Every Thursday we feature a classic movie, trailers, TV show pilot or amazing clips from movies from back in the day for you to watch at work, on the way to work, on the way home from work or on your day off to watch and share.
Today’s feature takes you back to 1986 for Crime Story starring Dennis Farina along with other great Chicago actors. The supporting cast through the two seasons included a very young David Caruso, Julia Roberts (her first ever TV appearance) along with others including Kevin Spacey (his first TV appearance), Deborah Harry, Gary Sinise, Ving Rhames, William Russ (who along with Kevin Spacey would go on to major fame in WISEGUY starring Kevin Wahl), Christian Slater, Lorraine Bracco, Pam Grier, jazz musician Miles Davis made a cameo in the first-season episode “The War” playing jazz with Stephen Lang, jazz musician Dexter Gordon appeared in the second-season episode “Moulin Rouge.”, Stanley Tucci, Bruce McGill, George Dzundza, who would have later success on Law & Order and others.
Season Two episode “Protected Witness” featured both Laura San Giacomo as Theresa Farantino, and Billy Zane as Frankie ‘The Duke’ Farantino. Michael J. Pollard played pimp Leon Barski, and William Hickey played Judge Neville Harmon in “The Brothel Wars”.
Elias Koteas who’d go on to fame in Chicago PD played a ranch hand in the Season two episode “Roadrunner”.
Among others, Eric Bogosian played the Outfit’s attorney Dee Morton, Michael Madsen played Outfit associate Johnny Fossi, and Vincent Gallo, Armin Shimerman, and Jim True-Frost were Outfit figures.
David Soul played a doctor who married Mike Torello’s ex-wife Julie in the second-season episode “Blast from the Past”, which also featured James Remar. Soul later directed two second-season episodes, “Moulin Rouge” and “Love Hurts”.
Watch the pilot for the Sept. 1986 debut on NBC below along with more information about the show.
ABOUT THE SHOW
Crime Story is an American television drama, created by Chuck Adamson and Gustave Reininger, that premiered in 1986 on NBC, where it ran for two seasons.
The show premiered with a two-hour pilot—a movie which had been exhibited theatrically—and was watched by over 30 million viewers. It was scheduled to follow Miami Vice on Friday nights, continuing to attract a record number of viewers. NBC then moved the show to Tuesdays at 10 pm opposite ABC’s Moonlighting, hurting its ratings to the point that NBC ordered its cancellation after only two seasons.
Set in the early 1960s, the series depicted two men—Lt. Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) and mobster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison)—with an obsessive drive to destroy each other. As Luca started with street crime in Chicago, was “made” in the Chicago Outfit and then sent to Las Vegas to monitor their casinos, Torello pursued Luca as head of a special Organized Crime Strike Force. Torello, his friend Ted Kehoe, and Luca had grown up in Chicago’s “The Patch” (Smith Park) neighborhood, also called “Little Italy” or “Little Sicily” and the haunt of the Forty-Two Gang.
The show attracted both acclaim and controversy for its serialized format, in which a continuing storyline was told over an entire season, rather than being episodic, as was normal with shows at the time (including Miami Vice).
The first season ended with Ray Luca and Pauli Taglia on the lam, hiding from Torello in a Nevada desert shack, which is located in an atomic bomb test area. An A-bomb explodes, presumably obliterating Luca and Taglia, leaving viewers wondering whether they were dead or alive.
After the success of the first season of Miami Vice, television producer Michael Mann had complete freedom from NBC to produce another show.
Originally, Universal Pictures was going to finance Crime Story but decided against it because of the projected costs (Miami Vice, a Universal show, was already being produced for higher than the average $1 million per episode rate). A small studio called New World Pictures Ltd. agreed to finance the show, with a chance to sell it overseas while Universal retained the domestic syndication rights.
According to Mann, the genesis of the project was to follow a group of police officers in a major crimes unit in 1963 and how they change over 20 hours of television, “in 1980, with very different occupations, in a different city and in a different time”. He was influenced by the television series Police Story, and based Crime Story largely on the experiences of Chuck Adamson, a former Chicago police detective of 17 years. Mann asked Adamson and Gustave Reininger to write the series pilot and a show bible.
Reininger was a former Wall Street international investment banker who had come to Mann’s attention based on a screenplay he had written about arson investigators, and a French film that he had written and produced.
Reininger researched Crime Story by winning the confidence of Detective William Hanhardt, who put him in touch with undercover officers in Chicago. They sent him on meetings with organized crime figures. Reininger risked wearing a body microphone and recorder. After visiting the crime scene of the gruesome gangland slaying of bookmaker Al Brown, Reininger backed off his Mob interviews. Adamson claimed that the stories depicted in the series were composites rather than actual events that happened, “but they’ll be accurate”.
In a June 1986 press conference, Mann said that the first season of the show would go from Chicago in 1963 to Las Vegas in 1980. He said, “It’s a serial in the sense that we have continuing stories, and in that sense the show is one big novel”.
Mann and Reininger’s inspiration for the 1963–1980 arc came from their mutual admiration of the epic 15+ hour film, Berlin Alexanderplatz, by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Mann said, “The pace of our story is like the speed of light compared to that, but that’s the idea—if you put it all together at the end you’ve got one hell of a 22-hour movie”. Mann predicted a five-year network run for the show. However, due to budgetary constraints (the need for four sets of period cars proved to be too expensive). Tartikoff eventually allowed their series to move to Las Vegas for the last quarter of the 22 episodes. Ultimately, the show encompasses only the years 1963–64.
NBC head Brandon Tartikoff (who had started his career in Chicago) gave an order for a two-hour movie, which had a theatrical release in a handful of U.S. theaters to invited guests only. Tartikoff also ordered 22 episodes which allowed Reininger and Adamson to tell a story with developing character arcs, and continuing stories (instead of episodic, self standing shows.). Two episodes were made every three weeks, with shooting taking up more than 12 hours in a day, seven days a week.
By the second season, an average episode cost between $1.3 and 1.4 million (roughly the same as Miami Vice) because it was shot on location, set during the 1960s (requiring period-accurate props and costumes), and featured a large cast.
Hilda Stark worked as an art director on the pilot episode and was asked back by Mann after seven episodes to become the show’s production designer.
To achieve the period look of the show, she and her design team would go to second-hand and antique stores, run advertisements in newspapers seeking articles from the period, and sometimes build furniture if they could not find it. According to Stark, the overall design or look of the show featured “a lot of exaggerated lines. We go for high style—sleek lines… We go for the exaggerated shapes that recall the era”.
Stark and her team also came up with a color scheme for the show that featured “saturated color, and certain combinations—black, fuchsias—reminiscent of the ’50s”. She found inspiration in a library of old books and magazines, in particular Life. For the vintage cars in the show, they bought or rented from private owners.
Three famous rock and roll musicians of the past contributed to Crime Story: Del Shannon sang a revised version of his hit “Runaway” as the theme song, and Todd Rundgren started the musical direction of the series, with Al Kooper taking over as the series musical director. While early episodes played music of the era or earlier, Kooper later allowed tunes from years after 1963 to appear on the soundtrack.