Kathleen Robertson, who plays a cop and single mom in TNT's "Murder in the First," knows all about the pitfalls of filming a TV show in San Francisco.
While shooting a scene for the new crime series from acclaimed producer Steven Bochco, she was required to take a short stroll down one of the city's ultra-steep streets while wearing four-inch boots and carrying a small child.
Not exactly a walk in the park. And especially not after 20-plus takes. That's when Robertson, numb legs and all, felt like she was "ready to plunge down the hill."
Oh, and there's that other problem, the odorous one she and co-star Taye Diggs encountered while shooting scenes in some of San Francisco's grittier neighborhoods.
"There are areas that smell strongly of urine," she says, laughing. "But that's all good. We have ways of getting around the urine vibe."
That she, Diggs and company are even in San Francisco on a gloriously sunny day is somewhat unusual. After all, plenty of recent TV series have tied their stories to the Bay Area, but rarely do they bother to actually set foot here. Even the short-lived drama, "Alcatraz," of all shows, was shot way up in Vancouver.
However, Bochco and his executive producing partner, Eric Lodal, felt strongly that their series needed to reflect the distinctiveness, if not all the aromas, of San Francisco. They spent a week here filming the pilot for the 10-episode series and have returned twice for multiday shoots.
"The city is such an integral part of the story we're telling that we have to shoot here. There's no way around that," Lodal says while overseeing a scene in the Mission. "Every neighborhood is so unique and has its own personality. There's no city in the world that looks like this and has this kind of diversity."
"Murder in the First," debuting tonight at 10, follows a popular TV trend by focusing on a single case over an entire season. Diggs and Robertson play SFPD homicide detectives assigned to investigate two seemingly unrelated murders. The intense and complex mystery deepens, however, when they find that both murders have a common denominator in wealthy Silicon Valley wunderkind Erich Blunt (Tom Felton).
"I love the format. 'The Killing' and 'True Detective' are two of my favorite shows," says Robertson, referring to other dramas that took the single-case approach. "It allows you to have a strong beginning, middle and end. It's sort of like watching a 10-hour movie. People are binge-watching these shows and talking about them."
Adds Diggs, "As an actor, you're always looking for new experiences. I've played a cop before, but not this type of cop and not in this format. I think it lets the viewer invest a little bit more in each episode, because they're not close-ended."
Where "Murder" departs from similar episodic dramas is in the way it follows its case into the courtroom and introduces a whole new set of characters along the way.
"What we've tried to do is to pretty much encompass the whole of the criminal justice system," says Bochco, who was far ahead of the one-case-per-season craze with 1995's "Murder One" on ABC. "San Francisco is a wonderful choice for that, because the entire criminal justice system in San Francisco resides in this one giant building at 850 Bryant Street. So there's a real nice symmetry to all of that."
It remains to be seen if "Murder in the First" can catch on with viewers of TNT, which is better known for easy-on-the-brain procedurals like "The Closer" and "Rizzoli & Isles." But one thing that's instantly apparent in the pilot episode is that Diggs and Robertson have a winning chemistry.
"It's a weird thing. You never know what will work," says Robertson. "We have very different energies. Taye is very chill and much more of an observer. I'm more kinetic, and I ask a million questions, while he asks none. But we're having a really, really good time."
"We just click," says Diggs. "I'm glad that it works, because it can be tough if it doesn't."
Both actors also claim to enjoy working in San Francisco, despite some of the pitfalls.
"It's just a supercool city. It beats 98 percent of the other places I've filmed," Robertson says. "And this show is very much about the haves and have-nots. I think this city displays that in ways other cities don't. You have those very blue-collar cops who are dealing with this insanely wealthy guy. It's an interesting dynamic."