We've heard it and read it ad nauseam:
Modesto is one of the nation's armpits. Forbes Magazine says so periodically in its least-desirable cities listings. Men's Health once ranked the valley as one of the best places to be obese, out of shape and have a heart attack.
We're the meth capital of the world, and have led the nation in auto thefts.
The city became synonymous with the Yosemite tourist murders, Chandra Levy's disappearance and her relationship with then-Rep. Gary Condit, and the Laci Peterson case.
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Throw in homelessness, foreclosure and unemployment rates that rank among the country's highest and that The New York Times even ridiculed some Modestans for washing their cars on their lawns, and it paints a pretty depressing and humbling picture of the place we call home.
So when a Hollywood TV producer approached the Modesto police and other city officials about doing a program that would show the department and the city in a positive light and improve its image, it wasn't exactly the world's toughest sell -- as in, "how soon can you start filming?"
Award-winning film editor Michael Glickman and business partner Chris Flores have spent the past several weeks in Modesto shooting footage for a "sizzle." That's the TV industry's term for the clip they'll shop to the networks in hopes of getting the OK for a pilot that could turn into a series. In 2008, Glickman received an American Cinematic Editors "Eddie" award for his work on "Cops," the Fox reality show he spent 15 years editing and producing.
The stars of the Modesto show? Members of the police K-9 unit and the good (and some of the bad) residents of Modesto.
This came about through friends of friends, Glickman said. His old Ohio University pal, Rick Rockwood, moved to Modesto several years ago. Rockwood's wife, Amy, owns GoughNuts, a company that makes chew toys for dogs. That led to a connection with Police Department K-9 officers, and Glickman met some of them while visiting the Rockwoods in Modesto awhile back.
Meanwhile, Glickman's agent told him that the networks were looking for a reality show that focused on K-9 patrols.
"It was a match made in heaven," Glickman said.
Through Rockwood, he met Rick Gray, who owns Stanislaus Implement and Hardware and is well-connected when it comes to the Police Department and city officials. He set up the meetings, and Glickman made his pitch: a character-based show that depicts the officers and their dogs not only on patrol, but also after hours and at home.
"The true dichotomy of your town is what appeals to me," Glickman said. "Rock 'n' roll at the Fat Cat and the symphony at the Gallo Center. The grapes and the meth. You have the extremes going on. Cities can certainly identify with the meth problem. And you ask people (elsewhere) what they think about Modesto, and they'll say meth and Laci Peterson. But there are beautiful parts, too. I see this town as a real rich location geographically and agriculturally, but also in its people here."
Glickman and Flores bear all of the production costs, including any overtime the officers work to complete filming. The producers had to take out a $2 million liability insurance policy protecting the city. When they shot aerial footage this week, they hired a private helicopter company.
Most important to the city, Modesto Police Chief Mike Harden, City Manager Greg Nyhoff and City Councilman Joe Muratore must jointly approve the final product.
"He's going to give me a rough cut, and the staff and I will view it to discuss why I think something is good or not good," Harden said. "Plainly and simply, it's intended to be a positive story about the good things in Modesto and the life and times of K-9 officers."
The "sizzle" will focus on Lt. Ron Cloward and other members of the K-9 unit as they do their jobs and live their lives.
Muratore said the show would be similar to "Deadliest Catch," the popular reality show featuring fishermen in the treacherous Gulf of Alaska, in that the viewers "will become friends with the characters," he said.
"The idea is to be 20 percent crime, 50 percent where you are getting to know the officers personally and 30 percent about the good things in Modesto," Muratore said. "Sure, there's some bad. But there are lots of good things that happen (here)."
They understand they can't propagandize too much, though. Otherwise, viewers will be hard to hold in this era of shock- driven reality programming.
"Quite naturally, (viewers) will want to see law enforcement in a real- life environment," Harden said. "It's not going to be a very popular show if it doesn't have some law enforcement action, but I don't want it to be part of every episode."
"Our agreement with the producers is that at the end of the day, there has to be a net positive for Modesto," Muratore added. "We need to be happier with the results than unhappier."
The show will micro- focus on the relationship between Cloward and his son, Jonathan, who recently graduated from the police academy, joined the force and is now a K-9 officer.
"That was a challenge in itself," Cloward said. "When he wanted to get into the K-9 unit, I got completely out of the interview process."
The Police Department solicited members from outside law agencies to do the interviews, and the younger Cloward scored highly.
"I expected him to," Ron Cloward said. "He grew up around it."
"Ron Cloward is really a great cop," Glickman said. "He really knows his stuff. He and his unit are all rooted here. They have a stake in the community, and that leads to his son and the very unique relationship with his father. It's very endearing, very real."
Glickman and Flores shot footage Wednesday of the K-9 unit alongside Modesto & Empire Traction Co. engines in the Beard Industrial District. This morning, they'll do more at the farmers market downtown. Soon, Glickman will begin editing it down into the clips he'll shop to the networks.
A pilot? A series?
That -- and Modesto's best chance to change its image nationally -- all depends upon the heat in the sizzle.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.