Tuned In: City's attributes captivate makers of hostage series
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You know Hollywood has arrived in Pittsburgh when the West Coast folks bring a touch of home with them: designated parking spots nearest the production office front door for the show's top producers.Gina Gayle/Associated Press
John Leguizamo will star in Spike TV's "The Kill Pit" dramatic series, to be filmed in Pittsburgh starting Wednesday.
Click photo for larger image.
It's a perk found on every lot in Hollywood, and it's been transplanted to the former Lawrenceville warehouse that serves as a soundstage and production office for Spike TV's "The Kill Pit."
The series chronicles a bank robbery perpetrated by an Iraq war veteran (John Leguizamo) that turns into a hostage crisis. Donnie Wahlberg plays the police negotiator who tries to end the siege peacefully.
Other actors cast in the eight-episode summer series include Frank Grillo ("Prison Break," "Blind Justice"), Jennifer Ferrin ("As the World Turns"), Jeremy Davidson ("Roswell," the upcoming "Army Wives"), Leo Fitzpatrick ("Kids," "The Wire"), Mike McGlone ("The Brothers McMullen"), Michael Hyatt ("The West Wing") and Dana Ashbrook ("Twin Peaks").
An additional 10 to 13 roles will be filled by local actors -- cast by Donna Belajac -- including, but not limited to, Karen Baum, Patricia Cray, Brandi Engel and Larry John Meyers.
"None of us were aware of the talent pool in Pittsburgh," said Todd Harthan, a writer/co-producer on "Kill Pit." "To our pleasant surprise, it was quite deep."
Filming begins Wednesday on locations around town and will continue through June. The series premieres July 22 on Spike TV.
At some point, the production will take over Market Square (expect bus route detours when that happens). The old G.C. Murphy's building at the northeast corner of Market Square on Forbes Avenue will be used as the exterior of the bank. Harthan said a restaurant across the square, La Gondola, will be used as the exterior of a diner where negotiators set up their base of operations.
Interiors of both the bank and the diner were under construction last week on the show's soundstage. The L-shaped bank will include a steelworker-themed mural on one wall and will mix a modern look with what's supposed to be the bank's original marble floor and columns.
Harthan, who wrote several episodes either alone or with series creator James DeMonaco ("The Negotiator," "Ryan Caulfield: Year One"), said the pair worked out of Rockefeller Center in New York while writing. They would visit nearby bank lobbies for inspiration, looking around at the interiors and drawing the eye of security guards who eventually asked if they had business in the bank.
"The Kill Pit" was originally set in New York, DeMonaco's hometown, but after production company Lionsgate picked Pittsburgh as the filming location, executives encouraged producers to change the setting.
"We were like, wow, there's a subway in the show, we don't even know if there are trains in Pittsburgh. We knew nothing about it," Harthan said. "Then we were like, let's shoot in Pittsburgh and say it's New York. We went through that phase. But once we got here, it all went away."
Now they've scouted the Duquesne Incline for possible filming and T stations Downtown. And when Harthan can't remember what Pittsburghers call their subway, he said script coordinator Kylie Straub, a Pittsburgh native, reminds him.
Steve Shill, a veteran director with credits ranging from "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" to "The Sopranos" and "Rome," will direct all eight hours of "The Kill Pit."
"Every time we went on a scout to the different neighborhoods and different parts of Downtown, he'd say, 'We have to shoot here. We can't not shoot here,' " Harthan said of the director's enthusiasm.
"There will be no doubt about where this show is set," Shill said. "We want to get out and about and see the city. ... Our idea is to make Pittsburgh part of the DNA of the project."
Both Shill, a native of Keswick, England, and Harthan reside in Los Angeles, but they've been in Pittsburgh for a month and will be acting as "Kill Pit" show runners for the first season. Tim Iacofano, a veteran producer/director on "24," is also on staff as a "Kill Pit" producer.
Although Spike TV is positioning "Kill Pit" as a mini-series, if successful, there are plans for the show to continue into a second season in the same way that Showtime brought back its mini-series, "Sleeper Cell." Season two of "Kill Pit" would focus on another hostage situation in Pittsburgh that the Wahlberg character will have to resolve.
In January, Wahlberg said he signed on to star in "Kill Pit" -- named for the spot where hostages are held during the siege -- because of the writers and producers involved, as well as the chance to act opposite Leguizamo. His character is a top negotiator who finds himself in an escalating situation.
"There are so many exterior forces that start to come into play," Wahlberg said, "so this really, sort of cocky negotiator thinks this is going to be a textbook negotiation and a few superiors try to trump his authority. ... What is about to unfold is so much bigger than anyone can imagine, where this crisis is gonna go."
The show's name may change -- some want to take "Kill" out of the title, but then "The Pit" might make it sound like "Pittsburgh is a pit" -- but the early scripts are locked and the stars are doing their research. Leguizamo has spent time talking with veterans on Staten Island, and Wahlberg visited with a police negotiator in New York.
'Kill Pit' casting
Nancy Mosser Casting will be casting extras for "The Kill Pit." Anyone not on file with Mosser already who is interested in extra work should print out a form from the company's Web site, MosserCasting.com. No phone calls, please.
'Action News' picks Pittsburgh
Earlier this month I wrote about the fall Fox pilot "Action News," co-created by Steve Levitan ("Just Shoot Me"), an old friend of KDKA news anchor Ken Rice. At the time, the show -- starring Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier") and Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") as news anchors -- was set in Buffalo, N.Y., but Rice was pushing to get the setting moved to Pittsburgh.
A publicist for 20th Century Fox Television confirmed Tuesday that the show will now be set in Pittsburgh, although he attributed the change to Fox Entertainment president Peter Liguori weighing in on the Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo debate and picking Pittsburgh. Production designers have begun gathering clips of local newscasts (perhaps for comedic inspiration?) and plan to commission photos of the city to be used as the backdrop to the anchor desk.
But don't hold your breath waiting for Grammer and Heaton to come to Pittsburgh to film scenes. "Action News" is a multi-camera sitcom that will be almost entirely shot on a soundstage on the Fox lot in Century City, Calif. The show will be filmed in the same style as "Frasier," which only traveled to Seattle to film once in its 10 seasons of production.
Regardless, with "Kill Pit," "Action News" and the upcoming summer TNT drama "Heartland," Pittsburgh will be the setting of three scripted prime-time series scheduled to air in 2007. That has to be a record.
Another local shoot
"Kill Pit" isn't the only TV show currently in town. A production company making four new episodes of the Discovery Channel docu-reality series "Surgery Saved My Life" has landed at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The episodes are expected to air sometime this summer after the show's 9 p.m. June 28 season premiere.
'Galactica' VCR/DVR alert!
Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica" has its third-season finale Sunday and the episode runs a little long, from 10 to 11:03 p.m.
Monday's Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv will feature an interview with "Battlestar" executive producer Ron Moore about some of the questions that Sunday's cliffhanger raises.
ABC has renewed "Brothers & Sisters," "Men in Trees," "Ugly Betty," "The Bachelor," "Boston Legal," "Dancing With the Stars," "Desperate Housewives," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Grey's Anatomy," "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Lost" for the 2007-08 TV season. ... Fox has renewed "Prison Break" for a third season. ... More classic TV shows are coming out on DVD with no extras, including "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete First Season" ($29.95, March 27), "The Untouchables: Season One, Volume One" ($42.99, April 10) and "Ironside: Season One" ($59.98, April 24).
This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "Sleeper Cell," Chuck Woolery and "What About Brian?" Read it at post-gazette.com/tv.
First Published March 23, 2007 12:00 am