DETROIT — Some Detroit City Council members say they’re concerned that an upcoming ABC Network drama will propagate a negative image of the city as dangerous and crime-ridden, and has asked the show’s producers to attend an upcoming council meeting to discuss it.
“Detroit 1-8-7″ – the title uses a former California police code for homicide – is set to begin airing in September. The show is shot from the perspective of a documentary film crew tasked with shadowing Detroit homicide detectives. The pilot episode was shot in Atlanta, but producers plan to shoot future episodes in and around Detroit.
“The title, itself is very negative – Detroit murder,” Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said Monday. “What they are using as a hook is Detroit as a murder capitol, where we manufacture murder as part of an assembly line.”
Cathy Rehl, a publicist for the show, did not immediately respond to phone messages Monday seeking comment.
Detroit earned the nickname “Murder City” after more than 700 homicides were committed there in 1974, and the city’s homicide and violent crime rates are routinely among the nation’s highest among large cities. During the 1970s and 1980s, the nation watched each year as arson fires lit up the night skies during the 3-day Halloween period known as “Devils’ Night.”
Under Mayor Dave Bing, the city has pushed hard to bring down its rate of violent crimes, and last year the rate dipped slightly.
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But city leaders have a long way to go in reshaping Detroit’s image, and they weren’t helped by a May shooting in which a sleeping 7-year-old girl was killed by an officer’s bullet during a police raid on her home. That raid was captured by a camera crew filming for the A&E crime reality show, “The First 48.”
Last week, Mayor Dave Bing forced Police Chief Warren Evans to resign after little more than a year on the job, in part because he was unhappy with the way Evans was pushing his own police reality show.
In a promo for the show, which would have been titled “The Chief,” Evans was seen holding an assault rifle outside an abandoned train station.
“It’s my job to keep the city safe. I’ll do whatever it takes,” Evans said in the clip.
Luther Keith, who heads a coalition of community groups called ARISE!, said he thinks the city doesn’t get its fair share of positive news coverage.
“While this might be a series about solving homicides in Detroit, we hope that it recognizes there is more to Detroit than homicides,” Keith said of “Detroit 1-8-7.”
“It’s a reasonable expectation, at least to have one foot in the reality of Detroit,” he added. “There are people who live, work here and enjoy this community who aren’t touched by homicides.”
Detroit has welcomed moviemakers lured by state tax incentives.
Michigan’s film industry credit refunds 40 to 42 percent of a company’s qualified expenditures, one of the nation’s most generous giveaways.
Bing’s administration wants to take a business approach with the city’s growing film industry, mayoral spokeswoman Karen Dumas said.
The show’s producers met with the city’s film office. The original trailer was scrapped because portions could have been viewed by some as negative toward the city, Dumas said.
But the city doesn’t plan to intrude on how the show is written or filmed.
“It would be unrealistic for us to micromanage the creative process,” Dumas said. “They don’t need our input or approval, and they don’t need to do it here.”
Councilman Andre Spivey said he didn’t know if the producers planned to attend Tuesday’s meeting, and that he didn’t know what sway the council could have over the show’s content.
“I don’t want to hold back the progress of the show,” Spivey said. “I don’t want other productions to be shunned away. Do we have economic benefit at the cost of our reputation?”
Moviemaking on a large scale is new to Detroit, and its residents have thin skin when outsiders criticize the city, he said.
Audiences equate similar shows set and shot in New York as entertainment. Spivey wonders if the same will be true of those shot in Detroit.
“We really don’t know how many businesses, how many people aren’t showing up because the reputation has kept them from coming to Detroit,” Spivey said.