The fake rain was pouring, the train was moving down the tracks and a giant crane with a camera perched on top was in position. The crew of the new CBS detective drama "Under Suspicion" was all set to film the climactic cliffhanger for the pilot episode.
Actress Karen Sillas was standing in the cold with a jacket and a chill, trying to stay warm until the camera rolled. Her detective character, Rose (Phil) Phillips, had just been chased in the rain, wrestled to the wet street for her gun and almost hit by a train.
Creator and executive producer Jacqueline Zambrano, recalling the incident during an interview at the Universal Hilton with Sillas and former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Kena Kramer, the real-life role model for "Under Suspicion," described what happened next.
"They said, 'OK, we have one minute.' I'm looking at a million different things, and all of a sudden I look over at Karen. The crane is going to see her whole body, and look at her pantyhose: They're perfect! So I run up to the wardrobe people and go, 'Quick, rip her stockings! Do something!' And then somebody turned around and said, 'Oh, OK. Someone go to the truck and get the stockings ripper.' I said, 'Are you \o7 insane\f7 ?' "
Sillas eagerly picked up the story. "So Jacqueline got down on her hands and knees on the wet cobblestone and ripped my stockings with her hands and teeth," she said. "I looked down at her and said, 'OK, we're going to get along fine.' "
The three key women behind "Under Suspicion" all get along fine--perhaps because they have each battled it out on their own in fields dominated by men. Together, they have assembled a drama about a single woman detective who, in between solving cases, bears the unwanted assignment of dealing with the department's "female" problems that crop up with officers, secretaries, wives and widows.
"This show is about a woman in a man's world and, fortunately or unfortunately, show business is male-dominated and a boys club," said Tony Jonas, executive vice president of creative affairs for Warner Bros. Television, which is producing "Under Suspicion." (The series premieres Sept. 16.)
"No one should have to go through a system that doesn't see everyone equal for their talent, but these women did," he said. "The truth is that these are women who have made a decision to go forward despite the odds, to work in a system that's stacked against them, and now they're finding a way to take their voice to the airwaves. But it's because of their resilience and their passion."
Kramer began working as a clerk-typist for the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1960s, then was accepted at the Police Academy in 1969. At the time, there were 50 or so women on the force. "They were hired as police\o7 women\f7 , and the men were hired as police\o7 men\f7 . It was gender specific, and all that has changed. Now there are (1,189) women on the job," said Kramer, who left the force in 1992 to get married and move to Colorado Springs, Colo.
Shortly after the Equal Opportunities Act changed hiring practices in 1972, the reigning Los Angeles police chief, Ed Davis, came up with the position of women's coordinator to help deal with such gender-related problems as discrimination and sexism that were on the rise with more women in uniform. Kramer took over the post in 1986. Her varied responsibilities included overseeing weekly sessions of the widows group, composed of grieving wives whose husbands were killed in the line of duty.
Zambrano heard about Kramer in 1990 when she was working on "Gabriel's Fire," a drama series she created for ABC. Her technical consultant was an LAPD officer, and he suggested the two get together.
"Even though I have never been a police officer, I have on many occasions been the only woman on an all-male writing staff," Zambrano said. "And there's a certain universality of that kind of experience. So to meet another woman who is in that kind of position really interested me."
From that encounter grew a pilot script for Fox, but the network decided not to go ahead with a series order.
"They didn't feel they wanted to do a show with a single lead female character," Zambrano shrugged. "They said their network had a male demographic. I said, 'Well, if you already have a male demographic, then why don't you do a show that women will watch, so then you'll have a \o7 bigger \f7 demographic?' It's like pulling out your ovaries, begging people to take a chance."
"Here we go with the ovaries again," Sillas chimed in, laughing.
The script wound up at CBS. Executives there were excited and agreed to shoot it, provided a strong lead actress and a quality director could be found. They chose Robert Lieberman to direct the one-hour pilot--budgeted at a lush $2.1 million--and to executive produce the series with Zambrano. His film credits include "Fire in the Sky" and "All I Want for Christmas," and he's directing and producing "Medicine Ball," a midseason medical drama for Fox.