Homicide: Life Everlasting


Officially, it’s Homicide: the Movie but for those of us who were there to hear that it was being done, eighteen months after the end of the series, and those of us who took advantage of the opportunity to download the shooting script, it was and always will be Homicide: Life Everlasting. After all, this was the ultimate end, the point beyond which things could go no further.
It’s not unknown for a long-running TV series to get a TV movie, a ‘Return to…’, though these usually come years later, and tend to be incapable of capturing anything that made the series memorable in any way. To my knowledge, Homicide: Life on the Street, is unique in being given such a follow-up to deal with loose ends, so soon in its own wake.
The very idea intrigues, especially after it was confirmed that the Movie would feature everyone. Everyone who had, in one series or another, been members of the cast of the show. Everyone, including Jon Polito and Daniel Baldwin, whose characters were, let us remember, dead. Were there going to be flashbacks? No, there weren’t.
I have mixed feelings about Homicide: the Movie. Sometimes, when I watch it, I find much of it unsatisfying, and not a fitting end to the overall series. It runs for just under 90 minutes, of which the first hour doesn’t reach the heights the series achieved, although the final thirty minutes is excellent.
And other times, like now, I absorb it all and enjoy it for what it is, a final chance to spend time with old favourites, a meshing of people whose times and stories overlapped and diverged and never came near each other before.
The story is relatively simple, as well it might be, given the need to provide a self-contained crime. Lt Al Giardello has resigned from the Police to run for Mayor: a week before the election, he is the overwhelming favourite, when he is shot at an early morning Press rally. The news spreads and all of Gee’s old detectives gather spontaneously to help track down his would-be killer.
The major logistical problem for the film as a whole is how to cope with seventeen leads (it’s actually 18: Zelcko Ivanek, never a cast member but Homicide’s most frequent regular, is fittingly promoted). Something has to be found for everyone to do, and something has to give: some detectives are short-changed, working as they do on dead ends. Not so Bayliss and Pembleton: they get the lion’s share of the spotlight, working in defiance of Pembleton’s ejection by Gaffney (obnoxious to the last) and, inevitably, solvinghe crime.
The tone of the film is uneven to begin with. It makes a good start by reinstating the old, black and white credits, and the full-length theme music, but much of the film takes place under bright sun and in upmarket areas of Baltimore that just don’t look like our familiar Fell’s Point backgrounds. And it’s too damned bright.
Comparing film with script reveals hosts of cuts. Few of these are significant, but each cuts detail that thickened the story, supported the characters rather than the relatively minimal plot. In particular, the scene where Pembleton boasts of his new found wealth as a teacher should have been retained.
Two cuts are significant. Megan Russert’s entrance simply vanishes, and Stan Bolander’s half of the conversation with her is shifted to later in the movie, and with Munch, costing one of Homicide‘s traditional in-jokes. Instead, Megan is simply there at the hospital, with no sense of her arriving, and without an introduction to the viewer. It undermines her.
The other comes in one of Pembleton and Bayliss’s conversations, when Pembleton ruminates on why he resigned: a line is struck out which prefigures the final, and rather more dramatic, conversation between these old partners, to the detriment of the latter.
The show recognises the gap in time since the final episode of season 7. Gharty has been promoted to Lieutenant after Giardello, but he is a weakling, a put-upon stooge for Gaffney and Barnfather, playing his part from fear that being on the street will kill him. Lewis, Falsone, Ballard, Stivers and Sheppard are still in Homicide but new names on the Board are Detectives Hall and Overton. The latter is no more than a name but Hall plays a part: Giardello’s shooting is his case but he’s a rough, crude, stupid, fist-wielding thug, played with great glee by Jason Priestly, happy to wallow in his stereotype for a chance to work on the show.
Munch, we know, is a Detective in New York now, who told his new colleagues on Day 1 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that he was never setting foot in Charm City again after Billie Lou ran off with one of his colleagues. Homicide takes great delight in overturning this as a lie (and it sure as hell wasn’t Gharty).
Mike Giardello gets a fair amount of time. He’s a beat cop now, looking to win his Detective’s shield, but he spends most of his time in impotent rage at how the hospital won’t tell him anything, put in splendid perspective by a cameo guest role from Ed Begley Jr (playing but not credited as his St Elsewhere role, Victor Erlich).
But it’s that last half hour that puts the film into its real stride. Bayliss and Pembleton finally locate the clue that leads them to the killer, a cameraman who was filming the rally for a local TV station, and who had a gun strapped to his camera. He is a father who, three months earlier, lost his son to a drugs overdose and, slightly unhinged, wanted to prevent Gee from carrying forward his proposals to legalise drugs, and open the door for other kids to die and leave parents bereft. That he’s unhinged by grief is plain, and his nervous energy is infectious, but it brings Bayliss to a point he’s been edging around all the way since Frank turned up.
Season 7 left the issue of whether Bayliss had executed Luke Ryland, the Internet Killer, in the air, but long before his confession that he did indeed execute, it is obvious that he is responsible and that it is preying at his conscience. Bayliss sees his actions mirrored by those of the cameraman. He has been waiting for Frank, his partner, his friend, the person who means more to him than anyone else, to confess.
Pembleton is aghast. He doesn’t want to hear it, let alone believe it, and he keeps trying to find ways to explain it that avoid having to accept that Bayliss,, a cop, has committed a stone-cold murder. When he finally gcannot squirm away, his reaction is of betrayal: “You son of a bitch!”
Frank isn’t a cop anymore. He’s a lecturer at a Jesuit college. He doesn’t want to bring anyone else in. But Bayliss is by now too deeply enwrapped in himself. He refuses to allow Pembleton to escape from being a cop. He’s got to bring Bayliss in, save his life. He threatens to commit suicide if he is not taken in.
Even here, Homicide‘ s traditional refusal to wrap things up clearly is apparent: a white hand erases Ryland’s name in red and rewrites it in blue: a solved murder from an earlier year. Does Pembleton take Bayliss in? Is it Bayliss, filling in a detail before going on to eat his gun? Or has he confessed to someone else? No answers are given. In a very short time, when all this has ceased to be our concern, Pembleton mumbles, bitterly, about catching a couple of big ones today, but we don’t know what hhe means by that.
From here, we move swiftly towards the end. Gee survived the surgery, the killer has been caught, everyone’s together again, even Kellerman is accepted in the Waterfront, until Brodie arrives. Gee has survived the surgery, but but he has died, of an aneurysm. It’s a hammer blow for everyone.
Inside the squadroom, Mike is hanging a rosarie on his father’s photograph. Pembleton introduces himself, commiserates. They talk for a moment or two then leave together in silence. As they reach the exit, Giardello walks in, between them, in full health and vigour. He does not see them: they do not see him.
Instead, he sees a ghost environment, peopled by those who, in some manner, are fixed here. Police who died, victims: though we know it is coming, there is still a considerable frisson, as a happy, 10 year old black girl skips down the hall and round Gee: we don’t need his stunned breathing of her first name to tell us that this is Adena Watson.
She skip round him and into the coffee-room. Standing, grinning, at the machine, looking not a bit changed, is Steve Crosetti, hailing the Lieutenant, calling him in. Four chairs are set at a table, a game of cards is in hand, Beau Felton sits at the table. Fans speculate that the empty chair means a place set for a soon-to-arrive Bayliss: Gee is afraid for Mike.
Nothing matters any more. This is where they go. The concerns of life are just that, the concerns of Life and this is not Life. In the shooting script, Crosetti explains that nothing is fixed: had Gee overslept by five minutes that morning, he’d have wound up half an hour late and the shooter would have succumbed to his nerves and left before then.
Gee takes a card, puts his money down. The poker game resumes. In a strange way, we are consoled.

Homicide: Life in Season Seven


Until the end of its sixth season, Homicide: Life on the Street had had the security of a two season order. Ratings had not improved, however, though the show had taken the chance to go into some intense and daring areas. Nevertheless, it had ended Season 6 anticipating, not for the first time, cancellation.
But once more the series was reprieved. This time it was down to external factors: NBC had lost Seinfeld, gone deep into the hole to retain E.R. and couldn’t afford further destabilisation, so Homicide was renewed for a seventh, but ultimately final series.
Once again there were changes. Andre Braugher and Reed Diamond had left, the one because he’d grown bored with the part, the other because the logic of his story had left Kellerman nowhere to go.
Terri Stivers had been rotated into Homicide in the middle of Season 6, only for Toni Lewis to remain a Guest Star, but now she received an overdue promotion into the cast, but Michael Michelle and Giancarlo Esposito were brand new, and would be the show’s final additions.
Michelle appeared as Detective Rene Sheppard, another rotation into Homicide, from the Fugitive Squad, whilst Esposito joined the show as Mike Giardello, Al’s estranged son (despite previous reference to him having been as Al Jr.)
In keeping with the previous two seasons, Season 7 opened with the return to duty of Tim Bayliss, after his bullet wound of the previous season. Kyle Secor had already let it be known that this would be his last year with Homicide: he would not be renewing his contract for any season 8. It was going to be interesting to see how he would go forward without Pembleton, who, we were quickly advised, had enrolled as a lecturer at a Jesuit College, and who had spoken to nobody in Homicide since the end of the Mahoney affair.
And there were external changes. The squadroom had changed after the Junior Bunk shoot-out: it had been repainted, the desks rearranged. Gee’s office had been shifted, the Box had gone, to be replaced with two interview rooms. Worst of all, because it was demeaning, was the change to the opening credits, which were drastically shortened, the music truncated, the cast’s images scrolled by with barely enough time to take them in. Suddenly, Homicide became a perfunctory thing.
I have only seen the seventh season twice before. It’s noticeably weak in comparison to the series as a whole, and if this was the standard to which Homicide had slipped, there were few among the audience who regretted this being its final outing.
It’s not just the absence of Pembleton, which in turn leaves Bayliss out on a limb, forming no relationships to equal that with his previous sparring partner and slipping into the background. Instead, it’s the entire ethos of the show. All its principles seem to be sacrificed at once. Overnight, it became a soap opera, more concerned with the detective’s private lives, their relationships and issues than it is with any of the crimes that occur.
Rene Sheppard has been rotated into Homicide, but she’s a photogenic, tall, confident, sexy woman and initially the male detectives on the squad can only think of her in sexual terms. Lewis, her partner, fancies her, Falsone fancies her (and is oblivious to the fact that Ballard fancies him), Bayliss fancies her. The woman herself is strong and self-reliant, and wants to be taken seriously as a detective, but – perhaps in reaction to having one of NBC’s pretty people forced on them – the show makes her attractiveness a theme of the series, introducing midway the question of whether she – or any of the female detectives – are physically fit to face the streets.
Even Mike Giardello’s introduction, in the opening episode, is a matter of personal relationships. It’s Bayliss’s first day back since his shooting, though little is made of this in contrast to the past two seasons, just an offhand remark, and there are three deaths in Little Italy, the result of a Sicilian vendetta, one of whom is Gee’s cousin, Mario.
The funeral brings Mike (an FBI Agent based in Arizona) to Baltimore, where he is elemental in solving the case. Mario, who was as much as if not more of a father to Mike, leaves his house to MGee who, in order to improve his strained relationship with his work-obsessed father, transfers to Baltimore as FBI liaison or, as Gaffney and Barnfather expect it to be, their spy in Gee’s squadroom.
It rolls on. Munch is seeing Billie Lou, the Waterfront barmaid, and gets engaged to her. Gharty leaves his wife, turns to drinking, strip clubs and attempts to pull Billie Lou. Falsone and Ballard get together and, when Gee warns them that they cannot have a relationship whilst on the same shift, officially break things off but carry on shagging anyway. Munch, in a tiresome and irritating manner, takes violently against Gharty over his supposed experiences in ‘Nam, which leads to some unpleasant sneaking around to expose Gharty’s less than stellar military records, and the latter is forced to reveal a telling experience that puts everything into a different, and entirely admirable light.
The one really bright spot in the season is the new medical examiner, Dr Griscom, played with a toothy grin and excellent brio by Austin Pendleton.
Approaching the midway point, the series went in for two, back-to-back, two-part episodes. The first features a team of Bounty Hunters, led by a southern accented Chris Meloni (who would soon be co-starring with Richard Belzer in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), which further broke Homicide‘s mould by ending the first half with a long car chase and a crash in which Lewis is seriously injured, and which zoomed off to Florida in its second half.
This was immediately followed by a return for Reed Diamond in a two-parter focusing on a case where he ended up opposing the Squad – and especially Falsone – in his new role as a P.I. Though this was a rare instance where the case itself formed the greater part of the story, nevertheless it still centred itself upon Kellerman’s relations with his former colleagues. Stivers was furious with him, Lewis distant, the rest of the squad uncommunicative. Everybody’s been affected by him, and Kellerman, just like he was last season, is self-justifying.
But when the case went down the wrong way, when the rich girl turned on the poor boy she supposedly loved, Kellerman dug for evidence that would support the boy. Though he committed suicide before it could be examined didn’t change the fact that Kellerman did the right thing, and even Falsone was prepared to give him credit for not being all scum.
Diamond became only the second, and last cast member to return in a guest role after they left the series, after Isabella Hofmann in season Five.
But by this time it was much too late. Gharty ploughed on, getting further and further lost in drink. Falsone and Ballard eventually split up, finding the secrecy too much for them, though Falsone appeared to find it the harder to accept. Lewis kept going on and on about the beat-down, raking it up at every opportunity, and going on to be resistant to working with Ballard or Stivers.
This storyline ended up neutralising Sheppard for the back half of the series. There was no escape from it, and no new, strong storylines to accommodate her character.
And Toni Lewis would up short-changed too. She was Falsone’s partner and made a good, solid job of it, but there were no stories for her to be anything other than one of a pair of cops. The series did bring the feminist question to a head in ‘The Why Chromosome’, in which Sheppard and Ballard teamed up, successfully, as  the first pair of female Homicide Detectives to work a murder together: it could have been Stivers and Sheppard, but she naturally effaced herself, having nothing to prove. A good team role, but the show had run out of ideas of what to do with her.
This switch of emphasis to soap opera also downgraded what could have been good stories by simply creating an atmosphere in which the crime, the victim, were of secondary interest. That was particularly evident in ‘Lines of Fire’, an otherwise intense, and tragic story which was almost a Mike Giardello solo, but one in which, despite the stripping away of every vestige of personal issues, failed to reach the level of season 6’s ‘The Subway’ because the show had lost its aura.
As the series neared its end, thought had to be given to writing out Bayliss, given Kyle Secor’s intention to leave. This was set up quite carefully, but a long way from the end. The seed was planted in ‘Homicide.com’, in which Luke Rylands, a sicko killing women in Internet broadcasts was arrested by Sheppard, on her first redball. Bayliss is her secondary, and part way through the episode, Rylands piggy-backed onto a real-life internet site, ‘In Plain Site’, that had been set up for the series. The site anonymously discussed Buddhism and bisexuality, and it was run by Bayliss.
(The episode also introduced two detectives from the Web-only Homicide: Second Shift, which ran during season 7 for those with reliable web access. I deeply regret not finding that in time.)
Two episodes later, a pair of episodes started turning the screw very hard on Bayliss. First, his site came to the attention of Captain and Mrs Gaffney, after 12 year old Master Gaffney located it. The Gaffneys wanted it shut down, pronto. Tim was prepared to resist, based on his First Amendment Rights, but his reputation as a ‘Homo’ cop, a ‘fag’, quickly spread. Gee advised it was career suicide, a sergeant who’d fancied Tim enough to book a dinner date denounced him out of fear he’d also be ‘out’. In the end, the crushed Bayliss deleted a web-site that had clearly been of great use to him in recovering from his gunshot.
The next episode featured the murder of a Buddhist Monk. Over Lewis’s reservations, Bayliss was brought in as an expert. The two clashed over Lewis’s liking for the culprit being one of the other Monks and Bayliss’s insistence that none of them could have done it. Bayliss was right, but he was forced into a corner where, to preserve his own life, he had to kill the suspect, violating his every Buddhist belief.
Disappointingly, there was no follow-up to these episodes until the curtain-closer, ‘Forgive us our Trespasses’. Luke Rylands, the internet Killer, went free on a technicality, for which Bayliss blamed Ed Danvers, shoving him down the courtroom steps and giving him a head injury.
It’s a big day. Munch and Billie Lou are marrying, Gee’s getting his promotion to Captain and taking over the Property Division, there are cases and cases and Bayliss, for the first and only time all season, admits that he misses his friend, that he misses Frank.
And then, in the last seven minutes, Homicide: Life on the Street lifted itself to match its best ever moments. It excelled everything in the whole of season 7, and ended on the highest of high notes, and a mystery.
Rylands comes home to find Bayliss waiting for him. He’s there to tell Rylands that he’ll be watching, every day, that they’ll get him. Hope you like New Orleans, Rylands says: I hear the girls and pretty, and easy. You’ll be able to see it all on the internet.
Gee’s turned down the captaincy to stay in Homicide. It may be his wedding night but Munch is down the Waterfront, looking to get loaded. After seven weeks of celibacy pending the wedding night, he’s gone off too soon, and at his age you don’t get two in a night.
Bayliss arrives, asks Munch to walk with him. He recalls Gordon Pratt, the guy who shot Bolander, Felton and Howard in season 3, and who was found shot shortly afterwards: Bayliss caught the case but not the killer. Munch is all in favour of that. Bayliss, who has slightly too beatifical a smile on his face says he always suspected Munch killed Pratt, and admires him for it. Munch says nothing.
Bayliss then turns up at Danvers’ home, come ‘to apologise for what I’ve done’. Danvers is still mad, but accepts the apology, assuming its about what happened at the courthouse. Maybe it is.
It’s the next morning and the squadroom’s buzzing. Stivers and Gharty are both going on leave and Falsone suggests partnering with Ballard. Lewis gets a call and, having thought over a lot of what Bayliss has said, invites Sheppard to partner him. Bayliss is clearing stuff out of his desk. Springcleaning, he calls it to Gee, but he tosses his nameplate in there too. He takes one last long look at the Board then takes his box and leaves. At the door, he looks back. An intense, hyper-dense sixty second long flashback covers seven seasons of Homicide. He leaves.
Despite the fact it’s morning, Lewis and Sheppard’s crime scene is an alley at night, like the first shot of the Pilot. The body is that of Luke Rylands. Lewis and Sheppard start down the alley, looking for clues. Their dialogue repeats the dialogue of Lewis and Crosetti a very long time ago. We watch them hunt in silence.
Homicide might even yet have been renewed for an eighth season. All Tom Fontana had to do was agree to sack everybody in the cast except Munch and the two beautiful women, Sheppard and Ballard, move the trio to Miami with lots of beach clothes, and turn them into Private Investigators, operating out of a fishing boat. Any resemblance to Homicide: Life on the Street would have been ruthlessly exterminated.
Needless to say, Fontana wouldn’t play ball. Nobody would.
Richard Belzer had a plan. He was well aware that Benjamin Bratt was leaving Law & Order as of that season and, seeing how well he and Jerry Orbach had worked together in the three crossovers, he proposed transferring Munch to become Lennie Briscoe’s new partner. It would have worked like a dream, but Jesse L. Martin had already been signed up for the role. Munch ended up in the franchise’s first, but by no means last, spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, in which Munch would be, for the most part, utterly wasted for the next fifteen years.
Belzer would go on, however, to set a record for playing John Munch on the most number of different TV shows, on the most number of Networks, in American TV History, even down to Homicide‘s true heir, The Wire (another David Simon creation, still using settings and dialogue from  Homicide: A Year on the Killing Street.)
It had lasted seven seasons, even if the first couple of seasons were very short, and it had kept a large part of its soul intact, not to mention Richard Belzer, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto and Kyle Secor (it doesn’t count if you leave in the last ever episode).
But this was not the end of the story. Just eighteen months later…

Homicide: Life in Seven Seasons


Those who read David Simon’s landmark non-fiction book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, will in its closing pages come across a dialogue between a Baltimore PD Homicide squad detective and a young, black witness, concerning the violent death of an individual known on the street as Snot Boogie.
Those who are reading the book because Simon, over a decade later, co-created The Wire (which really is as good as they all say, people) will recognise the dialogue as having been lifted, word for word, for the first scene of episode 1 of series 1, in which the detective’s portion is spoken by Jimmy McNulty.
Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets was the product of the year between 1988/9 that Baltimore Sun crime reporter Simon, after long and patient negotiations, spent observing the Homicide Division at work: what we would now call ’embedded’. Simon’s intention was to create as honest and accurate a portrayal of the work of Murder Police in a major American industrial city as it was possible to do, and the testimony of police all across America confirmed that Simon had more closely depicted their job, in all its respects, than anyone before him.
But whilst the Snot Boogie dialogue was used in The Wire, the book had been thoroughly mined for an earlier police series, the superb Homicide: Life on the Street, which ran for seven seasons between 1992 and 1998, most of which were broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK. The success of The Wire – an altogether denser, more realistic drama – has overshadowed Homicide to a large extent, but the earlier series was a thing of beauty and a joy of its own, and against all the pressure put on it by NBC to conform, like Simon’s book it succeeded in translating the best achievable interpretation of the real Murder Police’s experience to its faithful, indeed devoted, audience. Of whom I am one.
Apart from the decade or so between the two series’ running, the major difference between the two was that Homicide was the product of Network television and The Wire came from Home Box Office. The freedoms the latter enjoyed, to depict the streets and the detectives that sought to control them, with honesty as to the attitudes, the brutality, the sexual mores, the language and the corruption, were denied to Homicide, which also suffered under the creative strait-jacket of Network commercial television, which was fearful of presenting its audience with anything they hadn’t seen before.
Nevertheless, The Wire could not have existed as it did with Homicide: Life on the Street to actively demonstrate that, with care, patience, commitment and sheer blazing talent, it was possible to do more.
The transition from non-fiction book to television series was entirely due to Director Barry Levinson, a Baltimore native, famous for directing films such as Diner, Tin Men and Rain Man. A lot of Levinson’s work centres upon his home town and uses semi-autobiographical elements, and he has a standing arrangement to be sent all kinds of creations directly relating to Baltimore. Thus he got to read A Year on the Killing Streets and recognise in it the potential for a superb film.
However, Levinson soon recognised that the book could not possibly be properly presented, in all its depth and richness, in a two hour film and, for the first time, turned his thoughts towards television, and development of the book as a series.
To this end, he formed a production company with writer/producer Tom Fontana, who had established himself working on the hospital drama, St Elsewhere. Fontana would become the showrunner for Homicide, though that term had not then gained its common currency. NBC, then the third of the three networks, agreed to finance a pilot.
No doubt they were expecting a show along the lines of Hill Street Blues, the ground breaking hit police procedural series NBC had broadcast in the Eighties. Hill Street was a landmark series, the first truly ensemble drama series outside of soap opera, with an astonishingly wide cast, offering multiple simultaneous storylines running from episode to episode. Though the influence of Hill Street would be visible in Homicide, NBC would not get what they expected.
Their influence does show in the series’ somewhat awkward title. Levinson and Fontana proposed to call the series simply Homicide. NBC objected, asking if they couldn’t come up with something more positive, something life-enhancing? Given that the series was set in a Homicide squad, investigating murders on a daily basis, the request was ridiculous. But NBC was placated by adding the somewhat clumsy suffix, Life on the Street.
Every episode of Homicide says “created by Paul Attanasio”. Tom Fontana may have been Executive Producer, Head Writer and show-runner, but it was Attanasio to whom he and Levinson turned, to create a viable TV series out of Simon’s book, to extract what events, characters and format would best serve to tell the multiple believable – and unbelievable – stories from the book.
Based on the pilot, NBC ordered a further five episodes, and based in the show’s initial ratings when the much-promoted pilot was broadcast, a further three episodes. Based on the ratings for the following episodes, another four episodes were commissioned, but when ratings started to dip, reflecting the audience’s uncertainty at getting a show that defied expectations instead of moulding itself to them, these last four episodes were held back, and broadcast in 1993 as Homicide‘s official second series.

Seasons 1-2

Critically, the show was a hit, especially among Police across the whole of the United States. Homicide was the most realistic, most honest and faithful portrayal of their job ever to be seen in Network TV to that point. But it performed according to its own tenets. There were to be no shoot-outs or car chases. The detectives would arrive in the scene when the body was already dead, exactly as they did in real life, and the programme was going to concentrate on investigation and interrogation. There would be none of the soap opera aspect of Hill Street Blues: the detectives would be seen in the context of their jobs, not their private lives. Nor was each case wrapped up in a 48 minute episode. Just like Police investigations, cases would roll over week after week, and sometimes they would not be resolved at all.
What’s more, Homicide looked different. Levinson chose to film using a single, hand-held 16mm camera, with the cameraman getting into the scene, wandering around between the actors. Instead of short takes, focussed solely on the active participants in any scene, the show was built from longer, repeated takes, in which everybody was present, and playing their parts, whether directly involved or not. The best, most effective and passionate takes would be edited together, and important points would be emphasised in a kind of stutter, repeating the point three times rapidly, from different takes. Emotional continuity was more important than physical continuity.
Another aspect that distinguished the show from every other on network was that it was not filmed in Hollywood. Hill Street Blues had been set in an un-named city (using Chicago street names) and had been filmed in Burbank, like all the others. Homicide was filmed in Baltimore.
There were no ‘sets’. The closest the series got to that was taking over the old Port Authority building and fitting it out as the Homicide squadroom. All other filming was done on location: if a scene called for a particular type of property, the production team found the right kind of property and negotiated to use it. A stake-out set in a private home was filmed in a private home.
The underlying reality of everything we saw was a perfect counter-balance to the implausibility of storylines that would have been completely unbelievable if they hadn’t actually happened.
Homicide debuted with a cast of nine: eight detectives, partnering in pairs, one Lieutenant as Shift Commander. The pilot episode started with a typical Homicide scene, two detectives, Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) and a body in an alley, talking and arguing, about anything but the case itself. The following morning, rookie Detective Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) starts his first day in Homicide, transferring in from the Mayor’s Security Detail. Bayliss is our viewpoint character: the squadroom, the Board with its array of name sin red (for open cases) and black (for closed cases), the partnering system is explained to him and to us.
We are also introduced to Stan “The Big Man” Bolander (Ned Beatty) and John Munch (Richard Belzer), and Kay Howard (Melissa Leo) and Beau Felton (Daniel Baldwin), but in a show without stars, Homicide‘s real star is introduced as a loner, Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher), who will end up being Bayliss’s partner, very much against his will.
With the exception of Kay Howard, each cast member, including Yaphet Kotto as Lieutenant Al “Gee” Giardello, was based on a member of the real-life Homicide squad in 1988, when Simon was researching his book. This would lead to friction as the show characters began to develop away from their templates, with the detectives very concerned that anything ‘their’ character did reflected back upon them.
Nevertheless, the detectives had no real objection to acting as technical consultants for the series: after all, the stories were based, usually very directly, on cases they themselves had worked! Ultimately, Gee’s real-life counterpart Gary D’Addario, became the series’ technical consultant and even acted in it from time to time, as Lieutenant Jasper, head of the Emergency Action Team: D’Addario was a natural, able to hold his own amongst actors of the quality Homicide commanded.
D’Addario went on to play a role on The Wire as did his fellow Homicide officer Jay Landsman, who played an odd dual part: his name was given to the Homicide department Sergeant played by Delaney Williams in all fives seasons, whilst Landsman himself joined the cast in Season 2 as Lieutenant Dennis Mello: sadly, no scenes were filmed featuring ‘Landsman’ and Landsman.
From the outset, NBC tried to change Homicide, make it conform to their narrow rules, their low expectancy of what the audience could/would understand (an expectancy that appeared to be born out by the show’s ratings). The second re-order of four episodes was held back to form 1992’s second season and a third season was ordered only when Fontana agreed to make at least a gesture towards more telegenic actors and a slightly more simplified approach to storytelling. Jon Polito was sacrificed for Isabela Hofman, a lovely-looking blonde in her mid-thirties, who was introduced as Lieutenant Megan Russert, a high-flyer given her first command on the shift opposite that of Giardello.
NBC were still playing cautious: their order was for thirteen episodes, with an option for a further nine, to make up a complete season. Fontana’s team threw down a gauntlet to the network, scheduling episode thirteen as the first of a three-parter, in which three of the detectives were shot and wounded: cancel us now!
But long before that point had been reached, NBC had been sufficiently encouraged by the early ratings to take up their option, albeit for only seven episodes and not the full nine. Nevertheless, as the series end approached, everybody anticipated cancellation, and Levinson returned to direct the final episode, a deliberately unconventional, low-key story that would have been characteristically Homicide but which would have been completely inadequate as a series closer.
Nevertheless, NBC chief Warren Littlefield retained a belief in the series and renewed Homicide for a fourth season, for the first time with a twenty-two episode order.
It came too late to save the patience of two of the cast. Ned Beatty and Daniel Baldwin, both of whom thought the series brilliant, had grown frustrated at the lack of faith and promotion Homicide received from the network. Beatty, who resented the need to live in Baltimore nine months of the year, had been offered the chance to return to the stage and musical comedy. Baldwin had spent so much of his own time, money and energy in promoting the series, was burned out. Both left.

Bayliss and Pembleton (and Gee)

A fortuitous off-season Police convention provided a convenient excuse to write both detectives out in a manner that didn’t preclude them from returning: Bolander and Felton, having misbehaved, were placed on twenty two weeks suspension, enabling either or both to return for season if they chose. It was delightfully self-referrant,though neither actor took up the option.
Reed Diamond, as Detective Mike Kellerman, was added for season 4, and partnered with Lewis. Despite the fact that the show deliberately did not have stars, almost unconsciously the Pembleton/Bayliss partnership had started to dominate the show, and the deliberately lighter weight, ‘frat boy’ pairing of Lewis and Kellerman was a very fruitful counterbalance to that. Season 4 would be very successful commercially, enough so for NBC to give Homicide the luxury of a two season order, forty-four episodes. The show would seize that opportunity with both hands.
It made up for another change insisted upon by the network. The pressure to standardise, to restrict episodes to single stories, solved in 48 minutes, to bring in more telegenic actors, even monkeying around with running orders on a series that utilised an underlying continuity: these things never changed throughout the seven seasons. For season 5, NBC insisted on a change of opening credits.
Gone were the original smoky, hazy, black and white credits, the swirling, half-shadowed close-ups on actors faces as their names were shown. NBC wanted something clearer, jazzier, more colourful, and simpler to identify the cast. The incredible, atmospheric music was left untouched, thankfully, though it closed on Richard Belzer’s voice, answering the phone with the word ‘Homicide’, in case the viewer had missed the title. Nobody liked it, except NBC, but the show accepted these little defeats in order to preserve the more of its higher aims.
There were more cast changes. Isabella Hofman, pregnant, moved on, appearing only as a guest in the final two episodes. Her place was taken by Max Perlich, who’d been a recurring character throughout most of season 4 as J.H. Brodie, a weasely videographer hired by the police to document crime scenes. Intriguingly, the team had signed up Michelle Forbes to play the new Medical Examiner, Dr Julianna Cox, but delayed her arrival until six episodes in.
The underlying story that would ultimately form the spine for seasons 5 and 6 was discovered by accident. Drugslord Luther Mahoney, polite, immaculate, civicly lauded, was meant to appear in a single episode, frustrating Lewis and Kellerman, but guest actor Erik Todd Dellums was so good in the role that the rivalry between him and the Police grew into a fascinating battle that would end explosively in season 5, but overhang almost all of the following year.
Cast changes at the end of each season were by now a regular element. Melissa Leo and Max Perlich were dropped after season 5, both as a result of off-screen scandals, though Perlich was rather more culpable for his downfall than Leo. Two of their replacements, Jon Seda as Detective Paul Falsone and Peter Gerety as Detective Stu Gharty, were introduced as guests in the season-closing two parter, whilst Callie Thorne as Detective Laura Ballard made her debut in season 6.
Though Gerety was an older man, Seda and Thorne were firmly in the mould of NBC’s ceaseless demands for pretty people. The former would feature so heavily in season 6, when it was known that Andre Braugher was leaving at the end of the season, that several fans resented his obvious grooming as a replacement star.
Sadly, Michelle Forbes also moved on, ten episodes into season 6. The team bemoaned their decision to cast her as  Medical Examiner, instead of as a detective, wasting such a good actress and restricting her storylines.
Virtually all the team expected cancellation, which contributed to their building season 6 up to an intense, dramatic release that was truly memorable. It was a fitting send-off for Braugher, and also for Diamond.

Detective Ballard

Because the series was saved by changes forced on NBC elsewhere in their schedules. Having been forced to absorb the loss of three established programmes, the network decided it could not afford to further denude the line-up of established shows and offered Homicide a seventh season.
There were changes. Braugher had left because he had had enough, grown tired and seeking a fresh challenge. Diamond had to leave, because the inexorable logic of his story, developed over the past two seasons, left Kellerman with no ground to stand upon, though he would guest as a PI in a two-parter in season 7.
Channel 4, who had begun to treat Homicide very badly, scheduling double bills starting at 12.30am, openly announced the ending of season 6 as the last ever episode of the show, lying to an audience that it gamble would not be aware of the final season.
With Kellerman and Pembleton out, there were more cast changes. Giancarlo Esposito debuted as FBI Agent Mike Giardello, Gee’s son, and the new FBI liaison with the Baltimore PD, unaware that he was being used by his superiors. Michael Michelle joined as Detective Rene Sheppard, a former beauty queen, and Toni Lewis, who had been a recurring character since early in season 5, was finally elevated to the cast as Detective Terri Stivers.
Homicide‘s final season is generally agreed to be its worst. Soap opera plotlines, especially the affair between Falsone and Ballard, dominate. Bayliss, who has taken up both Buddhism and his bisexuality, is lost throughout most of the season: with Kyle Secor having decided to leave irrespective of the show’s fate, pressure is put upon him throughout the back half of the series to provide a memorable exit that leaves an astonishing question open.
But by then it was known that everyone was going with Secor. Fontana went to NBC to discuss renewal for season 8, which NBC were prepared to do, only if the show made more drastic changes. These were to fire everyone but Belzer, Thorne and Michelle, move the show to Florida and set it on a boat.
In short, chuck out Homicide, set up a spin-off as a comedy-thriller with the sardonic, wise-cracking Munch and the two sexiest women (no doubt spending a lot of their time in bikinis or halter top/shorts combinations) as private eyes. Fontana said no.
So after seven seasons and 121 episodes, Homicide: Life on the Street ended, in fitting manner with stories left unresolved. But this was not the end of the story.
Eighteen months after the cancellation of the series, Homicide returned in a 90 minute television movie. The story is commonly known as Homicide – Life Everlasting after the title of the script that was published over the internet, but it was officially Homicide – The Movie. It answers the outstanding question from season 7’s finale, but leaves the rest of the story open. It features the entire cast, everybody who was a cast member, including Polito and Baldwin, whose characters were dead, and fittingly it elevates series-long recurring character Zeljko Ivanek (DA Ed Danvers) to cast for this last outing.
The need to find something for eighteen cast members, not to mention other series regulars, to do in ninety minutes distorts the story, though it’s wonderful to see Pembleton and Bayliss, both of whom are now outsiders in all senses, strut their stuff one last time. But it is in the movie’s climax that it transcends all possible complaints.

The inexhaustible John Munch

When the show ended, four members of the cast – Richard Belzer, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto and Kyle Secor – had appeared in all seven seasons. And Munch lived on: he and Richard Belzer were pinched to star in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Actually, Belzer had originally pitched to partner with Jerry Orbach as Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order itself, the two having worked wonderfully well together in three crossovers with Homicide, but was shifted to the spin-off since Briscoe’s new partner had already been cast. As a result, Belzer has gone on into the record books for portraying Munch on no less than ten different TV shows and five networks (albeit that one show and one network are represented by an ‘in character’ appearance on a late night talkshow). And Belzer has now portrayed Munch for 22 years, outdoing James Arness as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke and Kelsey Grammar as Frasier Crane, who each played their characters for 20 years.
I’ll be going on to look in a little more detail at each of Homicide‘s seven seasons and, of course, the movie. But I’d suggest you start equipping yourself with the DVDs, especially if you’re a fan of The Wire. I promise you you won’t be disappointed.