NEW YORK — It’s a credit to “NYPD Blue’s” art department that even some of the show’s most devoted fans don’t realize the cop drama is shot in L.A.
But it doesn’t hurt its verite feel that the “NYPD Blue” team transplants itself to Gotham once a season to inject some authenticity into the proceedings.
“The art department can capture the detail of New York, but it can’t get the wide shots, the sense of the tall buildings and the crowds,” says longtime series regular Gordon Clapp between takes in the East Village. “There’s just an energy here that you can’t replicate. You’re dealing with street noise and real crowds. You feel more awake. I love shooting here and the energy that it gives the show.”
It’s a stifling hot day in late July and Clapp and the rest of the “NYPD Blue” team have descended on Fourth Avenue between 11th and 12th streets. Police cars and an ambulance line the avenue and passers-by crowd the sidewalks to see if there’s a real police situation.
It’s hard to discern the real cops from the actors playing cops. To confuse matters, there are some real NYPD officers playing extras.
This is the show’s 10th season as well as its 10th sojourn to New York, where it spends its first week of production every year. Early on, the crew and cast made several trips to the city each season, but due to budgetary constraints, for the last couple of years, they fly east just once.
“The idea is without breaking the bank to get as much New York flavor as possible for somewhere between four and seven episodes,” says executive producer Mark Tinker, who is directing three of the episodes the crew’s shooting scenes for today.
As a result of the time constraints, they try to make every minute count. “When we shoot here, it ends up being such a run-and-gun affair,” says Tinker, who proudly dons a New York Yankees cap. “It’s like a sprint. The cast and crew are called for at 4:15 a.m. We rehearse in the dark at 5:30 a.m. and run all day until we collapse at night at the hotel. By virtue of that, we capture the energy of the city.”
Bill Clark, a veteran New York detective and one of the show’s executive producers, is perhaps the busiest person on the set. In addition to being a technical adviser and a writer, he also plays the unofficial roles of tour guide and master of ceremonies while the “Blue” team’s in New York. This is a homecoming of sorts for him, and clusters of his old NYPD colleagues stop by the set throughout the week to absorb some Hollywood glamour.
Radioman, the now famous vagrant who has become a mainstay at Gotham’s film and TV productions, implores Clark: “You’ve got to get two weeks in New York. I need to set up a meeting at ABC.”
Way of giving back
“Talk to (ABC president) Alex Wallau,” says Clark. “But do me a favor and take a shower first. You smell a little ripe.” Radioman snickers. He’s part of the “NYPD Blue” family (he shows up to the set each year when they’re in town and appears in an episode that will tape later in the week) and he knows Clark is ribbing him the way he would a kid brother.
Clark views the trip as a way to give back to New York police. “If I have a choice, I try to use NYPD officers as extras,” he says. “It makes my job easier, since they know how to hold themselves and they understand the language.”
The show hasn’t directly addressed the terrorist attacks, but this is the first time the cast and crew have shot in New York since 9/11.
“It’s certainly part of everyone’s thinking. It’s ever present,” says Dennis Franz, who adds that he notices a change in the city since 9/11. “I’m noticing a congeniality, more patience. You can actually get taxi drivers to make nice conversation.”
It’s Aug. 1, another unbearably hot day, and the crew has taken over the north side of Washington Square Park to shoot a scene in which Franz and Mark-Paul Gosselaar rough up the driver of a Kustard King truck (he’s a sex offender).
As he walks around the park during a break, Franz gets “thumb’s ups” and waves from truck drivers, security guards and homeless people.
“The greetings that we get whenever we’re in town, it’s nothing but support and a pat on a back,” says Franz. “It means so much to us that everybody seems to appreciate the job we’re doing, especially when New York’s Finest comes out in full force to let us know that they think the show is alright.”
As if on cue, two lieutenants who are friends with Bill Clark ask if they can take a picture with Franz. He graciously agrees.
Gosselaar says his favorite part about being in the city is getting feedback from NYPD officers.
“I got shit from one cop who said ‘you can’t wear jeans. You’re killing me with those black jeans.’ I was wearing black jeans all last season. But other than my jeans, the feedback has been pretty positive,” says Gosselaar. “They know we respect them. This show is for them.”