Posted on Wed, May. 22, 2002
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Gail Shister | What can 'Hack' do for Phila.? 'Homicide' offers a clue
By Gail Shister
If Homicide is any indication, our town is in for a cool ride with Hack.
During Homicide's 1993-99 run on NBC, all the actors, producers and writers lived in Baltimore nine months a year, becoming active in city life, says Homicide executive producer Tom Fontana.
What's the Hack connection?
The new CBS drama, starring area resident David Morse as a disgraced Philly cop-turned-cabbie, begins production in mid-July on 13 hourlong episodes. Everything will be shot here.
"We became real residents of the city," says Fontana, who required his writing staff to live in Baltimore. "In my mind, you can only write about a city if you live in it.
"You have to eat the sandwiches and smell the smells and know what streets connect with what streets. If you're trying to find the rhythm of a city, you can't do it from 3,000 miles away.
"To me, the city that you're telling a story about is a character in the show. You can dress up L.A. or Toronto however you want, but they're never going to be other than what they are."
Some Homicide actors bought homes in Baltimore and sent their kids to local schools. Cast and crew caught Orioles games at Camden Yards. They became regulars at coffee shops, restaurants and bars.
Homicide stars Kyle Secor and Andre Braugher (Morse's costar in Hack), among others, participated in fund-raising events - they even put on an annual cast talent show for the local art community.
"They made more money in one night than the artists would see in forever," says droll Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik.
Homicide folks became so much a part of Baltimore, Fontana says, that the locals didn't look twice at them on the street. "You want to blend in. You find out more that way. Only tourists gawked."
Financially, of course, Homicide "was like having a $50-million-a-year industry suddenly pop up in the city," Fontana says.
Philadelphia will benefit from that industry because of Hack star Morse. Originally set in New York, Hack moved to Philly after Morse was cast, because he wanted to stay close to his wife and kids.
"If I were mayor of Philadelphia, I would declare next Tuesday 'David Morse Day,' " Fontana says. "This would not have happened without him. They wanted him very badly, and he said, 'I ain't going anywhere.' "
In a nifty twist, Morse, an alum of Fontana's St. Elsewhere; Braugher (Homicide); and guest star Lee Tergesen (HBO's Oz) all appear in the Hack pilot. "I told [CBS kingpin] Les Moonves it's my entire career in one episode," Fontana deadpans.
Fontana, who shot a failed ABC pilot, Philly Heat, here a few years ago, is in Miami with a new HBO drama, Baseball Wives. It's about the spouses of a fictional Miami major-league team.