Three Years After the Show's Demise, Fans Still Set Aside a Weekend to Bring Homicide Back to Life
By arranging your schedule so you can be home to catch a televised broadcast, not only are you reorganizing the events of your real life to, in most cases, keep up with the fictionalized stories of characters you don't know, you are making that program an event. When you elevate a show from the status of something you watch if you happen to be home to something you make sure you're home to watch, it becomes much more exciting.
For many, NBC's Homicide: Life on the Streets achieved the level of event programming, which was tricky because of the unfortunate Friday time slot the show was cursed with. At the end of its lackluster final season, Homicide finally went off the air in August 1999 after six years.
However, fans of the show, left now with only syndicated episodes on Court TV, do have one additional event to look forward to. No, not HBO's inconsistent series The Wire, created by Homicide co-creator David Simon. It's Homicon.
According to Kathy Wilhelm, co-organizer of the event along with Maura Crowther and Cheryl Rabin, the idea for a gathering of Homicide fans in Baltimore--as much a character on the show as any played by an actor--came about in the fall of 1998.
"I believe someone on the Homicide Usenet group jokingly suggested everyone get together at the Waterfront [bar] for beer and crab cakes," she says. "The next thing you know, people are making plane and hotel reservations. About 20 total strangers from all over North America spent a weekend together in Fells Point and had a blast. We now have our own mailing list group on Yahoo with about 170 members."
Bill Grossman, a Homicon attendee who, at previous events, has performed a karaoke rendition of "Mack the Knife" as a tribute to Richard Belzer's performance of the tune in one first-season episode, and who co-organizes the Mike Kellerman Pub Crawl, says Homicon highlights include "a wonderful bus tour featuring some of the actors from the show as guests; getting to meet some of the actors and behind-the-scenes people from the show at seminars and the Red Ball parties; meeting one of Barry Levinson's most beloved actors, the late Ralph Tabakin, and watching him enjoy a compilation tape of his appearances on the show."
Paul Kilduff, another regular attendee and Homicon bus tour organizer, recalls a regular highlight he enjoys. "Going to the place where Tim Bayliss [played by Kyle Secor] was shot and looking at the garden where he lay wounded is a favorite time of mine," he says. "And we've done it the last several years."
To the casual TV viewer, a gathering of any show's fans might seem inherently geeky or, at the very least, fanatical. And comparisons to fan gatherings for other cult-hit TV shows, like Star Trek, easily spring to mind. However, Wilhelm explains the fundamental differences between Trekkies and Homiconners.
"Well, there are many more Trekkies than Homiconners," she begins. "Our fan convention is much smaller and much more casual. No corporate sponsors set up in generic hotel conference rooms trying to sell souvenirs. And we don't wear costumes."
No costumes? So much for the image of a legion of Homicide fans descending on Baltimore in fedoras and overcoats. "No costumes," Wilhelm repeats. "But the fedora is a good idea." (For his part, Grossman does recall one fan who wore a costume from the show on the convention's bus tour. "Many of us bought memorabilia during a sale at the Rec Pier when the show ended," he explains.)
So what kind of person attends Homicon? "Our group consists of all ages, from students to retired folks," Wilhelm says. "We're nurses, teachers, writers, artists, firemen, cops, normal people. To each his own, I guess."
Kilduff agrees, adding, "This is a very sweet and smart bunch of people. . . . I do feel lost in conversation with them, though, because they tend to sprinkle their conversation with references to episode names, and since the really dedicated fans know all the episodes and all the names, it's a kind of shorthand that even someone who watched the show pretty faithfully can't follow."
Obviously, Homicide, speaks to people in such a way that it makes them, for one weekend out of the year, come to Baltimore and tour locations used in filming, despite the fact that it hasn't broadcast an original episode in three years. And that, its fans say, is a testament not only to the show's quality but to its lasting value.
For Grossman, what makes Homicide so uniquely addictive is "hard to express," he says. "To put it simply, I think it's a great show--first-rate in all departments--and its affection for Baltimore is unique." Homicide was a "quality drama on television, and a tribute to a wonderful city," he adds.
"At the time, it was the best show on TV," Wilhelm elaborates. "It is a thinking person's show; it does not insult my intelligence. It's still better than most of the drivel that passes for TV drama these days."
And just as important is Baltimore itself, which distinguishes this sort of fan following from those of other TV shows like CSI or Buffy.
"Part of Homicide's charm was the filming on location," Wilhelm says. "A fan of CSI would have a hard time finding any filming locations to visit. But with Homicide, fans can go to Jimmy's and get their picture taken in front of the Rec Pier."
Just like any gathering of fans devoted to a TV show or movie franchise, there are those who don't get it. "I'm sure they think, 'Geez, the show's gone, get a life,'" Wilhelm admits. "We do have lives. But for one weekend each year, we forget about our jobs, paying the bills, carpooling, et cetera, and get together in a great city to celebrate a great show with friends."
And in the grand scheme of things, that isn't so bad. It's not so different from those of you who get together in dorm rooms with beer to catch a new episode of The Real World, or head on down to your local pub on a Monday night and try to convince yourself that John Madden is a much better commentator than Dennis Miller because you can understand every word he uses and every reference he makes.
At its core, Homicon is just a group of people with a shared interest, getting together, visiting an interesting city, enjoying some crab cakes, some beer, some duckpin bowling, and maybe a karaoke version of "Mack the Knife."
Homicon 2002 takes place Saturday, Oct. 26, beginning with a bus tour that starts at 9:30 a.m. at the Daily Grind in Fells Point. The price is $30, including the six-hour tour, a game of duckpin bowling, pizza, soft drink, and madcap zaniness. The tour may also include some locations from the HBO series The Wire. For more information, contact Paul Kilduff at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://homicon.tripod.com.
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