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Bruce Springsteen joins the case

The Boss rarely lets his songs be used for TV, but nine of his tunes will set the mood for a 'Cold Case' episode.

January 07, 2006|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Don't hold your breath waiting for "Cold Case: The E! True Hollywood Story." You might pass out.

The Sunday police drama does not generate sensational backstage stories or tawdry headlines about feuding stars. And although the series is from the hit movie and TV factory of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the force behind the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" franchise, among others, it hasn't been a flashy media darling since its fall 2003 premiere.

What it does have are solidly strong ratings and a loyal viewership drawn not only to the emotionally tinged investigations but also to the show's flashback sequences that use hit songs from years past as homicide detectives look into unsolved cases.

Said Bruckheimer, "The music is the perfect companion to the storytelling." Adds Nina Tassler, CBS Entertainment president: "It's part of the aesthetic that contributes to the integrity of the show in a very big way. It's important for fans of the show."

One of those fans, though he has yet to publicly admit it, is likely Bruce Springsteen, the rocker who has rarely allowed his songs to be used in films and almost never on television. But with "Cold Case," Springsteen may be demonstrating his affection for the series by allowing producers to feature nine of his original songs in Sunday's episode, airing at 8:30 p.m.

It's the second time Springsteen has granted permission for the series to use his music. "Secret Garden," a song from his 1995 greatest hits that was also used in the 1996 film "Jerry Maguire," played during a closing montage last season.

Sunday's installment, "8 Years," revolves around the reopening of a 1988 case involving four high school friends, one of whom is murdered, and includes the 1980s-era songs "Brilliant Disguise," "No Surrender," "Stolen Car," and "I'm on Fire." The songs -- from Springsteen's "The River," "Nebraska," "Born in the USA" and "Tunnel of Love" albums -- are used to evoke the optimism felt by the friends as they graduate and their growing disillusion as they get older.

"I feel like I won the lottery," says Meredith Stiehm, executive producer and creator of "Cold Case," who designed the story around the songs. "I'm just over the moon. There are just so few artists who can bring such feeling to their music. I'm a nonreligious person, but I find religion in his music."

The cost of clearing songs -- usually hits performed by the original artists -- spike the budget of "Cold Case" episodes above the typical hourly drama, but the show's producers maintain that the music is a key and essential component.

Persuading artists to let their music be used on "Cold Case," though, is one of the show's weekly challenges.

Although some are willing -- if the price is right -- others such as folk singer Tracy Chapman have declined. Despite Springsteen's traditional reluctance, Stiehm felt it was worth a shot to at least ask.

A full-bore longtime Springsteen fan, Stiehm said she had long fantasized about producing an episode that would feature only his music.

"Usually we let the story unfold in its own way, but this time I wanted to let the songs tell the story," she said. "I outlined the story around the songs I had on a wish list, making the songs pretty much tell the story. We submitted the list to his people, then hoped. When they asked to see a final outline we were so thrilled."

Springsteen has said in the past that he has leaned against allowing much of his music to be used in films or TV because he doesn't want to influence listeners' images. He also has not been keen on allowing his songs to be used for commercial purposes. He spoke out when President Reagan used his antiwar "Born in the U.S.A." in 1984 as a campaign rallying cry.

Despite the agreement, Springsteen is maintaining his usual low profile when it comes to publicizing the episode or giving specifics as to why he allowed his music to be used. He is not granting interviews. And he and Stiehm have never spoken.

When asked what Springsteen thought of the series, Stiehm paused: "Actually, I don't know. It's a mystery. I assume he's seen it."

The key to reaching the Boss, or rather, the Boss' people, was the episode's director, Mark Pellington. He was the director behind Springsteen's music video for "Lonesome Day," so he lobbied the singer's management company.

"What we wanted to do was really bust it out a little bit in terms of the plot," he said. "We were more than aware that he's very protective of his music, and we really wanted to honor that. And it was great that Meredith didn't just go for the greatest hits but for some of his more obscure songs. There's some dark material in his songs."

And while she couldn't be happier with the permission, the show did pay the price. "Let's just say using those nine songs was very expensive," Stiehm said.

When the series was launched, Bruckheimer, Stiehm and other producers believed that to fully realize their vision for the drama, they would have to use original music, and that it would be expensive, particularly in a weekly series. The licensing of a single song could cost around $5,000 an episode, and "Cold Case" spends up to 12 times that much on an episode's soundtrack. The cost for music clearance makes it prohibitive for "Cold Case" to follow the path of other dramas that have found a second life on DVD box sets.

But Stiehm and other producers don't seem to mind. The authenticity and emotional touchstone are worth it.

"Time is our main character, and it's an endlessly interesting one," she said.

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