With the new TV season upon us, let's step back and look at the new shows based out of Chicago (an unprecedented six TV series are here this fall), plus shows filming elsewhere that feature Chicago actors.
First, what's shooting in town:
The network has three series here. "Chicago Fire" returns next week at 9 p.m. on a new night (Tuesdays). The show has spawned a spin-off called "Chicago PD" — from the same creators, including Dick Wolf, Derek Haas and Michael Brandt — and is expected to turn up in a midseason slot. For exteriors they're using the old Maxwell Street police station, a Romanesque red brick building that dates back to 1888 (seen briefly in the opening credits for "Hill Street Blues") that now serves as the security headquarters for the UIC campus.
Per Rich Moskal, of the Chicago Film Office: "Part of what they liked about the building was that it was very much like the firehouse at Blue Island (where the garage scenes for "Chicago Fire" are shot). And the Maxwell Street station is only about four blocks away, so you get the great view of the city skyline, and I think they liked the fact that it was close to their other set."
"Crisis" is yet another midseason show, one that NBC reportedly will air after the Olympics have wrapped. The conspiracy drama, which centers on a group of high-powered parents and their kidnapped children, stars Gillian Anderson and Dermot Mulroney and is set in and around the Washington, D.C., area. "They seldom shoot downtown," said Moskal, "because Chicago is doubling for Washington and the surrounding communities in Maryland and Virginia, so they're shooting quite a bit up in Lake Forest and the far western suburbs."
All three shows (plus two from other networks) shoot on sets built at Cinespace, the ever-expanding soundstage complex in North Lawndale. "They had the room to grow and have been expanding as needed," Moskal said. "They had buildings that needed work and with these shows coming in they stepped up that renovation process to make them film-ready."
Two shows from ABC are currently in town. The first to air is "Betrayal," a nighttime soap adapted from a Dutch TV series about infidelity, scheming lawyers and an imposing patriarch played by James Cromwell. It debuts at 9 p.m. Sept. 29.
"Mind Games" (which will bow midseason) stars Christian Slater and Steve Zahn as brothers who run an agency that uses psychology to solve problems brought to them by clients. Chicago playwright Marisa Wegrzyn is a writer on the show — ironically, because the writers room is based in LA, she had to leave town in order to work on a series that shoots in Chicago.
Finally, a comedy is shooting in Chicago. "Sirens," from producer Denis Leary ("Rescue Me") is a half-hour single-camera comedy slated for early 2014. It centers on three Chicago EMTs. Jean Smart ("Designing Women") plays the mother of one of the EMTs.
Not surprisingly the fall lineup includes a hefty number of Chicago actors. Jeff Garlin is an easily riled father on "The Goldbergs" (8 p.m. Sept. 24, ABC), Sean Hayes plays a flustered father as well in "Sean Saves the World" (8 p.m. Oct. 3, NBC), Second City veteran Lauren Ash co-stars with Rebel Wilson in the new comedy "Super Fun Night" (8:30 p.m. Oct. 2, ABC), Chicago native Andre Braugher plays a precinct commander on the cop comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox) and Harry Lennix is on the FBI crime procedural "The Blacklist" (9 p.m. Monday, NBC)
Steppenwolf regular Stephen Louis Grush co-stars on the new ABC drama "Lucky 7" (9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC), which also includes Chicago playwright Laura Jacqmin on the writing staff. (In small-world news, two years ago Grush's theater company, XIII Pocket, produced one of Jacqmin's plays, "Dead Pile.")
With Steven Spielberg as executive producer, the show revolves around seven gas station employees who win the lottery. It shoots in Toronto. Earlier this week I caught up with Grush, 30, who came to Chicago from New Orleans to attend Roosevelt University and has been a fixture in the local theater and sketch comedy scene until just recently.
"This last year I just went and I spent the month in LA doing pilot season," he said, "just kind of sleeping where I could, crashing in the car if I had to or staying on friends' couches." That led to him being cast on "Lucky 7" playing a young guy recently released from prison.
"(My character) was picked up for trafficking heroin, and I owe some pretty mean guys a lot of money. And now I'm working in a gas station, a recovered ex-convict just trying to live a decent life of some value, living paycheck to paycheck. After we win the lottery, we all walk with about $11 million apiece.
"And that's a pretty incredible amount of money, right? It's a very well-written show, I like how they're approaching it. It doesn't get caught up in the easily predictable moral high ground of valuing personal relationships over money — it gets way more complicated than that really quickly. And with such a huge ensemble, it feels to me a lot closer to something that you would see in the Chicago theater than you would on a major network. It makes for a pretty cool show."
As for Jacqmin: "I'm waiting for her episode to come up. I'm hoping she'll hook me up with some good one-liners that she's known for."