Pubdate: Sat, 22 Jun 2002
Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2002 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Alan James Frutkin
Note: Alan James Frutkin wrote this story for The Washington Post


Fans of Northern Exposure, beware. If you think Rob Morrow is returning to 
series television in a role as warm and fuzzy as that of Dr. Joel 
Fleischman, think again.

In the grim new drama Street Time, premiering Sunday on Showtime, Morrow 
plays Kevin Hunter, a convicted marijuana smuggler. Following five years in 
a federal penitentiary, he is on parole, hoping to go straight.

It's tougher than it seems. His past life tempts him back, while a 
mistrustful parole officer watches his every move. But life for Officer 
James Liberti (Scott Cohen) isn't all it's cracked up to be either. In 
fact, he and Hunter often mirror each other, leaving viewers to decide who 
and what is right or wrong.

Morrow said his character's moral ambiguity initially drew him to the role. 
"For all intents and purposes, Kevin's a good guy," the actor said. "It 
just so happens he smuggled pot."

Morrow further argued that Hunter might be even nicer than Northern 
Exposure's Fleischman. "He's not as limited in his scope as Joel was," he 
said. "He's a more worldly, open person."

Perhaps what makes Morrow's portrayal so convincing is the suggestion that 
there is still a character like Fleischman underneath Hunter's tough 
facade. Such complexity isn't all that surprising, given that Morrow's 
preparation for the role led him to the real-life ex-con on whom Hunter is 
based: the show's creator, Richard Stratton.

Stratton, 55, spent eight years in prison, from 1982 to 1990, for smuggling 
marijuana. (He has since had a role in producing several HBO documentaries 
and served as a consultant on the gritty prison drama Oz.)

Describing his upbringing as "upper-middle class," Stratton said he first 
got involved in smuggling drugs while attending Arizona State University in 
the late 1960s. By the end of his freshman year in college, he was making 
so much money that he quit school.

Arrested for conspiracy, Stratton said it was as a parolee that he first 
got the idea for Street Time. Parolees are forbidden from associating with 
known criminals. But Stratton said it was while sitting in the report room, 
where parolees wait for their parole officers, that he noticed mobsters, 
gangsters, and other like-minded folks meeting up with old friends. "I said 
to myself, 'This is a TV show.'"

While Morrow looked to Stratton for inspiration, Cohen took his cues from 
U.S. parole officer Larry Goldman. Cohen said Goldman taught him that a 
parole officer must learn to think like a criminal.

"He has to have a criminal mind himself in order to anticipate what his 
parolee's next move will be," Cohen added.

In the role of Street Time's Liberti, however, that criminal thinking 
pushes Cohen's character to the edge, where he finds himself struggling 
with a gambling addiction.

As both characters fight against their natures, Cohen said, Hunter and 
Liberti are "two sides of the same coin."

And that parallel imagery resonated for Showtime's executives as well.

"There's no black or white in Street Time," said Jerry Offsay, president of 
programming at Showtime. "Just shades of gray."
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