But Bruce Fretts explains why NBC needs the show

By Bruce Fretts
Updated April 15, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT


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Lower ratings threaten the future of ‘Homicide’

Memo to NBC: Don’t kill “Homicide: Life on the Street”! The perennially embattled Baltimore cop drama is once again in danger of being canceled. Its ratings, which were never all that great, have slipped slightly this season. Some diehard fans abandoned the series after its Emmy-winning star, Andre Braugher, left last May. While it’s true that the show is not quite the prime-time masterpiece it used to be, it still offers much to savor.

Following in Braugher’s oversize footsteps, Giancarlo Esposito has smartly chosen to underplay his role as Mike Giardello, FBI liaison and scion of the squad’s gruff-but-huggable lieutenant, Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto). Nobody could top Braugher in terms of sheer theatrical force, but Esposito’s approach has allowed “Homicide” to explore the complexities of a father-son relationship with a delicacy rarely seen on the small screen.

The show also currently offers its most fascinating lineup of female characters ever. Newcomer Michael Michele proved she’s more than just an unbelievably pretty face with her solid work as Det. Rene Sheppard, who’s still recovering psychologically from being savagely beaten in the street. Callie Thorne’s Det. Laura Ballard displays potent chemistry with her partners, both on the job (Peter Gerety’s Det. Stuart Gharty) and off (Jon Seda’s Det. Paul Falsone). And Toni Lewis (Det. Terri Stivers) is quite simply one of TV’s subtlest, supplest actresses.

It would be ironic if, as rumored, NBC axed this series to go with a female-oriented lineup led off by the surprise midseason hit “Providence.” “Homicide” boasts a strong appeal to women — most of my friends who are fans are females — yet the network has never tried to market the show to that audience, perhaps fearing they’d be turned off by the tough-guy title.

Episode Recaps

I realize that TV is a business, and NBC has been more than patient with “Homicide,” allowing it to run for six years despite underwhelming numbers (it regularly gets shot down by both ABC’s “20/20” and CBS’ weak Don Johnson vehicle “Nash Bridges”). But as the finest drama series of the ’90s, “Homicide” at least deserves to die with dignity. The network still hasn’t decided the series’ fate, so the writers had to script a season finale without knowing whether it was also the series’ finale. If “Homicide” goes out with a whimper instead of a bang, NBC will be guilty of a true crime.


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