TCA: ‘Detroit 1-8-7’ revs up Motor City

Detroit HBO’s “Hung” helped bring TV’s spotlight back to Detroit, but this fall the Midwestern city will get even more attention, fictional or otherwise, in ABC’s “Detroit 1-8-7.” The creative team behind the cop drama indicated at the show’s Television Critics Assn. panel Sunday that they hope to be part of the city’s rebuild, both in image and reality.

Part of that begins with mining and developing the city’s onscreen and behind-the-screen talent.

“There are a lot of benefits in shooting in Detroit, including that there is a bit of an infrastructure of crew forming,” exec producer David Zabel said. “We are filling our crew with a lot of locals. Hopefully what will happen is a lot of locals will get better at these jobs and rise up and get into the key department head jobs as well.

“A lot of the key department heads are from Los Angeles for now, but the vast numbers of the crew are largely local hires.”

Zabel added that casting for the series is being done in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York as well as Detroit, but that the series’ team is “turning over every rock in Detroit to find every good actor we can find there, and every episode has a number of roles be played by Detroit actors.”

Detroit’s police force also plays a role, such as providing experience and inspiration for the show’s principals to build upon.

“We did a class on interrogation technique with a detective who teaches interrogation technique in Detroit,” series star Michael Imperioli said. “This particular detective was great at getting confessions – he had an amazing track record. (And the reason was) he cared about people in general. He didn’t see the label “criminal”; he was able to see they were raised by parents, and when they were kids they weren’t criminals. … Because he saw that, he was able to reach them in a way and get through to them. I like to think that element is in (my) character.”

From an image standpoint, “Detroit 1-8-7” as a homicide investigation show fundamentally can’t gloss over the city’s crime issues. Zabel noted that while Detroit doesn’t have the highest homicide rate in the country, its detectives have about as high a caseload as any other department’s because of staffing. In fact, the highly publicized killing of a 7-year-old bystander while a reality television crew was filming a police murder investigation (leading to the official ban of such TV intrusions) directly led to “Detroit 1-8-7” dropping its documentary-style approach to storytelling.

Nevertheless, producers and cast are determined to convey the finer points of Detroit.

“I’ve fallen in love with the city,” said actor James McDaniel, who returns to a Tuesday 10 p.m. ABC cop show after having done “NYPD Blue” for years. “So many people said, ‘I’m sorry to hear (that you have to work in Detroit). “But I’m starting to realize that so many of those people had never been to Detroit.”

McDaniel drew an analogy (for better or worse) to a show from his past.

“A lot of people talk about ‘Cop Rock,’ and they tear it apart, and a lot of them have never seen it,” McDaniel said. “’Cop Rock’ is the Detroit of series – it’s the little engine that could. My heart will always be with ‘Cop Rock.’”

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