PROVIDENCE, R.I. - The incomparable Dana Delany plays Dr. Megan Hunt, a medical examiner with a complicated backstory, in ABC's Body of Proof. Gorgeous veteran Jeri Ryan plays her boss, the politically savvy Dr. Kate Murphy, in the series that premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday.
There's a more obscure actor with just as big a part. Providence, R.I., plays a big city with a past: Philadelphia.
While cast and crew were working out of a custom-made soundstage in a nondescript industrial park in nearby Warwick and shooting exteriors in Providence and elsewhere, the whole state got caught up in the excitement. The legislature even declared "Body of Proof Day" and held ceremonies at the State House Dec. 3, as the production was wrapping its 13-episode shoot.
Gov. Donald L. Carcieri turned TV critic: "Rhode Island's natural beauty, historic architecture, and talented workforce will help make Body of Proof an instant success with television viewers."
Hold on there, governor.
1. No one can predict whether a TV show will succeed. Proof may have a slightly better-than-average chance. Destined to premiere in November in a Friday night death slot, it got held until March, where lots of people will get a chance to see it after TV's most popular show, Dancing With the Stars, because new ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee liked it a whole lot more than his predecessor did.
2. Lots of people made a big effort to assure that nobody notices Rhode Island's beauty and architecture, and that everybody thinks the characters are in Philadelphia. Many of those people came from your talented workforce.
"The crew that's here locally are an amazing group," said Los Angeles-based production designer Steven Wolff. And because Rhode Island is so small, the production crossed state lines. "There's a huge film presence in Boston that migrates through New England," said Wolff. "We have the crème de la crème of carpenters, painters, and all."
Philadelphia native Christopher Murphey, creator of Body of Proof, set the show in his hometown, loosely basing Hunt on a physician he worked with during a summer job. She is a former neurosurgeon who loses her touch and kills a patient after suffering nerve damage in an auto accident. So, she starts in a new realm where she can do no harm, cutting dead people and solving crimes.
Prickly, in the vein of Dr. Gregory House, she also has lost her young daughter and husband in divorce. An important series component, in addition to the weekly murder mystery, will be Hunt's attempts to soften up and regain a relationship with the little girl.
ABC Studios, which produces the show, scouted Philadelphia, but went to Providence. People associated with the production were vague about the reasons.
Not so Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. "They were originally planning to shoot here," but there were problems with Teamsters union "personnel and work rules," she says. Those issue have since been resolved, she adds.
The stars have mixed emotions about being based in Providence.
"In the beginning, I was like,'No! Providence?' " said Delany, who's single and rented a loft downtown in July. "But I ended up loving working here.
"The town is happy to have us. . . . Everything is no more than 15 minutes away, which, compared to driving in L.A., is a blessing."
"I haven't been back [to L.A.]," she said in mid-November, when the show was wrapping its 11th episode.
Things were tougher for Ryan, who had a husband and daughter, 2, and son, 16, back in L.A. With sympathetic scheduling from show-runner Matthew Gross, she tried to get home every week, a full day of travel each way. "Providence is a beautiful place," she said, "but not the most convenient place to get in and out of. . . .
"It's a lot of flying. It's a lot of money. It's a lot of time. It's exhausting, but you do what you have to do. I'm lucky to be working."
Locals on the crew and support staffs consider themselves even luckier. Dawn Beagan, 27, from Providence, said she got a $10-an-hour bump from her kitchen job at the University of Rhode Island to work on a craft truck, feeding cast and crew.
"This show really saved my life, financially," said 39-year-old production assistant Jonathan Schermerhorn, a six-year Army veteran from Cranston, who has been trying to get a production career going in New England, working on such movies as The Town and Surrogates. "A week here, a couple of days there, nothing steady," he said. "This is steady. This pays the bills."
Gross said a 25 percent Rhode Island state tax credit (similar to Pennsylvania's) was "meaningful in such a way that it cannot be expressed enough" in luring the production to Providence.
Philadelphia location manager Michael Lehman, who lives in Wallingford (Delaware County), lined a wall in the Warwick production offices with photographs ("Second and Race at Night," "Upscale Suburban Neighborhood," "South Philadelphia") to help Rhode Island scouts find places to imitate.
He said a TV show can provide $35 million to $40 million a year in economic development. Rhode Island Senate president Teresa Paiva-Weed said Body of Proof created about 170 full-time jobs while it was in town.
Its Hollywood actors and executives, and everybody at ABC, is rooting for the show's success, but nobody's cheering more loudly than those New England workers.
Body of Proof
Premieres at 10 p.m. Tuesday on 6ABC.