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Spike TV gets real with city's finest

Coming soon to living rooms across America: a cable television series exploring the lives of Boston police officers, from the gripping to the mundane.

Producers from Spike TV have been in Boston for two months filming the daily routines of officers for a documentary of at least six one-hour episodes, scheduled to air this fall. The network, a subsidiary of MTV that is available in 87 million homes nationwide, bills itself as the first network for men and offers programs such as ultimate fighting, pro wrestling, and episodes of ''Blind Date."

Police officials confirmed yesterday that they are participating in the series and said they have agreed to give Spike TV access to a wide variety of officers on and off the job, on condition that police officials get to see the final product before it airs. Two high-ranking police sources said Spike TV promised the Police Department the right to preview unedited footage so that anything compromising a case or embarrassing an officer can be cut.

''Spike TV and their producers have promised us an objective and unsensationalized portrayal of the lives of Boston police officers," said Sergeant Thomas Sexton, a department spokesman. ''We hope and believe the resulting program will give viewers an accurate portrayal of Boston police officers as the professional dedicated men and women they are."

The new series, titled ''Behind the Badge," echoes ''Boston 24/7," a six-hour reality series about the lives of city workers that ABC broadcast 2½ years ago. That series, which featured Detective Daniel Keeler, then assigned to homicide, drew dismal ratings, averaging only 5.9 million viewers per night and a 4.1 Nielsen rating. It also created a stir, with several African-American leaders in Boston complaining that the show cast the city's black population in a negative light.

The award-winning producers behind the Spike TV series say their show will be different.

''We wanted to find a way to delve into their lives, beyond what happens on the streets," said Keith Brown, the vice president of news and documentaries at Spike TV and a former producer at PBS, CBS News, and NBC News.

''They're putting in 14- to 18-hour days," Brown said of the show's producers. ''We've been to cemeteries with children of officers who have died in the call of duty. It's really intimate."

Brown said that Spike TV has complete editorial control over the project. He attributed his producers' unusual access to the large amount of time they have spent with officers.

The show's cameras have filmed plainclothes officers racing through the city in cars and making gun arrests, Brown said. Producers have documented life on the beat and at home with dozens of officers of all ranks from the gang unit, the vice unit, the community services unit, and the cold-case squad, he said.

The show is designed to capture the department's diversity and its officers' humanity, Brown said, which helped him sell Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole on the idea.

''What we're really interested in is how all of this affects the psyche of the men: their lives, how they're feeling, morale," Brown said.

James Stoltz, one of the show's producers and a former CBS and NBC News producer, said that Boston was selected for the show in part because O'Toole understood the network's goals better than any other big-city police chief.

''I think this is going to be a very different police series," Stoltz said. ''We were looking for a Police Department who was willing to open the doors to us, and we found one in Boston. We chose Boston because it's a great urban Police Department. We chose Boston because they understood the project."

Crew members have filmed O'Toole at work, Stoltz said, and the show will feature both the bustle of the commissioner's office and the routine of a rookie walking the beat.

Sources within the department said the show's crews have filmed major gun arrests in the high-crime districts of Mattapan and Roxbury, as well as shooting victims.

''People like it because it shows their good work," said one high-ranking officer familiar with the project. ''It was filming like a day in the life. . . . They've gotten great gun pinches, going up to a group on a corner . . . and a gun chase."

But another high-ranking police source close to the project said the producers emphasized they wanted to capture the humdrum aspects of officers' lives, too. ''It's supposed to be a really positive fluff piece on policing," the source said.

Stoltz declined to give details about the show's plot lines and character development, because filming is ongoing and won't be completed for several weeks.

''We came at this with the view that police officers' lives are intrinsically demanding," he said. ''It's tough to think of another occupation where so much human experience is rolled up into one."

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at

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