Sitcom pilot stars H Street NE

August 29, 2012

It’s a trailer for a typical sitcom: A few apparently unattached individuals just happen to be in the same restaurant at the same time. A young man with a phony accent pulls out a gun and holds five of them hostage. Cut: One girl is toting a pail of water down the street. Cut! There’s a guy who ends up in just his underwear. Is the restaurant in Manhattan? Hollywood? No, we’re at 1353 H St. NE, waiting for the plot to unfold in a new show titled — wait for it — “H Street.”

“Five people who would usually never spend time together — what would put them together?” asked director Joel N. Clark , referring to the opening hostage scene. The show, he said, was created in the District but is in no way “about Washington.” At least not the Washington of “Scandal,” “Veep” and “Political Animals.” There are no Situation Rooms, no make-or-break legislative decisions on the table, not even a long shot of the Pentagon.

“We purposely love the idea of almost showing none of the monuments,” said Clark, 35, who moved his business to Washington four years ago from South Africa. The new show, he said, is “not actually about politics.”

It’s also not actually about H Street — that’s just the location.

Through dialogue, local viewers will be able to pick up where a person works or what his occupation is. “It’s not to say that if you live in rural Wisconsin that you’re gonna be totally clueless about what’s happening,” said Kasey Kirby, 31, who directed “H Street” with Clark, whom he met in 2008 while working on Clark’s mockumentary about a first-time adventure show host, “Bryan Goes to Antarctica.” Kirby’s prior film work required him to travel internationally for several weeks out of the year: “I was more intimate with other cultures than I was my own neighborhood. . . . I wanted to take a proactive step in being involved in a community that I actually live in.”


Laura Muschelli, far left, Kathleen Mason, Gary-Kayi Fletcher and Bryan John Phillip van Niekerk in production of the sitcom “H Street.” The show is cast with mostly local actors. (Melanie Hershberger)

After kicking around different concepts along with producer Dominic Turano, they finally arrived at H Street as the backdrop in March 2011 and began writing.

The five principal characters represent several walks of life: the humanitarian, the music entrepreneur, the recent home buyer. “In terms of where they’re from, their background, their ethnicity — we didn’t have any of that. We just started casting,” Clark said. The cast is mostly local actors.

The crew ultimately chose the Argonaut restaurant for the pilot, which they filmed over five nights. The show does throw in a few subtle references to the city, with a stray monument cameo here or the occasional joke about “the trolley that’s never going to come,” Clark said.

“There’s good comedy in a gentrifying neighborhood,” he added. Does that mean no Georgetown waterfront backdrop or Marion Barry walk-on in the future? Possibly. “Unless there was good comedy about something out on the Mall . . . but it’d be more about people who live in D.C. than D.C.”

The creators have shipped out copies of the pilot to festivals and organizations, with the hope of selling “H Street” to a network. Online episodes are possible, and the team has talked about ways to get the community involved in how the show should progress, in a call-and-response manner.

At least some people in the city will get a chance to watch the show at a late-night screening Friday at the Argonaut (interested parties can follow @kaseykirby on Twitter for seating updates). “The best-case scenario is that people talk about it and want to see more,” Kirby said.

Clark hopes he has pegged his choice audience correctly. “You really never know until people actually watch it.”

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