Rabid fans of the Baltimore police drama are traveling from all over
this weekend to see the stars of 'Homicide Live!' and enjoy the gritty
side of our city.
While gabbing online with "Homicide: Life on the Street" fans last
summer, Maura Crowther, a technical writer from Toronto, tossed out a
suggestion: Why not meet in Baltimore, munch a crab cake and get to
know one another in person?
The first unofficial "Homicon" took place in October. About 30
"Homicide" fanatics, including Crowther, came from as far as California
to experience Fells Point, drink at Koopers Tavern -- where the NBC
show's cast and crew really hang out -- tour taping sites and just
maybe bump into someone like Reed Diamond, the good/bad cop
whose permanent dark night of the soul speaks eloquently to this
mordant ilk and who was in town for a guest appearance after being
banished from the force.
On Sunday, many of those same folks will again hoist one at
Koopers, this time before heading to Center Stage for "Homicide
Live!," the cast's annual opportunity to get silly, parody their on-air
personas and meet their ardent following. This is the fifth year for the
cabaret-like show, a benefit for the Fells Point Creative Alliance and
the future Patterson Cultural Center.
Last year, the show sold out at the tiny Vagabond Players theater in
Fells Point, largely because of the volume of tickets purchased via
the Internet by fans as far afield as Oregon and Miami. This year, fans
feel a particular urgency about getting here, as this may be the
show's last season. An unconfirmed rumor has it that Parvesh Mehta,
the "poet laureate" of the "Homicide" online newsgroup, will fly in from
India to attend.
Such out-of-town passion may surprise you, the local, more casual
"Homicide" fan, who tunes in for the pleasure of watching a staged car
chase down your alley, or the perverse thrill of seeing art imitate
death in Baltimore. Talk to these far-flung devotees, however, and
they may teach you a thing or two about your town, especially if your
faith in its character is a day-to-day affair.
They may also tell you that it's not easy being them. Outside of
"Homicide's" online community and Baltimore itself, "being a fan of
the show is a pretty lonely business. One tends to get a lot of blank
stares and shrugs," says Amanda Paulette, a 25-year-old graduate
student who will drive from Yorktown, Va., for her third "Homicide
A harmonic convergence of elements is what attracts Paulette and
other out-of-towners: The show's realism, its credibly imperfect
characters and the fact that it is taped in the Waterfront, Daily Grind
and other real places with real names in a way that makes it "of" as
well as "about" Baltimore.
"The idea of walking on the same streets, eating in the same
restaurants, and drinking in the same bars that our favorite detectives
do holds a strong appeal for the fans," says Nabeil Sarhan, a
22-year-old Harvard research scientist who will attend with his mom
They like Baltimore
And then there's the plucky, weary, sparkling, seedy character of
Baltimore itself, an endearingly quirky city with its own wobbly moral
valence. It's a place these visitors view as a glass half-full, rather than
half-empty. Which is just about right. "Homicide" tourists are, by
definition, realists. Otherwise they'd spend their vacations on the
West Coast. Besides, if Baltimore's glass were full, they probably
wouldn't savor it as much. The city would appear too perfect, too
much like a Hollywood fake, re-created with impossible verisimilitude.
This will be Kelly Y. Kinlow's first "Homicide Live!" The University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee student loves the way Baltimore looks so real
on air: "There are so many TV shows that only show the suburban
neighborhoods or only show the inner city. It's nice to see a city
portrayed to actually have regular blue-collar-type neighborhoods and
blue-collar people," Kinlow says.
"I could open my own 'Homicide' tour-guide business with all the
people I've shown around Fells Point over the last year," says Kathy
Wilhelm, a 36-year-old Shrewsbury, Pa., resident and avid
When Crowther, 31, first visited Baltimore, she was a little worried.
"Was it really going to be like Disney World, where the castle is just
hollow?" she asked herself. She was concerned that she might "lose
the magic of its show But it turned out to be just the opposite. The
show seems more real to me now and the characters seem more
This "Homicide Live!" is Crowther's first, but she has made a habit of
visiting Baltimore regularly. Before her epiphany, if anyone had told
Crowther she would willingly "get in the car and drive nine hours and
meet people I met on the Internet in a city with one of the highest
murder rates in America, I probably would have said, 'Sure.' [It would
have seemed like an] utterly ridiculous thing."
When "I think about it, it really does boggle the mind," says Crowther,
a tad sheepishly. "It's just a TV show. I hate to say it; it really has had
an impact on my life. It introduced me to people who are absolutely
creative and talented I never would have known before. And the show
really inspired me in terms of my own writing."
Paul Patterson, 39, will fly in from Chicago with his brother. He has
watched the show since its post-Super Bowl premiere in 1993. As an
African-American male, "I enjoy the positive portrayals of the leading
characters," says Patterson, who works in circulation for the Daily
Southtown, a suburban newspaper. "You just don't see a lot of
African-American males in leads like this."
Patterson's fascination with "Homicide" has led him to subscribe to
the Baltimore Sun. His friends tease him about knowing more about
Baltimore than Chicago. They tease him, too, about his anticipation:
"People roll their eyes and ask, 'You're going to Baltimore and you're
excited about it?' " (Patterson pays no mind: He's studying a
Baltimore map so he can trace "Homicide's" travels through the city.)
A Richmond paramedic who once worked in Baltimore for an
ambulance company, James L. Jenkins Jr., says he is "infatuated"
with Baltimore and tries to get to "Homicide" shoots whenever
possible. He's allowed to walk freely around the set, peer through
viewer monitors and chat with cast members. Jenkins, 29, often
contributes police patches to the Waterfront's collection in hopes of
seeing them on air, which he occasionally does.
As part of the Homicon festivities last year, Cheryl Rabin, a former
patrol sergeant and now information coordinator for the greater
Kansas City Convention and Visitors Center, organized a tour of
Baltimore sites seen on "Homicide." She was undeterred when the
bus driver asked, "Are you sure you want to go into these areas?"
Visitors saw the rowhouse where Bayliss was shot, traveled through
drug kingpin Luther Mahoney's domain, saw Pigtown, the Reservoir
Hill lot where the body of a little girl was discovered and the lot where
her television counterpart's body was found. At most sites,
"Homicide" fanatics hopped out and snapped photos.
Jenkins, who took the tour of streets he already knew well, was
apparently the only one who noticed that in one neighborhood, some
kids tossed rocks at the bus, shouting something like, "K mart is that
Crowther has a vague theory about the appeal of "Homicide." Those
drawn to its flawed heroes and troubled town "tend to have a bit of
darkness in themselves" or have experienced trauma in their lives.
"The show works as a catharsis for them," she says.
In the same vein, Jennifer Moses, a 24-year-old fan flying in from
Charleston, W.Va., cites the episode "A Many Splendored thing," in
which Det. Frank Pembleton "tells his partner that he must learn to
embrace his dark side before he can fully understand himself. I
thought this was such a good moment because it articulated the fact
that we all have an aspect of ourselves that we'd rather ignore -- but
rather than ignore these aspects we must make peace with them."
Then there's good old-fashioned sex appeal. Kinlow, the Milwaukee
college student, confesses, "It wasn't the show's greatness that first
got me hooked. It was Clark Johnson's face. I was flipping channels
on a Friday night and saw what I thought (and still think) was one of the
most gorgeous men that I'd ever seen!"
Crowther and others are disappointed in the show this year, and
disappointed that it may not return next fall; a decision is expected in
May. "It's not the show it once was maybe it's just time to wrap it up.
On the other hand, what am I going to do without 'Homicide'?"
This article originally published March 4, 1999
and is ©1999 by The Baltimore Sun