Ten years later, reality show debuts June 2 on A&E

After 10 years of frustration, determination and not taking no for an answer, the reality show created and persevered by executive producers Gary Sherman and Bob Schneiger will premiere June 2 on A&E at 9 p.m. and run for six weeks.

Since it follows “The First 48,” one of  A&E’s top rated shows, it should have an excellent chance of finding an audience.

What makes their “The First 48: Missing Persons” especially important is, this is the first time ever the Chicago Police Department has ever given a film crew unrestricted access to ongoing police investigations.

Chicago’s Missing Persons unit detectives are the strong characters, who close 97% of their cases — the best in the world. The 48 hour time constraint is the reason the show can carry high stakes stories with resolutions. 

Each hourlong episoe follows the Chicago Police Department Special Victims Unit detectives as they try to solve two ongoing cases.  “Like the detectives, we never know what is going to happen that day,” says Sherman, a seasoned film and TV writer/producer, who worked in Hollywood and is best known for his horror films, including “Poltergeist III.”

“The CPD doesn’t just arrest people and write tickets, they work ceaselessly to reunite families,” he says.  “We hope our show opens a window on a side of the police department few people ever see.”

Sherman and DP/director Adam Singer are attached to the detectives for the 48 hours following the moment the missing persons call comes into the division.

“We’re there on what is probably the worst day of a person’s life – when a loved one goes missing. Then we follow the case from the moment the detective gets the call, through those tense, key first 48 hours. We roll pretty much 24/7.”

One of their favorite episodes, which they say “is a piece of real ‘reality’” and titled “Critical Care,” will air June 9.  As Schneiger tells the story:

“Detective Ayanna Corbin was looking for cancer-stricken woman who had been beaten by her ‘caretaker.’  After days of investigation, Corbin has a hunch that the woman is hiding out at a friend’s house. With our cameras rolling, she walks in and finds the woman, bruised and frightened.”

Reality series idea born of Sherman’s earlier TV show 

 “The First 48: Missing Persons” grew out of Sherman’s 1994 ABC scripted dramatic series, “Missing Persons,” for ABC, that dramatized the same department.  Schneiger was the editor.  

To find stories for those scripts, Sherman poured over stacks of Chicago Police missing person’s files.

The germ of an idea was born in 2001 when Schneiger turned to Sherman about doing a reality TV show about the CPD’s Missing Persons unit.

Executive producers Bob Schneiger and Gary Sherman feel the 10 year time investment was worth it

“We felt that if we could get access to the SVU Missing Persons Division, we could make a great documentary series,” Schneiger says.  “Little did we know it would take ten years to get it on the air.”

Their biggest problem was convincing the CPD to allow them total access to film the detectives in action.

“The police never had let any filmmaker follow a live investigation, because for several years, nothing good was written about Chicago cops,” says Schneiger.  “They asked, ‘What’s in it for us?’”

Schneiger and Sherman recount how trust became a key factor in winning over the CPD: “We were about to be kicked out of a key meeting, where we needed to get a yes or the project was over. Just then, our friend, who had become Assistant Deputy Superintendent, walked in and said, ‘I’ve known these guys for 23 years, if anyone is cop-friendly, it’s them.’ The meeting turned around.”

Still, however, they needed approval from Mayor Daley’s office and the entire City Council. There went another eight months.  But with the backing of Alderman Ed Burke and the Police and Fire Committee, the City Council unanimously approved the project. “They actually gave us a standing ovation!” 

The producers took their pilot to Laura Fleury, A&E executive producer, whom Schneiger knew from Towers.  And still another year elapsed before A&E ordered six episodes.

Production on the six episodes began last August with a sterling Chicago crew:  Line producer Tom Busch; camera Tod Lending and Dana Kupper; editors Fred Steim, Mike O’Brien, Katerina Simic, Scott Holubek and Joe Winston: post production supervisor Charlie Langrall.

Narrator is Bill Mondy and music by Steve Mullen, WalkWest Productions.

In retrospect, says Schneiger, “It was worth the effort although sometimes it was hard to see light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Carey Lundin is supervising producer of  “Treasure Hunters Roadshow” which airs on the Live Well Network. Conact her at carey@vivalundinproductions.com