Jesse Jackson Jr. Adds Dose Of Reality to CBS Show

Posted August 29, 2003 at 2:33pm

Last month at a Capitol Hill watering hole, a freshman Congresswoman from California met with an upstart ex-Washington police chief in order to discuss new ideas on America’s outdated and ineffective prison parole system. The implications of that meeting could mean groundbreaking new legislation and a new era for criminal reform efforts across the United States — that is, if prime-time television somehow happens to become reality this fall.

Production teams from the CBS show “The District” spent a week in Washington during the August recess shooting various scenes for the upcoming season of the popular Saturday evening program. While upward of 80 percent of the show is filmed in studios and production lots in Los Angeles, Executive Producer Pam Veasey brings the cast and crew to Washington at least once a season to shoot on location.

The police drama features Craig T. Nelson, who starred in the sitcom “Coach,” as Jack Mannion, a champion of the people who is determined to clean up the crime-ridden streets of D.C. Mannion finds he is not only forced to fight criminals on the streets but also the politics of Washington in his battle to do good.

At the end of last season, Mannion was fired from his job by the mayor, who does not have the best interest of the city’s residents on his mind. This season Mannion has returned to fight for his job.

“He realizes he has to play the politics of Washington,” Veasey said, “and if it’s politics he has to play, he’ll play it his way.”

While in D.C. last month, the production team filmed scenes at the Federal Trade Commission building, the Roosevelt Bridge, Dupont Circle, Freedom Plaza and one scene at the corner of Louisiana Avenue and North Capitol Street that featured a cameo appearance by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

“I had five lines and I didn’t sleep for two weeks” before the filming, Jackson said. “C-SPAN cameras don’t prepare you for the television cameras.”

The Congressman was given his own trailer, went through makeup sessions and had to go through numerous rehearsals for the cameo.

“The only thing I didn’t have was a contract,” he said, laughing. “I’d absolutely do it again, but I’d need a bigger part.”

While the Congressman said he was amazed by the experience, he also added his own touch with his eye for detail. In Jackson’s scene, he meets the California Congresswoman lobbying for parole reform and applauds her efforts.

“After they were going through rehearsal he noticed that she didn’t have a Congressional pin,” said Theresa Caldwell, Jackson’s press secretary.

Jackson offered to lend the actress his own pin for her scenes, but after going to the wardrobe and prop department, they could not find a second pin for their scenes together. In the end, Jackson and the actress were both shot wearing U.S. flag pins found in the prop room.

The legislation Jackson discusses with the Congresswoman in his scene is the same issue Nelson’s character was lobbying for in the scene shot at Kelly’s Irish Times bar and restaurant. Veasey said the details of the post-prison reform program were not simply made up by script writers for the show, but were actually taken from a national program called Reentry Sunday, which helps parolees not return to crime. She added that this is just one example of the research her team does to depict the “The District” as accurately and realistically as possible.

“We do ride-alongs and work with Secret Service and park police,” Veasey said. “The FBI, DEA and Capitol Police have all been very gracious to us.”

“We spend a lot of the time learning all the rules so we can depict it right,” she said.

Veasey and her team will return to Washington this January to find more well-known locations at which to shoot scenes and to capture the District in the wintertime, something Veasey said is hard to do on Hollywood production lots.