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Kelsey Grammer as ‘Boss’ brings Chicago politics to life

Kelsey Grammer makes it clear from the start: He is not playing Mayor Richard M. Daley in his new dramatic series, “Boss.”

Sure, his mayor of Chicago talks about being in charge for 22 years - the exact amount of time Mr. Daley spent in office. For both men, the job is also the family business, with Mr. Grammer’s Tom Kane following his father-in-law and Mr. Daley his father.

“We were writing a show that is a derivative of Shakespeare, [and] he’s got 400 years on the Daleys,” Mr. Grammer said this summer during taping in Chicago for the Starz drama, which airs at 10 p.m. Fridays.

Mr. Grammer told Mr. Daley as much when the two met and he “tried to reassure him that we had absolutely no intention of taking potshots at him and his father.”

Viewers across the country may not know the ins and outs of Chicago politics, but they understand this is a city where power, “clout” as they call it around here, is held in the hands of a few, from the days when Al Capone ran his bootlegging empire with the help of judges and politicians he kept in his pocket to the better part of the past half-century when the mayor’s last name was Daley.

“There’s such a colorful backdrop to tell this story that just exists in Chicago, so the city itself becomes kind of a character,” Mr. Grammer said. “We’re borrowing Chicago as a kind of magic kingdom [that] you can believe is full of intrigue, betrayal, plot twists, secret documents and all kinds of things.”

Chicago’s history, both recent and distant, is thrown into the story. Mr. Grammer’s character, for example, in talking about digging up a cemetery to accommodate the expansion of O’Hare International Airport - a real event - brings up Abraham Lincoln and the Underground Railroad. Talking about how the city was built, Kane tells of figures such as the Rev. Jeremiah Porter, one of the city’s first reformers in the 1800s, and Anton Cermak, a mayor in the 1930s.

The filmmakers use many parts of the city, including the most violent and struggling neighborhoods and the sparkling lakefront and the jewel of that lakefront, Millennium Park.

Mr. Grammer said he did not need to study Mr. Daley or any other mayor for this role. He said that what he needed to know about Kane he already knew after nearly three decades as a TV star.

“The requirement for this guy really is a person who understands what it’s like to be famous, and I think in some ways that made me perfectly suited to play this guy,” said Mr. Grammer, whose marriages, divorces and personal problems long have been the stuff of gossip columns. “You need to understand a lifetime spent in the public consciousness, much of it negative, a lot of it positive. That sort of came along for the ride with me as an actor playing a mayor who is a very well-known guy.”

Fishburne to narrate PBS film on black workers

Laurence Fishburne is the narrator for an upcoming PBS documentary on black workers in the post-slavery South, according to the Associated Press.

The film, titled “Slavery by Another Name,” is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas A. Blackmon.

PBS on Thursday announced Mr. Fishburne’s role as narrator of the documentary, which will debut Feb. 13 on public TV stations nationwide.

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