CBS eyes drama set here

March 04, 2002|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

CBS is hoping that the mayor of Baltimore is ready for prime time.

The network is not banking on Martin O'Malley, or at least, not exactly. For Mayor of Baltimore, a show he's pitching to CBS, executive producer David Mills envisions an ex-professional athlete who is a populist political neophyte with blue-collar roots.

Network spokesman Chris Ender confirmed that CBS has signed a contract to produce a pilot for the proposed show.

But that pilot will be taped later this month only if Mills and his collaborators at Spelling Entertainment are able to land a well-known actor for the title role, someone acceptable to CBS. So far, Alec Baldwin has already turned down the part, according to people involved in the project. Even then, the network is not committed to broadcasting the series. Officials are scheduled to announce the network's new fall series in May.

Yet Mills is pressing ahead as though the pilot is cast and ready to be filmed, and he's already hired a crew here. Originally conceived as an ensemble work, like Hill Street Blues, the CBS show is now to be focused squarely on the mayor himself. The model for the program is The District, a successful CBS drama about a police chief in Washington.

As Mills described it, the mayor is to be a former big leaguer of Polish descent, now in his 40s, who grew up in Locust Point as the son of a dockworker.

"A key to the show is having him as a guy who is new to politics, not as flaky as Jesse Ventura, but definitely someone whose instincts ... come from his populist common sense," said Mills, who is executive producer along with Daniel Sackheim. "I hope to make a show that takes urban policy seriously, with the dramatic, on-the-street energy of Hill Street Blues."

Mills, a University of Maryland graduate and close friend of Homicide author David Simon, is no stranger to Baltimore. Along with Simon, Mills was executive producer for The Corner, an HBO miniseries set and filmed here. That's why his pilot is set in Baltimore rather than, say, Cleveland, he said.

The pilot would be shot in Baltimore, but the series would likely be taped on sets in California, with some atmospheric footage periodically shot here.

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