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TCA: HBO's 'Detective Agency' Out of Africa

TCA ’09: Complete Coverage from Broadcasting & Cable

Los Angeles-- Africa is not the first place most networks look to shoot a new drama series, but the continent serves as a picturesque backdrop to Home Box Office’s new show, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

The producers and stars of the show, based on the best-selling book series by Alexander McCall Smith, spoke glowingly about their experiences filming the show in Botswana during a Television Critics Association winter press tour presentation Friday.

The series, produced by HBO, The Weinstein Co. and the BBC, follows the story of Precious Ramotswe – played by Grammy Award-winning singer/actress Jill Scott – who is the owner of the only female-owned detective agency in the country.

Show producer Tim Bricknell said despite very little film and television infrastructure in Botswana, the local government was very accommodating to the crew during the series’ filming.

“We were big news in quite a small town … it actually became a very easy place to film,” he said.

Both Scott and series co-star Anika Noni Rose gushed over the friendliness of the country’s people, which made it much easier for them to adapt to their roles. “I really got to be around the people of the area and take those rhythms into my person and become a part of that earth,” Rose said.

Scott added she didn’t get a complete understanding of the story and her Ramotswe character until she visited Botswana.

“There was such a gentle nature to the people that I understood why Ramotswe was so kind and so gentle and so loving, and why she wants the best for her country,” she said.

HBO president of entertainment Sue Naegle said the project – which Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films company also pursued – was both rewarding and “bittersweet” since it was one of the last worked on by esteemed filmmakers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack before their deaths last year.

“Everytime … we see one of these episodes, it reminds us of Anthony and of course his great partner Sydney Pollack,” added series executive producer Harvey Weinstein. “So the legacy lives [through the series], and that’s the great thing about our industry.”

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.