Monday, January 8, 2007

Unseen scene: 'Mayor of Baltimore'

For the past nine years, I’ve been in the TV pilot game. That means every summer, I conceive an idea for a new drama series, then go pitch that idea to various network executives. If the pitch gets bought, I then write the pilot script… and hope and pray that it gets produced.

That’s usually where I fall off the merry-go-round. I’ve got a lot of unproduced pilots laying around.

Just so all that work doesn’t go to waste, I’ll be sharing some scenes here on the blog, and I’ll talk about the art and the business of television writing. First up, a scene from “Mayor of Baltimore,” which almost got made.

In 2000, director-producer Dan Sackheim approached me with an idea. He wanted to do a city-hall show. “The West Wing” was hot, so Dan imagined a cross between “West Wing” and “Hill Street Blues.” Sounded good to me. (Still does.) Dan and I developed the idea together, and CBS bought our pitch.

Having just produced “The Corner” for HBO with David Simon, I figured Baltimore would be a good setting for a gritty show about urban politics. And with Jesse Ventura in office as governor of Minnesota, I figured our mayor could be an ex-athlete. An ex-Baltimore Oriole. Get a nice manly white actor in his 40s, like a Chris Noth… hey, who wouldn’t watch it?

My first two drafts of “Mayor of Baltimore” didn’t rock CBS’s world. But boss Nina Tassler liked the concept enough to carry the project over into the 2001 development season. My third draft really rang her chimes, and CBS gave us a “cast-contingent” pick-up. Which meant they would pay to produce the pilot if we found the right star to play MAYOR TOMMY OSINSKI. (Our character was a Polish working-class salt-of-the-earth type.)

Well, we never did find the right star, and the pilot never got shot.

There’s a scene I like early in the script, where Tommy goes to lead a group of Catholic-school teenagers on a personal tour of City Hall. With him is his right-hand man, BOB CHANG. (I made him Asian because I patterned him after “Homicide” writer-producer Jim Yoshimura.)

Series television is all about the characters. Viewers tune in every week because they like spending time with these make-believe people. And my greatest fun professionally is figuring out how to make a character come alive on the page. I think this scene demonstrates that:


Twenty EIGHTH-GRADERS -- male and female, black and white, all low-income -- from Mother Seton Academy. And the principal, SISTER MARY BADER. Tommy hugs her; Chang smiles.
Sister Mary, I'm sorry I kept you waiting.

It's good to see you. Everyone, say hello to Mayor Osinski.
The Eighth-Graders greet him with mild enthusiasm.
This is Bob Chang, my Press Secretary. We're both big fans of Mother Seton Academy. So, any questions before I start the tour?

You really played for the Orioles?

Yes, I sure did. But that's ancient history.

My dad said you rode the bench a lot. He said you couldn't hit right-handers.

Your dad said that? No, the Orioles had a 'platoon' system...

He said you couldn't throw either. He said you had a rag arm.

I was no superstar, we'll leave it at that. Now let's talk about this cool building, it's almost a hundered years old. Look overhead, this beautiful rotunda...
(then, to WHITE KID)
Tell me one thing, though. Does your dad have a World Series ring?
Tommy shows off his HUGE RING; the Students gather around. Chang's cell phone BLEEPS, he moves aside to answer it.
You only got one hit.

One hit, right. Why don't you tell everybody what that hit was. A two-run double. Off who? Off who, you smart-ass? Steve Carlton! Go home and ask your daddy who Steve Carlton is...
Chang moves to pull Tommy aside. At first, Tommy thinks it's about his outburst. But Chang has a look of deep anguish.
Tommy... Wozniak got shot.
On Tommy, shocked speechless,



Anonymous said...

Mr. Mills,

Thank you for your blog. I would have loved this show, nevermind that I'm partial to anything that draws attention to the O's glorious history.

Platoon system. Earl Weaver was so "Moneyball" way before it was cool.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks for dropping a line, anon.

Ever since this failed pilot, I've been looking for an opportunity to put the phrase "Andy Etchebarren's used jockstrap" into a script.

No luck yet.

Luna said...

I'm late to the party, but I would also have loved this show, I can feel it. I lived for a while in Northern VA and spent lots of time in Baltimore, so I sort of worshipped at the feet of Homicide for years, and the fact that you guys are actually blogging and talking and posting deleted scenes, no less? I think I might have found out what swooning is.