Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–1999)
FAQAdd to FAQ (Coming Soon)
American law allows for the 'false deception ploy' where the police can claim to have evidence (fingerprints, DNA, CCTV, witnesses) they do not in order to gain a confession, the idea being that any innocent person would know such evidence could not exist and see through it. This has become increasingly controversial however due to cases such as the Central Park 5 rape case in New York where the suspects were told their co-defendants were saying they were responsible so they accused them in turn only to be exonerated years later. Edit (Coming Soon)
Homicide is based on a non-fiction book "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" by David Simon. In the 1980s, Simon was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, working the crime beat. He spent the year of 1988 "embedded" in one shift of the BPD Homicide unit and chronicled the cases they investigated.
Fans of the show like to consider it one of the more accurate depictions of police investigation. However, like any work of fiction, Homicide diverges from reality in a number of ways.
Many of the elements, cases, and even quotes, used on the show are ones taken directly from actual events which did happen, or were reported to have happened, in the Baltimore homicide unit. For example, the unit did use a dry erase board to chronicle clearance rates for detectives. Due to publicity from Homicide, the practice was temporarily discontinued as it was felt that it projected an image of a cold obsession with clearance rates. But the board was later brought back as the BPD transitioned into a statistics based model of policing which had been pioneered in cities like New York. David Simon's own tv series The Wire depicts the use of a board for trackign clearance rates well into the 21st century.
Much of the terminology of the show: such as "red ball", "dunker", "stone cold whodunit" etc is taken from actual slang used by the Baltimore homicide unit in the late 1980s when David Simon covered them.
Some of the depictions of the day to day life of homicide detectives is also accurate, as reported in Simon's book. Like the sitcom Barney Miller, Homicide was unusual in depicting the everyday work of policing as being fairly routine and dull. Shoot outs and violent confrontations were pretty rare. Indeed, the sound of gunfire was not heard on Homicide in the first few seasons. Homicide is also fairly accurate in reporting the seemingly callous, often joking, attitude which homicide detectives take at crime scenes.
However, Homicide also was inaccurate in some respects. One of the most obvious, although perhaps least consequential, was the size of the department. Homicide had two shifts of about seven or eight detectives who worked under a Lieutenant (and later, when Kay Howard got promoted, a Sergeant). The real life Baltimore homicide unit of the 1980s was organized into three shifts, each covering eight hours of the day, and the shifts were considerably larger, being more than twice as large as depicted on Homicide. Also, while the real life squads were led by a Lieutenant, they were also broken down into sub-units which were supervised by Sergeants. The unit which Simon covered had three or four Sergeants.
David Simon has also pointed out in interviews that the actual homicide detectives rarely, if ever, engaged in the metaphysical soul searching which their TV counterparts did. They were mostly working men and women who had a job to do and were trying to make their city a little safer. Especially in later seasons, Homicide, the tv show also began dealing with more outre and sensationalist cases including a man who based his crime off an Edgar Allan Poe story, a set of thrill killers moving along the highway, and a serial killer who broadcast his murders on the internet. These contrasted with the real life cases presented in the book, which were generally a mix of violence relating to the drug trade, domestic disputes, drunken arguments, and the occasional child murder. Perhaps the most sensationalist crime Simon covered in his book was one where a woman had married and then killed several husbands for the insurance money.
Occasionally the differences between reality and fiction caused angst for real people. Retired Baltimore homicide detective Tom Pellegrini objected to what he saw as "his" characterization on the show. Pellegrini is widely recognized as being the inspiration for the character of Tim Bayliss. Both men were young inexperienced investigators who came to the unit from the Mayor's security detail and both became stymied over the brutal sensational murder of a little girl, murders which went unsolved even after marathon interrogation sessions with the suspect. However, after the first season, the portrayal of Bayliss diverged more from that of the real life Pellegrini. In service of the story, Bayliss did numerous things which Pellegrini felt reflected poorly on him: Bayliss became interested in kinky sex (including having sex in a coffin), he got into a physical confrontation with another detective over a woman, he revealed that he had been molested as a child, while drunk he attempted to hold up a convenience store, he dabbled in Buddhism, revealed that he was bisexual, and, ultimately, murdered a suspect who had been acquitted. Edit (Coming Soon)
Detective John Munch transfers to New York's Special Victims Unit on Law & Order after the show Homicide was cancelled (Belzer wanted the character to survive the cancellation so he signed up for a part on Law & Order). It is the same character more or less, however Munch in Law & Order SVU isn't a jerk or as much of a conspiracy theorist as he was in Homicide. Munch is more cynical and depressed, yet overall a nicer person in Law & Order SVU, stripping the character of many of his trademark traits. He still keeps the dark glasses and somber black clothing. Munch is said on Law & Order to have grown up in the Lower East Side, despite having grown up in Baltimore on Homicide (of course it's possible he transitioned between the two and Munch on Law and Order; SVU sometimes refers to his time on the Baltimore homicide team). Munch on Homicide never really discusses his parents, but it is revealed on Law & Order that Munch was traumatized by seeing his father shoot himself in the head when he was a teenager. Munch's mortician brother also has his name changed from what it originally was. Munch on Law & Order SVU spends more time at the office than on the streets, serving in later seasons mostly as an information gatherer, although he does do investigations many times in earlier seasons. Edit (Coming Soon)
Before mentioning suspects in Adena Watson's murder, it must be noted that the fictional Watson's death was based in part on the real-life slaying of 11-year-old Latonya Kim Wallace. Hers was one of the many cases recounted in David Simon's "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets," which Baltimore-Sun reporter Simon wrote while trailing the city's squad of detectives for the duration of 1988. Wallace's murder was never closed and so, presumably out of deference to the Wallace family, neither was Adena's. The television show "Homicide: Life on the Street," the NBC adaptation of Simon's book, presented its viewers with two suspects in the Adena case: produce vendor Risley Tucker (played by Moses Gunn) and, introduced in a s4 episode, a pedophilic murderer named Carver Dooley (played by Chris Rock). For most of the duration of s1, Bayliss's sights are set on Tucker, a lonely, alcoholic, late-middle-aged man who'd hired Adena to clean his barn. The help Adena afforded had seemed largely unnecessary, and Adena's mother had expressed reservations about Tucker's true intentions. Eventually, in episode 1.6, "Three Men and Adena," Pembleton and Bayliss subject Tucker to a twelve-hour interrogation; this decision to bring Tucker in is predicated by the crime-lab's finding that a smudge of soot discovered on the skirt Adena was wearing at the time of her death turns out to be an exact chemical match to soot produced in the wake of a recent fire at Tucker's barn. Bayliss and Pembleton--who, incidentally, had discounted Tucker as a suspect until the indentification of the soot--go at Tucker full-bore for the entire twelve hours but fail to get a confession. The only "sin" to which Tucker admits is his love for the prepubescent girl, an emotion he finds shameful but impossible to deny. Yet he doesn't stray from his contention that he never even touched Adena, let alone hurt her. By episode's end, Bayliss and Pembleton have switched roles: Pembleton goes away convinced of Tucker's guilt, while Bayliss now has his doubts.
These doubts would resurface in s4's "Requiem for Adena." Janelle Parsons, a similarly young, African-American girl is found murdered, molested, and left in an alley. Bayliss immediately takes note of the circumstantial similarities between the cases and finds his obsession with the Watson killing activated again. Pembleton considers this sentimentality a threat to this new investigation and demands to work alone. It isn't long before a suspect in the Parsons case is apprehended: a moronic degenerate named Carver Dooley. Although ostensibly Pembleton's case alone, Bayliss takes an opportunity to slip into The Box and demand that Dooley "say the words" and confess to Adena's murder. Dooley claims ignorance, and before the matter can be pursued any further, Pembleton arrives and forcibly drags Bayliss from The Box. Outside, Pembleton convinces Bayliss that dredging up Adena Watson will only distract from his pursuit of a confession to this latest of crimes. Bayliss reluctantly agrees, Dooley confesses to the Parsons murder, and again Bayliss is left without closure.
As for the question of who ultimately did the deed, it's more or less assumed by the rest of the detectives (and most of the viewers) that Risley Tucker was guilty, although none, other than Bayliss, seem to regard it as anything more than a case gone astray--something that could have happened to anyone--and certainly none obsess on it to the extent Bayliss does for the duration of the series. Bayliss would later reveal that his obsession with such cases stems from the sexual abuse he himself endured as a child.
It should be noted that Risley Tucker, generally referred to as "The Araber" in the show, is based on "The Fish Man" a real life suspect in the murder of Latonya Wallace who owned a fish store. In his book, Simon portrays the Fish Man as the prime suspect in Wallace's murder and implies that most of the detectives believe he is guilty although they were never able to gain enough evidence to charge him. The Carver Dooley case is based on a real life case where a girl was murdered in a similar style to Latonya Wallace. In this case the murder was investigated by Harry Edgerton, the real life inspiration for Frank Pembleton, and it was determined there was no connection. The murdered girl was the daughter of a woman who Simon would later follow as part of his second book. "The Corner," which dealt with an inner-city drug area and would later be made into a mini-series for HBO. Edit (Coming Soon)
Much like the question of who killed Adena Watson, that of who did Gordon Pratt remains a mystery. If nothing else, however, the producers of the show have afforded the viewers a few subtle hints as to which character they'd have us *believe* was most likely responsible.
The events leading to Pratt's demise begin when Detectives Howard, Bolander, Munch and Felton enter an apartment building with a search warrant for the room of Glenn Holton, lead suspect in a recent child murder. Because of a typographical error on the warrant, though, they arrive at the wrong room, that of nearby resident Gordon Pratt. As they reach the door, someone from a stairway leading up to the next floor fires at them with two handguns. The fusillade of bullets rains down, wounding three of the detectives, Howard and Bolander critically. Holton is hunted and brought in, but during an interrogation with Detectives Pembleton and Bayliss, it becomes obvious that he's not the shooter. The detectives switch tacks and investigate the person whose room they'd accidentally approached--Mr. Pratt's.
Gordon Pratt is revealed to be an Oswaldesque loner who's frustrated by his lack of success in life and who believes that affirmative-action run amok is to blame for his various failures. He harbors a dislike of African Americans, one which he vents in passive-aggressive fashion, with snide remarks and "Bell Curve"-reminiscent assertions about the relative intelligence of African-Americans. Despite attempts to belittle Pratt to the point that he breaks down, the detectives fail to elicit a confession. Pratt demands an attorney and is set free. It's not long thereafter that Pratt is found murdered near a pay-phone inside his apartment. Bayliss is unfortunate enough to wander into the squadroom at the time the call comes in and so becomes the primary.
Tim is hindered from the start, as the rest of the detectives on the shift, not surprisingly, either refuse to partner with him or quickly take other calls and vanish. Not only is he alone in the investigation, but the unpleasantness of the task multiplies when Lieutenant Giardello orders him to question the most likely suspects--his co-workers. Meldrick says that he was asleep ("Climbing into a bed with a poker pal," as he puts it), and, after some thinking, Pembleton says that he was getting gas. Munch--who seems to resent even being asked at all--staunchly avers that after visiting Detective Bolander at the hospital, he went to breakfast at Ikaros, a Greek restaurant. Bayliss remains suspicious of Munch and even goes so far as to talk to the Ikaros staff present on that morning. Those who were there on the morning in question can't recall him. Finally, armed--or burdened, rather--with this new information, Tim gently presses John, who hands his Glock over the Waterfront counter to his fellow detective, daring him to smell the chamber and see if it's been fired lately. Bayliss can't bring himself to do it, however, and hands the gun back to Munch, who takes it before stomping off to "make a call." It's all very suspicious appearing, at the very least. Munch appears to have impulsive, violent actions at times, such as "Full Court Press" (he nearly bashes Gharty over the head with a heavy glass ashtray), "Sniper: Part 2" (he has a panic attack and nearly gets into a car crash with Kay Howard in the passenger seat) and "The Same Coin" (he threatens to kill Gharty after Gharty injures his girlfriend, Billie Lou, at the Waterfront Bar).
Even unto the very last episode ("Forgive Us Our Trespasses"), Munch's name comes up in association with Pratt's murder. He tells Bayliss in no uncertain terms that killing someone like Pratt and getting away with it would be morally justifiable, and Bayliss mentions that, for all of these years, he'd always figured Munch the shooter. Executive Producer Tom Fontana mentions in his audio commentary to "Trespasses" that Richard Belzer believed the same as well, and wanted viewers to draw that very conclusion. Despite the evidence pointing to Munch as the shooter, Munch is never charged, interrogated or arrested. Edit (Coming Soon)
In one of the last scenes of the movie Tim Bayliss confesses to his incredulous partner Frank Pembleton the vigilante murder of Luke Ryland and asks to be arrested. Pembleton refuses but Bayliss threatens to kill himself if he is not taken in. We never see the aftermath, except for a hand (which is not Pembleton's, and could be Bayliss') rewriting Ryland's name in black (meaning "case closed") on the board, and a tired Frank commenting he caught "a couple of bad guys" that night (Giardello's shooter and Bayliss?).
It's worth mentioning that in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Munch - who is a character in that show too - says he once had a partner who took cases very personally and ended up "eating his gun". The description could fit Bayliss, who did occasionally partner with Munch and was considered too emotionally attached to his cases, but whether it's really a reference to Tim or if it can be considered canon for Homicide, it's debatable.
Ultimately, Bayliss' fate remains ambiguous. Edit (Coming Soon)