Corrupt and kinky cops. Planted evidence and frame-ups. Officers having sex on the hood of a police cruiser.
This is the Charleston Police Department as viewed through the lens of “Reckless,” a new CBS legal drama now filming in the Holy City that will debut as early as November.
The show plays on the relationship between a Southern gentleman attorney, played by Cam Gigandet, and a Yankee litigator, played by Anna Wood, against the backdrop of a police sex scandal.
Producers promised a steamy, “taboo-busting” series, and it appears that's what they've delivered in a script for the show's pilot obtained by The Post and Courier.
The story begins with a police traffic stop that turns into a sex romp, then dives into a host of other unethical conduct. From cocaine planted in a lawyer's car to a group of randy cops taking advantage of a drugged female colleague, it's abundantly clear these aren't your Officer Friendly types.
“I don't got no faith in me taking on the Charleston P.D.,” a woman tells Wood's character after confiding that a police officer is pressuring her to “do things.”
The story is pure fiction, but the script has raised some eyebrows at Charleston City Hall, which is always sensitive to the way the tourism-dependent city is portrayed in print and on screen. The image of its police department as a crooked, backwater cop shop filled with sex-starved officers with questionable morals doesn't sit well with Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen or Mayor Joe Riley.
“If that ends up being the show, that would be very unfortunate and nothing that we had reason to expect when we met with (the producers) quite early this year or late last year,” Riley said.
CBS Television Studios released the following statement in response to requests from the newspaper for comment:
“RECKLESS” is a fictionalized legal drama set in Charleston that will be broadcast fully within the boundaries of all broadcast standards. We had a great time filming the pilot in the city and look forward to shooting the entire first season there over the next several months, showcasing Charleston's many charms and delivering a very positive economic impact to the surrounding area.”
Mullen said he understands the show's economic potential for the region and the producers' desire to tell a compelling story. He just doesn't want to see that done at the police department's expense.
“I don't want to be accused of trying to censor anybody, but it's also my responsibility and my passion to protect the image of this police department,” Mullen said.
Mullen said he met with the show's producers in the spring and expressed his hope that “Reckless” would not “create an image of the department that is negative and makes us look like criminals with badges.”
“They assured me that is not going to be the case,” he said.
City officials asked to see the pilot before it aired, but they were told that CBS would not allow that, Mullen said.
Riley said he hasn't read the script, but he did meet with show's producer, Ian Sander, to “communicate the importance of the department's image and the city's image.”
The police department, which has more than 400 officers, is nationally accredited, employs a strict honor code and has overseen a more than 50 percent reduction in violent crime since 2007, city officials said.
The department has had occasional misconduct cases, including a 2010 incident in which an officer resigned while being investigated for having sex in uniform with a waitress on his cruiser in the City Market area. But the agency's accolades have far exceeded its blemishes in recent years, keeping the peace in a city that has received national and international honors, including a recent nod from Conde Nast magazine as the friendliest city in America.
“The city of Charleston police department, I believe, is the best in the country, and I mean that sincerely, and I believe Chief Mullen is the best in the country,” Riley said.
Riley said CBS agreed to place a disclaimer at the start of “Reckless” making it clear that the show is not based on actual people or events. Sander also agreed to attend a police promotion ceremony and a graduation event for the department's Camp Hope mentoring program for kids “to understand the quality of our department and why this is important to us,” he said.
Mullen said the show does not have permission to use the city seal or the Charleston Police Department's insignia and patches on the uniforms and vehicles used by faux officers.
A letter signed “Concerned Citizens” accompanied the copy of the script that was delivered to The Post and Courier.
The letter accused “Reckless” of trying to “depict our City as corrupt and racist, and suggests that our justice system can be manipulated through obscene, sexual relationships.”
It also questioned whether the sexual material contained in the pilot violates the “obscenity” provision in the S.C. Film Incentive Law, which bars the use of taxpayer money from funding projects that contain content that the U.S. Supreme Court would consider obscene.
Preliminary estimates call for the “Reckless” production to spend about $31.3 million in South Carolina for technicians, actors, extras, lodging and supplies. Under South Carolina law, they would get about $7.5 million back in the form of wage and supplier rebates from the state, according to Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.
Edmonds said that “no money goes out until actual expenditures are documented and audited.”
Edmonds said he has not seen the pilot's script, but he had serious doubts that CBS, known to some in the business as the Tiffany Network, would consider broadcasting anything that would violate South Carolina's obscenity provision.
“They are not about to let anything go out that would run the risk of being classified as obscene content,” he said. “I don't believe there is anything in this production that would fall into this category.”
With millions of dollars in potential expenditures at stake, “Reckless” appears to be an economic boon for the state, Edmonds said. He said he also suspects that viewers are sophisticated enough to draw distinctions between fictional Charleston and the real deal, much as they did with “Miami Vice” in the 1980s.
If city and state officials are displeased with the way Charleston is depicted, the state is under no obligation to support the show in future seasons, provided “Reckless” lasts that long, Edmonds said. But he suspects “Reckless” will include plenty of shots that highlight Charleston's status as “the biggest historical jewel in the nation” and boost tourism in the process, he said.
Mullen said he too hopes the show will be a boon for the region, but police will be watching closely to make sure the department's image isn't tarnished in the process.
“I feel like the producer understands our concerns,” he said. “He assured me they are not going to embarrass the city or the police department. We will have to wait and see how that develops.”
Brendan Kearney contributed to this story. Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.
Reeling them in
For years, South Carolina lagged behind neighboring states when it came to attracting film production. Its incentives program offered cash rebates but at a rate significantly lower — 15 percent — than the tax credits and other incentives available in Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana and elsewhere.
That all changed in May when the latest effort by film industry lobbyists succeeded in persuading the state Legislature to bolster the incentive program. The program is administered by the S.C. Film Commission, which is part of the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, and Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer, increased rebates received for purchases of supplies from South Carolina vendors from 15 percent to a maximum of 30 percent.
Rebates for wages paid by in-state companies increased from 15 percent to as much as 25 percent, and up to 20 percent for out-of-state companies.
The new incentive program did not increase the Film Commission's budget; it continues to receive $10 million annually from the Department of Revenue for rebate disbursement, plus a percentage of the entertainment tax collected by the state, which amounts to another $5 million or so.
Richard Futch, president of the Carolina Film Alliance, said the TV show “Reckless,” shot in Charleston, is a good example of what happens when the state offers attractive cash rebates for film production.
“It's a great incentive for them to be here and get the higher rebates as opposed to the 15 percent across-the-board they were getting before,” Futch said. “We're competitive with just about every other state.”
South Carolina now might even have a slight edge because it offers rebates and not tax credits, which can cost money to redeem. “You get the whole dollar back,” he said.
In recent years, the high-water mark for film production in the state came in 2007 when seven productions set up shop here. Since then, production has dropped. Just one company, Touchstone Television Productions, which makes “Army Wives,” was eligible for rebates in 2011 ($5 million) and 2012 ($9 million), according to the state film commission.
It's too early to know the impact of the recent incentives increase, Futch said. Production companies plan many months in advance, but the queries are starting to come in.