This weekend NBC unveiled another new sitcom set in Baltimore. That makes three network shows this fall that will be set in the city. Baltimore has never enjoyed such prime-time television prominence.
The rush of Baltimore shows is mainly just coincidence, say the producers -- some of whom have never been to the city and have no plans to visit. But, they add, Baltimore's image makes it an attractive fictional setting.
"Baltimore is a town you can get a concept on," said Lawrence Gay, an executive producer of "Flesh 'N' Blood," the new NBC sitcom. "The concept is that it's a real city. It has a great center to it [at the Inner Harbor] and a real cross-section of the general population. It's not the sprawl of Los Angeles."
Gay has been to Baltimore, he said, and he has friends in the city, has visited often and likes Baltimore.
The other two shows set in Baltimore are Fox TV's "True Colors," which premiered last fall, and "Roc," set to debut Aug. 25.
"True Colors" producers said they have not been to the city. Outside of an Inner Harbor-establishing shot at the opening of each episode, the sitcom could be set in almost any city.
"Roc" on the other hand, has Baltimore all over it. Its star, Charles Dutton, is from Baltimore. His character is based on a city sanitation worker, John Woods. The producers said they have spent much time in the city.
"Flesh 'N' Blood" is more like "True Colors" than "Roc" in terms of Baltimore: It could be set almost anywhere. There is no opening montage of Baltimore scenes or even an establishing shot. Baltimore is mentioned just once in the pilot.
The show is about Rachel Brennan (Lisa Darr), identified as Baltimore's youngest district attorney ever. But the fast-track lawyer has been feeling a need to find her natural mother who put her up for adoption as a baby. The mother, she discovers, is dead, but Rachel does find her brother, Arlo Weed (David Keith), and his two children, living in the Florida Everglades. They come to Baltimore and move in with Rachel.
Arlo and family are "The Beverly Hillbillies"-meet-"Deliverance," and the humor is supposed to be in Rachel's urban, Northern, yuppie values colliding with theirs.
Neither "Flesh 'N' Blood" nor the Fox shows film in Baltimore, and the creators of the three shows each had different reasons for choosing the city, they said. The producers of "True Colors," a sitcom about interracial marriage, said, "Baltimore just seemed right -- not too Northern, not too Southern, kind of in the middle." Baltimore was chosen for "Roc" because, Dutton said, of his ties to the city.
So it appears that it is just coincidence that Hollywood is finding Charm City such a charming place to set shows this fall. But it also appears to be a happy coincidence that probably will enhance the city's national image with audiences each week of 15 million or more viewers for each show.
"I think the concept that comes across," Gay said, "is that Baltimore is a just a warm and friendly place."