This weekend AMC Networks premieres its highly-anticipated original series “61st Street” from creator and showrunner Peter Moffat. Moffat, known for HBO’s award-winning miniseries “The Night Of” has assembled a two-season, 16-episode long saga that takes on the broken criminal justice system and the realities faced by many residents of the South Side of Chicago. Timely and provocative, the show brings to the forefront the systemic abuse happening in some of America's most vulnerable communities.
“61st Street” follows Moses Johnson (played by Tosin Cole), a promising, Black high school athlete. Taken by the police as a supposed gang member, he finds himself in the eye of the storm as police and prosecutors seek revenge for the death of an officer during a drug bust gone wrong. Emmy Award-winner Courtney B. Vance stars as Johnson’s lawyer Franklin Roberts, who stands between an innocent young man and a life of incarceration.
“I was immediately drawn to the material, for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a South Side kid, born and raised, so I’ve experienced all the trappings that a young Black man would experience growing up on the South Side of Chicago,” Executive Producer J. David Shanks explained in a press conference last year. He continued, “But I think my perspective is a bit different because I’ve seen it from both sides. I worked as a police officer in the Chicago Police Department for over six years.”
The show’s production drew on many actors and creatives with roots in Chicago, as well as places like Detroit and Brooklyn. “Peter Moffat is a white [English] man, and he’s smart enough to realize that he’s got to build a coalition to tell the story,” Vance pointed out while speaking about the delicate way stories such as “61st Street” must be treated.
In fact, the production was lauded by Rep. Danny K. Davis for its use of local union jobs based in Chicago. When a TV production utilizes local talent and workers, the economic benefits are apparent. AMC has done just that with “61st Street,” working with Kennedy-King College in Chicago to place more people of color on set for job shadowing, training, or production experience to help build a pipeline of talent from the South Side to the entertainment industry.
“This show is shot exclusively on the South Side,” Moffat told Block Club Chicago. “We brought to the South Side an economy in paying our way, employing people, talking to people — albeit in a more limited fashion than we would’ve liked, had there not been this wretched pandemic.”
“Our crew was a true representation of what this country is and what this city is,” said Shanks. “That’s what it should be, and that’s what we aspire to do with the show.”
Shanks says he plans on continuing his partnership with Kennedy-King College for any upcoming projects, integrating the production process with the goal of empowering the communities where these projects take place.
“61st Street” premieres this Sunday on AMC, AMC+ and ALLBLK.