CHARLOTTE, NC (Théoden Janes/The Charlotte Observer) - Last September, Charlotte Mecklenburg police were getting a lot of unwanted national television exposure in the wake of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by one of their officers.
Now, a year removed from the tragedy and the resulting civil unrest, two local documentary filmmakers – one of whom is the department's public affairs director – are attempting to get Charlotte officers back on TV, where the aim is to put them in a much more positive light.
Rob Tufano, a former WBTV reporter who has been with CMPD for nearly nine years, and Brian White, head of a Rock Hill-based creative video services company, have launched a campaign to get networks interested in a reality-TV series that would star three Charlotte K9 unit officers.
Over the summer, they unveiled a "sizzle reel" (essentially an extended trailer) for what they hope could be at least a six-part series, with the central "characters" being Greg Tucker, Darrell Brown and Emily Acker-Estes – all of whom have agreed to be followed around by cameras on and off the job if the project should get a green light.
The video was originally posted on the Tufano Media Group's Facebook page and has been viewed more than 44,000 times in the past 5 1/2 weeks.
Tufano says the goal of the series – tentatively titled "True Blue K9" – would be to humanize the men and women behind the badges.
"We as a profession struggle to show the human side of what it is that we do," he says, "the vulnerable side of what we do. I think everybody's got this notion that cops are just these robots in uniforms with badges that are just out there locking people up and writing tickets, and what oftentimes gets missed is the human side – that they bleed like we do and they have the same challenges."
Tufano and White have been developing the series in their free time over the past 10 months, and Tufano says the pair have shot enough footage and interviews for at least a pilot episode. (Tufano says that he will refuse any compensation for the project, to avoid a conflict of interest.)
There are, of course, hundreds of things that need to go right for them in order for the project to find a network willing to take a chance on it, and they're just two of thousands of people who think they've got a great idea for a TV show.
At the same time, there are more potential homes for content like this than ever, between traditional TV, streaming services and online-only networks. And while docu-cop shows like A&E Network's "The First 48" and Investigation Discovery's "I Am Homicide" (starring CMPD detective Garry McFadden) are highly case-driven, "True Blue K9" would distinguish itself by making the officers' home lives a key part of the narrative.
So White, who is CEO of an S.C. company called MediaZeus, says he's optimistic.
"(There's been) incredible support from the masses who watched the trailer," he writes in an email. "People are recognizing the officers out in public from the video. Certain organizations have offered to help us raise funds. We're starting the Facebook journey to help those interested stay connected. We're remaining persistent with leads, local media awareness etc. Still no deal but you can't deny the power of these stories. We'll get them told."
Helping tell them, if it gets to that point, will be Emily Acker-Estes, a Myers Park High School and UNC-Asheville graduate who says she was hesitant at first to submit to reality TV.
"Well, the dog stuff, I'm totally cool with – the work stuff, and the stuff I do work-related outside of work, that was fine," says Acker-Estes, 35, who's been partnered with her Dutch Shepherd, Baca, for six years. "It was the whole camera in the house that was kind of, 'Ohhhh, I don't know about that.' "
But she says she now recognizes the value of this type of program.
"Once we take off the uniform, we are just normal people. I go home, put my pajamas on, watch some TV, do chores ... I think people forget that. And it'd be nice for them to be able to see, you know, this is what we do. These are our families. Not that I'm married or have kids, but the other guys do. That's what they go home to. That's why they want to go home. So, it'd fun if it gets picked up and people can see that."
As for anyone wondering whether this project was motivated by the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and what that might have done to the perception of police officers in Charlotte?