What city will be mentioned most on NBC-TV between now and Sunday night? Buffalo? Nah. Dallas? Nope. It'll be Baltimore.
In the hours preceding and throughout the Super Bowl, NBC will carpet-bomb its audience with promotions for the series that debuts after the game, "Homicide: Life on the Street." The cop-drama was filmed in Baltimore, directed by native son Barry Levinson and based on a book by Sun reporter David Simon. In the MTV-esque trailer for the show that's run so far, the viewer can't miss the fact it's set in Baltimore: a cop shouts "Baltimore police," there's a close-up of "BALTIMORE" on a badge, then a quick cut to a police cruiser.
Oh, great, just what the city needs right now, you're thinking.
Wrong. This dramatic series, which pumped a few million dollars into the economy during filming of episodes this fall, will continue to do good for the city. Baltimore won't be disparaged in this fictional TV series; the wise-cracking, working-stiff city detectives will come off as largely sympathetic, and what Hollywood producer would you rather trust with the city's reputation than the "Diner" guy?
The nation won't be nearly so sensitive to the relationship between fact and fiction as will Baltimore. One episode was based on a chapter in Mr. Simon's book about the wrenching 1988 murder of Latonya Wallace, an 11-year-old girl whose body was found in an alley near her book bag and rain slicker. Mr. Simon co-wrote an episode for the series himself, borrowing elements from the Dontay Carter case. But the names are changed and local viewers might not recognize the real-life connections. Chances are the only Baltimore-bashing from "Homicide" has already been accomplished: Federal employees who didn't want their office to move downtown from suburban Woodlawn proffered the book as proof that the city was unsafe.
National audiences realize that cities have crime problems. The main difference is that series of this genre are usually set in New York, L.A. or Chicago. "Hill Street Blues" was supposed to represent Pittsburgh's Hill District, but who knew? So don't forget to cheer for Baltimore Sunday. It could be a while before we return to the Super Bowl.