Police, politicians and the public respond to ‘Shots Fired’ in Fox drama series

Mar 13, 2017

Many television programs like to tout themselves as “timely,” but there’s no question that “Shots Fired” truly is.

Premiering Wednesday, March 22, the limited-run Fox drama series  – created and executive-produced by filmmaking spouses Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) and Reggie Rock Bythewood (“Notorious”) – focuses on two murders in a North Carolina town that seem racially motivated, with one victim black and the other white. An investigator and a special prosecutor (played by Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James) lead a probe for the Department of Justice, eventually suspecting power brokers including the state’s re-election-minded governor (Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress and director Helen Hunt) of a cover-up.

Also factoring into the story in major ways: a sheriff (Will Patton); one of his deputies (actor-singer Mack Wilds, who was Tristan Wilds on “The Wire” and “90210”), who committed one of the shootings; the mother (Jill Hennessy) of the teen he killed; another local police veteran (“True Blood” alum Stephen Moyer); a pastor (Aisha Hinds); and a real-estate tycoon (Richard Dreyfuss, another Oscar owner) who also operates a privatized prison. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment also is a production entity on the weekly 10-hour saga.

Though Reggie Rock Bythewood allows that events in Ferguson, Mo., were touchstones for “Shots Fired” as he and his wife mapped out the drama, he says, “We looked at various sorts of small Southern towns, and for many reasons, North Carolina just seemed to work well. It really rocked us in many ways when all the protests and all the sort of things that happened in Charlotte (occurred), watching it on TV and seeing some of the places where we shot, where a lot of the protests and various troubles were going on.”

Co-star Dreyfuss adds, “We didn’t have to look into a crystal ball and know that something was going to happen in that town. It’s happening. It’s happening all over. We shot probably the most current show you’ll ever see. It’s exactly current with the world. It was Reggie supporting the script and talking to me about it that sold me, and then the world followed. As you watch this show, you’re going to be reminded very clearly of the most current headlines in your life. This is America.”

Still, Gina Prince-Bythewood maintains, “We knew the story we wanted to tell. We knew what we wanted to deal with. For us, it’s about speaking to the truth, and we wanted to know the best way to do that.

“It’s very easy for people to watch the news and see a piece about a shooting, and if you don’t identify with who’s on the screen, you turn it off … so we felt the best way to address this issue, and to get people who don’t normally go through this issue to understand, was to give them a way to understand. In flipping the narrative, it allows folks who don’t normally identify with characters to empathize with them. And through empathy, you can change.”

Hunt’s own experiences and awareness informed her desire to be a part of the “Shots Fired” cast. She reflects,  “While many politicians I have kept at arm’s length I hold responsible for the criminal-justice system and the way it is, some of the politicians I voted for were complicit as well, so we sort of got interested in turning this governor into somebody who would be somebody I might vote for – and yet, she’s behaving in ways that if we look more closely, we might feel uncomfortable with. And ‘uncomfortable’ is really good when you’re trying to make drama.”

Helen Hunt is among the stars of “Shots Fired,” premiering Wednesday, March 15, on Fox.

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