Posted on Tue, Jul. 16, 2002
Philadelphia Daily News
CAN A TV show about a disgraced ex-cop who drives a cab and the City of Brotherly Love find happiness together?
We're about to find out.
In just nine days, filming is scheduled to begin on Hack, a CBS series starring David Morse (The Green Mile, Proof of Life) that's the first network drama ever to be shot entirely in and around Philadelphia.
Thanks to Morse, who has lived here since the mid-'90s and took the role with the stipulation that the show would be shot here, Hack's here for the duration - unlike ABC's recently canceled Kim Delaney series, Philly, which filmed in town only a few times, with most production taking place on a Culver City, Calif., soundstage.
Philadelphia has played host to plenty of movies over the years, making its mark in hits ranging from Rocky to Philadelphia and The Sixth Sense, but a TV show is different.
As people in Baltimore, Chicago and, of course, Los Angeles and New York already know, if a show lasts - and that's a big if, considering the dismal record of most of the shows that have even pretended to be set here - there's a steady stream of income for the city where it's made. Between the jobs for local actors and crew, an influx of others coming in from out of town (and paying wage taxes) and a host of support services from apartment rentals to food - a TV series, like an army, moves on its stomach - we're talking big bucks.
Hack producer Nan Bernstein, who's responsible for overseeing the show's budget, hiring the crew and day-to-day operations, estimates a series could be worth as much as $40 million to the local economy over the course of an average, 22-episode season.
Not that it's always going to be easy money.
Bernstein, whose resume includes stints as a producer on the New York-based series Big Apple and Falcone, doesn't pretend that a TV show is always the quietest of tenants.
The most important thing to remember if the Hack production crew shows up in your neighborhood or in the middle of your morning commute is that "we will be gone soon," she said.
"We don't stay any one place for too long," she said. "We are a disruption in a neighborhood. We have a large pod of people who land in a place or apartment house and can somehow seem distractedly as if they're not aware of the world around them [but] the inconvenience to a neighborhood against the long-term gain for a city is minimal."
So far, Bernstein, who left behind a 20-acre farm in the Berkshires for a Center City apartment, likes what she's found.
"I think that people are a lot more open and welcoming here than cities that have a lot of episodic television" being filmed, she said last week, adding, "It's a city that visually is fresh, and there's an interest there."
Hack's interest in both people and places is likely to offer some Philadelphians their first taste of show biz. Of the approximately 1,000 people who turned up at two casting calls for extras in late June, about 800 were non-union actors, casting director Diane Heery, of Mike Lemon Casting, said last week.
And while she probably won't know for months how many of them she'll be able to use - the need for extras, background players who "are there to help paint the scene," may vary widely from episode to episode - she's already preaching patience.
Her message to hopefuls: "Don't panic if you don't hear right away. You're going to see in the paper that we've started shooting, but we're shooting till Christmas, for Pete's sake. You might not get a call until November."
Even if you've no interest in seeing your face on the small screen, if you happen to live or work in a place that Hack location manager Demian Resnick or his crew finds intriguing, you, too, may get a call - or like some Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill residents, a flier - soliciting properties for a possible location shoot.
As Angelenos have known for years, there's money to be made renting out their real estate for periods ranging from a few hours to a few days. Resnick, whose job it is to come up with choices for the series' production designer and the director of each episode, said that while there's no fixed fee, the range is usually from $500 to $2,000 a day, depending on the length of the shoot and "the impact on the business or property."
"People shouldn't expect to get rich off our using their house or property in our show...but it certainly can be fun," said Resnick, who encourages property owners to hang around and watch the action. "It's something that might pay the mortgage or rent for a month or give you a really nice night on the town, but it's not something that's going to allow you to quit your job and move to Miami Beach."
For seven seasons, producer Tom Fontana, who worked with Morse on St. Elsewhere, oversaw NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street, a police drama that was filmed on location in Baltimore, where several of its actors took up residence for the duration.
Initially, he said, "I think there were a lot of people in Baltimore who were nervous about doing a show called Homicide, that it would give the city a bad reputation."
There was also, he said, some suspicion of the "Hollywood types, though most of us were from New York," but "the people that we brought in...were as normal and as community-minded as anybody," he said, adding that "David insisting that the show be shot there" should show how community-minded he is.
"Once a show settles into a run, the actors disappear, if you will. They become a part of the texture of the city," he said.
So how should Philadelphians Hack it?
"Don't be afraid, and don't bother them."
You can reach Ellen Gray by e-mail at email@example.com, by fax at 215-854-5852 or by mail at the Philadelphia Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.
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