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Shawna Trpcic

Shawna Trpcic - "K-Ville" Pilot - Firefly costume designer works on this series

Monday 19 March 2007, by Webmaster

Lights, camera, ’K-Ville’

Stakes are high as production begins on Fox’s post-Katrina police drama

"K-Ville" has come to town and stakeholders are everywhere you look.

A pilot, or test episode, for the prospective Fox network cop drama enters production here this week.

If it defies the traditionally long development odds — and just getting this far is practically a statistical fluke — "K-Ville" would premiere during the 2007-2008 TV season. (Predicting a fall premiere works for most other networks, but not for the seasonally bifurcated Fox.)

All indications are that if Fox decides the pilot would make a good series — to be announced at May’s "upfront" presentation in New York City — "K-Ville" will shoot all of its episodes in New Orleans.

Its stars would be Anthony Anderson (who recently had a terrific recurring guest role on FX’s "The Shield") and Cole Hauser (whose feature-film credits include leads in "The Cave" and "Paparazzi").

Other cast members include Blake Shields ("Sleeper Cell"), Tawny Cypress ("Heroes") and John Carroll Lynch (who’s likely getting wildly different fan recognition from his work as the never-caught killer in the current feature film "Zodiac" than he ever got as the cross-dressing brother on "The Drew Carey Show").

Its creator and executive producer is Jonathan Lisco ("The District," "Jack & Bobby") who developed the pilot script at the suggestion of Peter Liguori, Fox’s entertainment president.

First-time pilot director Deran Sarafian has helmed episodes of some of TV’s best dramas, including "House, M.D.," "Lost" and all three iterations of "CSI."

In addition to the series principals from Liguori down, other interested parties include the New Orleans Police Department, which has already vetted the pilot script and OK’d the show’s use of NOPD iconography such as badges, uniforms and squad-car logos.

Also standing to benefit from an indefinite production order for a New Orleans-set-and-shot series is the local TV and film production community. The local economic impact of a long-running series could reach nine figures.

On the line as well is the city’s larger image to the world. For good or ill (and neither is knowable at this point), "K-Ville" would be more than a weekly representation of local law enforcement ways and means. "Miami Vice" played a huge role in that city’s image makeover from geriatric shuffleboard hotbed to supermodel playpen. If the local economic impact of hosting a series runs into the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars, the larger impact to the city’s future may be incalculable.

. . . . . . .

A call about "K-Ville" to NOPD spokesman Sgt. Joe Narcisse was referred to Marlon Defillo, deputy chief of NOPD’s public integrity bureau.

Defillo reported that the department had read the pilot script — after cooperating earlier in its production by allowing Lisco to do ride-alongs during his research phase — and more or less approves of its content.

"We’re still fine-tuning our involvement in terms of the portrayal of the Police Department," Defillo said. "The most important component of this whole process, in particular post-Katrina, is the tremendous amount of good work that the men and the women of the Police Department performed, which was not portrayed by much of the media. And that’s one of the things this production emphasizes."

In the pilot script, Defillo said, a veteran NOPD cop, to be played by Anderson, is partnered with a new arrival, played by Hauser, who responded to post-Katrina coverage imagery by moving here to help with the rebuilding.

"He wanted a change of direction of his life and wanted to do something good and joined the Police Department," Defillo said.

Police approval of the series is key because the production desires to use NOPD’s "look" on-screen — uniforms, badges, vehicles. That consent has been granted, said Defillo, because Lisco’s pilot script depicts the department in "a positive light."

Defillo said that even though the subject matter in "K-Ville" could be touchy, the department is not as profligate with script-revision notes as you might think.

"We recognize that this is television, and recognize that in some areas it’s going to be fictional," he said. "There will be some parts that may be realistic, as well.

"I’ve read a number of scripts in the past. I’ve read scripts that were really horrible in terms of portraying this city in a very negative tone, and we voiced our concerns. Ninety-nine point nine percent, if I raise an issue that the script is way off-base, the writer comes back and tries to bring it back close to an acceptable level.

"We realize it’s television. There is some fiction that’s going to take place. If there was something negative, we certainly would’ve raised our concern.

"The message we’re trying to get out is that the vast majority of the police officers here are doing a great job each and every day."

. . . . . . .

"The Big Easy," a USA cable network series that shot 35 episodes over a season and a half here in the mid-1990s, spent an estimated $39 million locally during its run.

Feed that figure into an economic-impact multiplier and it balloons to an estimated $115 million.

Two successful FX network pilots have shot here in recent years — "Thief" before the storm, "The Riches" after.

A caper-crew miniseries that eventually won lead Andre Braugher an Emmy Award, "Thief" shot its pilot here and was scheduled to return to begin production on regular episodes at the time Hurricane Katrina struck.

The production moved to Shreveport. The story was rewritten, and B-roll was shot here, to set the action in post-K New Orleans.

FX returned to New Orleans about a year ago to shoot the pilot episode of "Low Life," the tale of a grifter family parented by characters played by Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard. Re-titled "The Riches," the half-reshot pilot premiered Monday night. Episode production beyond the pilot has stayed in California.

If it beats the odds and becomes a series, "K-Ville" would be a bonanza for the local production community.

"Pilots are a dime a dozen, one in a million," said Alex Schott, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Film & Television Development. "We’re hopeful in May it will get picked up. If it does, that’s eight months full-time employment for a crew" of 70 to 80 workers.

"It’s a freelance industry," Schott continued. "The goal is to get that series."

Unlike the NOPD, Schott’s state office doesn’t inject itself into the creative content of the projects it shepherds to the state. Whether "K-Ville" is the upbeat portrayal that New Orleans police officials are hoping for is of little concern to the state film commission.

"That was not really part of our conversation," Schott said. "We dealt with the logistics of filming and the (tax) incentive program. We never get into content control, anything like that."

. . . . . . .

Depending on who’s doing the counting, the New Orleans murder rate is either way up or way down, and in that baffling calculus is the challenge facing Liguori, Lisco, Sarafian and their team.

The use of the word "touchy" in an earlier description of the subject matter to be addressed in "K-Ville" was joking understatement.

The sad state of local law enforcement leads the list of woes currently crippling New Orleans. And it’s a long, terrible list.

Portray the NOPD as superheroic, superefficient crimebusters and you’re contradicting documentable fact.

To many people reading these words, a portrayal of the force as anything but a dysfunctional mess would be a disservice to the truth.

On the other hand, the Fox network is a business.

Populate a new TV drama with bumbling, indifferent police officers bossed by statistics-rigging superiors — while setting the show in neighborhoods that literally lay in rubble — and you’ve got a recipe for a very dark hour indeed.

Almost nobody, documentarian or dramatist, gets New Orleans quite right.

Finding the fine line between rosy affirmations and reality — while still making an entertainment — heightens the heat on the show’s creators even further.

As critical as New Orleanians can be of screen depictions of their city — has anyone ever aced the accent? — some suspension of our pathological aesthetic disappointment will be called for.

It’s just TV, people.

Andy Sipowicz was a New York detective who talked with a Chicago accent for 12 seasons on "NYPD Blue."

And Dennis Franz won four Emmys.

Now consider the title "K-Ville."

It’s most important to remember that it’s a "working" title — impermanent, a could-be maybe.

For anyone wondering or worried about the title "K-Ville" — a shorthand handle for "Katrinaville" I’ve never seen or heard used by anyone here — remember: They change.

For a time, the working title of Fox’s "Married . . . With Children" was "Not ’The Cosby Show.’ "

The only printed references to the term "K-Ville" I could find refer to either the official Web site for the city of Knoxville, Ill. — www.kville.org — or the tent city, named for coach Mike Krzyzewski, occupied by Duke University students before certain home basketball games.

In truth, the word "K-Ville" is printed on page one of a Fox pilot script because Lisco saw the graffiti slogan "Welcome to K-Ville" in a ruined New Orleans neighborhood while on a re search ride-along with local police.

. . . . . . .

A police force on the brink.

A city in shambles and in dire need of positive portrayals, either fictional or non, in the national media.

A potential gold strike for the local economy.

Job security for the local TV columnist.

The stakes are high for everybody.

As the actuarial diminution of most of the New Orleans-set series concepts proves, the television development process is a race among long shots.

Only a small percentage of pitches become scripts, only a small percentage of scripts become pilots, only a small percentage of pilots becomes series, only a small percentage of series survive one season to become long-running hits.

According to trade-publication reports, at least four New Orleans show concepts entered the current development season, including two for ABC and Spike Lee’s "NoLa" for NBC.

Only "K-Ville" made it to "Action!"

Now, it’s competing against a dozen or so drama pilots in production for spots on Fox’s 2007-2008 lineup. Their genres include legal, medical, aliens and a "Terminator" spin-off.

A series as good as "NYPD Blue" is probably more than we can hope for, but that certifiable TV classic is also one of Jonathan Lisco’s writing credits.

The raw dramatic material for something of "Blue’s" impact is clearly present here.

So, for now, welcome to K-Ville, "K-Ville."