extras are brought in, and the room suddenly fills with cops and a few other characters. The only thing missing is the constant ringing of the telephones, to be added in later.

The detectives, with all of their many complexities, are back on a case, possibly their last. The only thing fans have now are "Homicide" reruns on Court TV. For now, this is the detectives' last chance to clear the board for good, and they are making the most of it.

"We were kind of bummed to end it without satisfactory goodbyes," Overmyer says. "They didn't do right by us last spring," he says of NBC. "We're happy they are making up for it now."

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