Indianapolis vs. Houston? Unless the topic is basket-brawl, I think the Texas show cleans house!
Indy joins TV crime drama locales
Show inspired by local prosecutor set for CBS this fall
By Vic Ryckaert
Indianapolis StarJuly 18, 2005
For more than 20 years, lawyer Barb Trathen worked rather anonymously in the Marion County prosecutor's office, pursuing murderers, rapists and other criminals.
The anonymous part of her life is about to change.
Trathen, 56, still is pursuing criminals, now for the Hamilton County prosecutor. But she's also a consultant for a new drama that will air on CBS this fall called "Close to Home."
The show is based on the life of a female prosecutor working in Indianapolis. The lead character is loosely drawn from Trathen's real-life experiences.
While the road to success in Hollywood is littered with rejected scripts and failed pilots, this series would seem to have a better-than-average chance. The show is co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the Hollywood powerhouse behind the CBS mega-hit series "CSI."
"This is too fabulous," Trathen said in an interview last week. "It's something I get a kick out of, and everybody treats me real nice. What's not to like?"
Trathen was part of the team that successfully prosecuted boxer Mike Tyson on charges of raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992. She was a key part of the Marion County prosecutor's office from 1977 to 2002.
But a TV series even somewhat based on her life? Trathen didn't imagine that in her wildest dreams. Hollywood, however, came calling in the form of Jim Leonard, who shares the executive producer credit on the new series with Bruckheimer.
Leonard, a Fort Wayne native and graduate of Hanover College, found Trathen after contacting local attorneys who sang her praises. He knew he wanted to base the show in Indianapolis, and he started his search in Central Indiana.
At first, Trathen found it difficult to believe Leonard was legitimate. Skeptical, she called a friend who was a Hanover alum and checked Leonard out.
Initially, Leonard merely wanted to research a possible script. Trathen's involvement grew over time.
"It's all been very gradual," she said. "It really didn't hit me until I went out to Hollywood. I began to get a sense of how incredibly awesome this opportunity is."
Leonard said Trathen has been a huge help.
"I don't know much about the law," he said. "She's given me a quick education."
Trathen would not say how much the show is paying her, and she does not expect to see her name listed on the credits.
She confesses, however, to relishing the movie-star treatment that accompanies her new "hobby."
The producers flew Trathen to California the first weekend in June and sent a chauffeured sedan to pick her up at the airport.
They hurried her to a conference room where she sat at a large table with scriptwriters who fired off dozens of questions: What do prosecutors do? How do women cope in a male-dominated field? What's it like trying a case?
She spent one evening with lead actress Jennifer Finnigan "having cocktails and just talking about being us -- the prosecutor that together we were trying to create," Trathen said.
Finnigan, who could not be reached for comment, plays the role of Devan Maguire on the NBC show "Crossing Jordan." She is a three-time Emmy award winner for her work on daytime television.
Trathen, a graduate of Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, stayed in a posh hotel with a balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Later that weekend, she sat in the front row as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 2-1.
Of course, this is Hollywood, so some liberties have been taken with her story. The show's main character, Annabeth Chase, is a new mother who returns to work as a deputy prosecutor after maternity leave.
Trathen, married for 23 years to husband Tom, has an adult stepdaughter and a somewhat overweight basset hound named Lady Rosebud.
She says she can see her influence in the pilot episode. For example, when the script called for Annabeth to cry, Trathen persuaded the writers to make sure no one else was watching, maintaining no female prosecutor would cry in public. The scene made the pilot episode.
The writers take some dramatic license with the law, too, such as when a judge allows a child witness to offer teary-eyed testimony during a trial even though the defense had no time to depose him. In the real world, any conviction under those circumstances likely would get overturned on appeal.
"The technical parts are perhaps not perfect, but the soul of it is right," Trathen said.
The character Annabeth is tough, aggressive and has a knack for driving the people she works with crazy.
Many say the same about Trathen.
"Trying a case with Barb is like joining a cult," said Scott Newman, who served eight years as Marion County prosecutor. "It's an all-absorbing immersion in preparing for trial. Nobody prepares like Barb does."
Newman partnered with Trathen to prosecute child killer Walter L. Dye during a three-week trial in 1997. He recalled Trathen interviewing Dye's teenage daughter and getting her to admit her father made her lie.
"Barb made her feel totally comfortable in a supremely uncomfortable situation for a child," Newman said. "That ended up being a critical piece of evidence."
Dye is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the July 22, 1996, killings of Hannah Clay, 14; Celeste Jones, 7; and Lawrence Cowherd III, 2. Hannah was the child of Dye's estranged wife, Myrna; the others were her grandchildren.
"Barb Trathen is an unsung hero to the people of Marion County and now Hamilton," Newman said. "She works in the trenches and has never lost her energy, her drive and her outrage over victimization."
Trathen left the Marion County prosecutor's office after Newman decided not to seek a third term. She accepted the chief deputy prosecutor's job in Hamilton County, the No. 2 position in the office.
Indianapolis police homicide detectives recall Trathen with fondness and trepidation. They appreciated her thoroughness, but her drive for the truth could be exhausting.
"When she would call, everybody would duck underneath the seat," Detective Marcus Kennedy said. "She would absolutely drive us nuts."
Kennedy, an 18-year veteran who investigated the Dye case, said Trathen was famous for giving officers "to-do lists," asking them to double- and triple-check facts at crime scenes.
When an officer objected, Kennedy said Trathen explained that details prevent defense lawyers from ripping a case apart during trial. The answer always made sense, Kennedy said.
"There wasn't a question that would be asked in that courtroom that she didn't already know the answer to," Kennedy said.
Trathen will return to Hollywood on Wednesday, when the crew gathers to film five more episodes. If the show is a hit, Trathen expects to make many more trips.
If she's truly blessed, she hopes to be sitting in the audience for the 2006 Emmy Awards.
"Wishful thinking, we hope, we hope," Trathen said.
We could ask the producers of "The Simple Life" to let her get some real life experience prior to shooting by letting her and Nicole Richie act as prosecutors for a week.
Sorry- I could not find a picture of her on the internet that did not involve a crime of moral turpitude.
I would like to see Calista Flockhart back in action. As for the defense attorney- how about Danny Devito? As for plot possibilities taken from my reality- a child victim comes into meet with Kelly and immediately climbs in Kelly's lap and starts hugging her in gratitude. The twist comes when Kelly discovers the cute victim has a SEVERE case of untreated head lice which the child leaves as a gift for Kelly.
I'm SO PROUD that we haven't heard any mention of
Calista Flockart (almost made it!)
Lara FLynn Boyle
Either of the Simpson Girls
None of the Osmonds
One of the Jacksons!
I like Holly Hunter for the part!
Kelly probably does Kelly better than anyone in HOLLYWIERD.
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