Aisha Hinds, who plays Lt. Maureen Mason on ABC's Detroit 1-8-7, was feeling the love recently while at a Trader Joe's in Royal Oak, Michigan. "A woman wanted to give me her entire cart of groceries," she says. "I just came in for a bottle of water."
That's a typical reaction in the Detroit area to the stars of the freshman police drama for being part of the first network TV show to be produced full-time in the city. When you hear the numbers involved, you can understand why. The first 13 episodes of the show will inject as much as $29 million into the battered economy of the area, where the unemployment rate is almost 14 percent. Nearly 200 local people are on the production's payroll, and 15 actors from the area are typically used for an episode. One scene can provide a day's work for as many as 146 background actors or extras.
The Detroit 1-8-7 cast members, many of whom live in the city and its outlying neighborhoods, immerse themselves in the downtown art scene, charity functions and fine dining (Crave in Dearborn is a favorite), and show up at Detroit Tigers games and college football games at Michigan Stadium. Along the way, they hear firsthand how the show is making a difference in the lives of locals. "I asked one of the transportation drivers how he was doing and he said, 'I look at my life six months ago and think about how much life has changed because I have a job on this show,'" says Erin Cummings, who plays medical examiner Dr. Abby Ward. "My stand-in has three daughters. This is not just a cop show on ABC on Tuesday night. This is something that's making a difference in a city that a lot of people in America have written off as dead." City officials initially had misgivings about the show's impact on Detroit's image (1-8-7 is a hip-hop term for homicide), but were assuaged when the series' original faux-documentary format was scrapped.
But like most new 10pm dramas this season, Detroit 1-8-7 has struggled in the ratings. The network has yet to decide on giving a full season order to the show. It would pay for ABC to take a close look at the value of shooting in Detroit before giving up. Michigan's incentive program for film work gives the producers a 40 percent rebate on what they spend in the state. That means a show that typically costs around $3.5 million to make is coming in for about $2.6 million, the cost of most original basic-cable dramas.
ABC is also getting a better show than what it originally bought. Detroit 1-8-7 was developed as a straight procedural at the insistence of network executives who were desperate for one. The producers are slowly opening up the personal stories of the squad-room members, making a series that's more in the mold of NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, with an authentic local flavor that comes from shooting on location.
Working on a TV series means a lot to the livelihood of actors, producers and directors. In the case of Detroit 1-8-7, it means even more. "It says to the world that you can make a show in Detroit," says exec producer David Zabel. "And that brings in a lot of business.