I pulled into the parking lot of the Dallas Scottish Rite of Freemasonry Cathedral, Library & Museum at Harwood and Young Streets at 6:40 this morning; right behind me was Mayor Tom Leppert. The lot was already jam-packed with trucks and trailers and catering tables for today's Good Guys shoot, taking place between the Scottish Rite and Dallas Farmers Market. But the mayor wasn't there for his close-up. Instead, he was downtown to present the cast of the FOX teevee show -- which premieres tonight at 8 in its official summertime spot -- with an Official Proclamation announcing today as Good Guys Day.
Leppert had been scheduled to hand the slip of paper to the cast -- Bradley Whitford, Colin Hanks, Jenny Wade and Diana-Maria Riva -- at 7 p.m. sharp. More like, 7:30. The folks running the show for FOX didn't think the boys should meet the mayor in their morning-call short pants and had them slip into their big-boy clothes.
"Come on -- it was 82 degrees at 6 a.m.," said Hanks afterward. Whitford, who'd brought along his dog Izzie, was a little ... moist.
The mayor, then, was left with a little free time; Unfair Park ate up some of it with a chat you'll find on the other side about, among other things, Dallas's need for movie and TV production facilities to keep pace with the sudden demand. The Good Guys, for instance, will need to move out of Fair Park when it returns in August to film the additional seven episodes ordered by the network at the end of May. City officials are scrambling to find Matt Nix's show a new home. Also on the other side, your latest Mayor Tom open-caption-contest entry ...
The event itself wasn't much of one -- there were more crew members and onlookers on hand as there were media members. The mayor made small talk with the cast about how they like being here; oh, it's just swell, they said, if a little hot. Whitford compared the highways to an experiment gone wrong; Hanks said his GPS does him no good when he's trying to get 'round town.
Whitford noticed the mayor's White House cuff links and asked, What gives? Leppert said he'd been a White House fellow "in another life." He chided Whitford for The West Wing's famous walks-and-talks down the White House corridors: "You guys had five people walking down the halls together," said the mayor, "but you can barely fit two people at a time!"
But then he said he hopes The Good Guys can have a lengthy run like The West Wing, to which Whitford replied, "I'll work on that." Like I said, small talk. Microscopic.
Then the foursome gathered 'round the mayor, who said hear ye, hear ye, today's Good Guys Day, glad to have you here, the show will "make an impact from a visibility standpoint," good luck and God bless. And then: Smiles, handshakes, photo ops with and without doughnuts. (At which point Hanks said he hopes Dallas police officers won't take offense -- "It's a comedy!")
When the mayor finally left for his next appointment, Whitford hollered after him: "I hope your next stop is something more substantial!" (Leppert was, in fact, headed to an appointment with Carol Reed.)
At which point Whitford and Hanks talked about extending their visit to Dallas well into August -- "when, I hear, it gets hot in Dallas," said Hanks.
"First of all, we were thrilled the network was confident enough and behind the show enough even before it aired to pick us up," Whitford told Unfair Park. "None of us were sure when that was going to be."
"The situation was so interesting in that the initial 13 was sort of, we just thought that was it," Hanks said. "There was already an interest in and support for the show from that standpoint, to the get more support on top of that was a definite surprise."
"And then the network told us in no uncertain terms that the peak in terms of the heat was in July, and by the end of August, it's kind of like Iceland," Whitford said. "Some weird winds come in and cool it down. So we're thrilled to be coming back at the end of August, right when it cools down." Whitford grinned. His chin then began to appear to melt.
"It's right when it goes from triple to double digits," Hanks said, sipping on a cup of coffee.
"It's sweater weather," says Whitford. "Everybody's dressed like an extra from Love Story. It's cozy." He cracks himself up. "I've discovered the art of re-hydration."
And now, for that Q&A with the mayor:
No doubt -- getting all these TV shows, Good Guys and Lonestar and Chase and maybe Chaos -- are good for the city. And we're good for them -- we've got great production people here familiar with running and gunning on TV shows and indie films. But at some point, don't we need more in terms of production facilities.
I think we've got we've got a lot of good settings. We've been a little bit surprised at some, Six months ago I never would have thought of Fair Park as being a great place to shoot, but it is. You've got build buildings that almost make great sound stages in and of themselves. So that's a great thing. With all the work that's been done on the downtown, ranging from the big tall buildings that give that urban setting to the Arts Complex, I think we've got an awful lot of settings.
Settings are one things. Sound stages -- sets -- are another. Right now, The Good Guys is using Food & Fiber as a sound stage -- that's where the show's police HQ is built out at this very moment. But when they return in late summer after a brief break, the show will have to find a new home. Fair Park is a fine solution when there's no State Fair of Texas. And Lonestar's actually shooting at the Studios in Las Colinas. Seems to be, as Rafael Anchia suggested a while ago, Dallas needs to get into the production facility business if we hope to maintain the momentum we're currently experiencing.
I think that's right. But i think it's a chicken and the egg thing. As we get more series, it all of the sudden justifies more investment. I think the real key was a couple of years ago, when the legislature put those production incentives in place. Again, it didn't make us even with Michigan and Louisiana and New Mexico, but at least it made us competitive. And when you see now we're competitive, all ogf the sudden it draws on all of the natural strengths we've got. That will come. There are already conversations and talks about tying to come up with the next Las Colinas ...
But have it here. In Dallas.
And have it in Dallas.
I was driving around the Cedars with my dad this weekend. It was where he spent most of his childhood, and he was aghast at how deserted much of it had become -- how there are blocks after blocks of empty warehouses and storefronts. He said it looked like an abandoned studio backlot. Seems that would be the perfect part of town in which to set up a studio of some kind.
There are laces to do that. We've even looked at some of the shopping centers, where all of the sudden you've got the empty big boxes, and do they present an opportunity?
Like Southwest Center Mall, perhaps?
All of the above. But I'd also tell you, one of the interesting things is -- and maybe your dad's an example of this -- but people who'd been here five years ago all of the sudden come to Dallas, and their view is it's a different place. All of the sudden it has changed so much. And that gives us an advantage too. And as you see more series come in, then all of the sudden it's gonna push for more investment. Keep in mind we went for a long series of time where we had nothing. Prison Break was terrific, but it was the only one that was here. Now, from a state standpoint, we're competitive.
And the other thing that happens too is, people come in, and it seems like everybody's having a good experience. There's accessibility to crews; there's accessibility to staff. Everyone's hospitable. And all of the sudden, that message gets around. I think all the FOX series you're seeing here now is because the people who did Prison Break had such a good experience.
How much of this is due to moving Dallas Film Commission and Janis into City Hall? Because when it was under the auspices of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, I think the perception was the commission was really there to help make Dallas look good to, you know, conventions and visitors. And moving it to City Hall seemed to send the message that, no, this is indeed serious city business.
The short answer is yes, but it was part of all the other things we've talked about. I am not sure there's one single step in this whole process, and I feel pretty good about where we are. If somebody would have said, "You've got four series, roughly, shooting at the same time," three yeards ago you would have taken it and run.
Seems to me this is good for you as well: Tonight and for as long as the show runs on FOX, there's Dallas being presented every week to several million people. Then Lonestar. Then Chase and whatever else follows. Must be nice to be mayor at a time when the city receives unprecedented national exposure on several networks all at once.
I'm not sure about that, but it sure does make a difference for the city, I can tell you that. I live across the nation. I can tell you when there' a series, and all of the sudden it focuses on your city, people across the city get excited. There's kind of like that buyer's reinforcement. And it also builds up the visibility of the city: People see it, they talk about it, then a convention comes up, then a movie comes up. It all goes into an equation.
Back to the need for infrastructure, can you build that in the mist of a budget shortfall like the one we're yet again facing?
I've never been in a situation where everything's perfect. You balance and you juggle and you make it work. Would you like to have other circumstances? Sure. But the reality is, we'll deal with it. I think we're in pretty darn good shape. You look at the budget situation, not any easy decisions there. It's going to be tough. There's not a lot of fun there.
But with that said, we're in a lot better position than nearly everyone else across the nation. Two years ago, we have loved to have four series and have the challenges of doing that kind of juggling. Two years ago we would have loved to have had the challenges of: How do you deal with all the construction with the hotel and the deck park and everything else? That's exactly the problems we want at this point.
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SHOW ME HOW
There is indeed excitement, enthusiasm and energy. But how as mayor do you reconcile that momentum with the reality of cutting basic services? I mean, the Downtown Dallas 360 folks are talking about, well, maybe we should deck-park I-30 and connect downtown with the Cedars -- great idea. But that's an idea being proposed -- and, yes, it's just a concept at this point -- at a time when the second downtown light-rail line has to be backburnered for 20 years and when libraries could be shut down and parks won't be mowed and fees are being raised and so on and so forth.
A great wish list would be the magic wand that takes care of everything at once and magically Tuesday at 8:30 all those things are back. The world doesn't work that way. It's important to step back and say, "Gosh, all these challenging issues, would any city take ours in a minute?" Absolutely. In a minute. Things rarely line up. How do you pull the opportunity out of challenges?