"Oakland is One of Stars of TV Pilot —
Danny Glover Plays Lead in Cop Drama"

by Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 March 2003

Finally, a chance to tell the story of the other city by the bay, in all its colors.

Well, the television version anyway.

If film star Danny Glover succeeds in his first TV series, and you gotta believe he will, Oakland will be the set of the next Bay Area cop drama, starting next fall.

Glover plays the title character in "The Henry Lee Project," about a veteran Oakland police officer who spends 18 months in prison for protecting a fellow officer and re-emerges as a private detective with lifelong connections throughout the city.

The actor's desire to film in Oakland is a chance for the San Francisco native to provide a full-circle look at life in black communities and reveal parts of the city that aren't included in 3-inch news briefs about multiple shootings.

"There is a dark side to Oakland, just like any other city, but Oakland has never been portrayed as a whole city with good and bad," producer Arnold Rifkin said last week. Glover could not be reached for comment.

"It's not an intention to say this does or doesn't exist but take people to a place they've never really seen and expose it in its barest light," Rifkin said.

A successful African American cop drama set in Oakland would wash away all the memories of the dying throes of "Nash Bridges," which was canceled in 2001 after a couple of nasty episodes by star Don Johnson off the set.

A shot at a series starring Glover is better than a six-year show starring Don Johnson — never mind that some of the same writers are working on the pilot.

A production crew set up shop in Oakland last week, and filming is scheduled to begin in two weeks. The pilot is being financed by several production companies, including Aaron Spelling, in cooperation with CBS-TV. Typically, network executives set their fall lineup in late May.

The idea for the show started as a simple conversation between Glover and acclaimed author Walter Mosley, who has written a series of popular crime- fiction books. The TV show is a serious attempt by entertainment heavyweights to show the vast expanse of life in the gritty, diverse East Bay city.

The project addresses a long-standing lament by social activists from around the nation who criticize the media and Hollywood for promoting only negative stereotypes about life in African American neighborhoods.

A couple of years ago, Oakland City Council member Nancy Nadel went so far as to demand a retraction from CBS for a January 2000 "60 Minutes" segment about the election of Jerry Brown as mayor of Oakland.

Nadel said the program's depiction of her West Oakland district as a "rundown minority neighborhood with nothing there" presented a false image of the city to the rest of the country.

Oakland's outdated reputation as a politically radical blue-collar city with a high crime rate overlooks much of what actually happens there. Talk about a place with a Silent Majority!

Most Oakland residents work hard, educate their kids despite the woes of the city's public schools, and enjoy a standard of living a few notches above just about everyone else in the country. In case you didn't know, the average house in Oakland costs about $420,000.

Film scouts have already identified locations at Lake Merritt, downtown Oakland, areas around the Port of Oakland, and flatlands neighborhoods in East and West Oakland. The city's film office is also seeking Oakland hills residents willing to allow a film crew into their homes.

Glover's character is a lifelong resident and veteran cop with connections from Oakland police headquarters (also a film location) to streetwise residents of "Deep East," the street term for the far reaches of East Oakland, the most dangerous part of town.

That's not too far a stretch for Glover, who grew up in San Francisco and still lives there. He naturally has lifetime connections — and probably relatives — in the East Bay.

Mosley is not connected with the project, but if Glover and his associates can tap into Mosley's ability to create plausible — if not angelic — scenes of life in African American neighborhoods, he will succeed as few television shows that have gone before. Not to mention the rarity of a black male lead actor on any dramatic TV series.

With attention to cityscapes and the character of an entire city wrapped around the main character, you'd almost forget for a minute that this was a Hollywood TV series. But don't worry, the occasional explosions should jog your memory.

There will be some shooting and formulaic car chases, because this is what must happen in a one-hour police crime drama.

If the pilot is picked up by a network and becomes part of the fall lineup of new shows, the production crew will be looking for extras, and what better place than Oakland?

It's a place where you can go from a house with gold-plated doorknobs to a store that sells gold cap fittings in about 15 minutes.

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

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