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Staying a spell: New Fox action-comedy cop series begins six-month stretch, with Dallas Fair Park as home base

Former West Wing-er Bradley Whitford will sport a stache for his new role in a Dallas-made Fox series. He's pictured here during the recent Television Critics Association "press tour." Photo: Ed Bark

PASADENA, Calif. -- Bradley Whitford's old-school cop character won't be living in a van down by the river when production on a new Fox action-comedy series begins Tuesday in Dallas.

But he will hunker down in an Airstream RV near a Fair Park ferris wheel. And the former co-star of NBC's The West Wing had better get used to it.

Code 58 (working title) will have its principal stages on the Fair Park grounds, where 13 episodes will be filmed in the next six months. The series already has an announced premiere date -- May 12 -- and is the main attraction of Fox's effort to ramp up its summertime programming.

"It's incredible. We can do so much stuff there," says executive producer Matt Nix, also the mind behind USA network's Burn Notice series. "I can totally geek out about how awesome it's going to be. To have stages where you can actually do a car chase -- it's ridiculous because it's so huge."

Whitford plays Dan Stark, a throwback detective lauded for saving the governor's son 30 years ago. Now he's a largely forgotten drunk who finds himself teamed with the considerably younger Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks), a snarky under-achiever who's also been sentenced to a life of mostly solving petty crimes.

"Suddenly I've gone from thinking I'm a young actor to feeling like Ernest Borgnine," says Whitford, who played presidential advisor Josh Lyman for the full seven-season run of West Wing. "The one thing I do share with this character is I think I have a bright future behind me."

The working title, which Nix says will be changed, refers to an actual Dallas police code for routine investigations.

"In Japan, we're hoping they're going to call it Opposite Buddy Cop Show," cracks Hanks, son of Tom Hanks and lately a recurring regular as a Catholic priest in AMC's Mad Men.

On-location shooting in Dallas and environs is scheduled to stretch all the way to July, making Code 58 the biggest boon to the area film industry since Fox's Prison Break. ABC also settled in relatively briefly last fall, filming several episodes of the legal drama The Deep End, which otherwise is set in L.A.

"I make it a practice to only set shows in cities I've never visited," Nix says. "So I had never been to Miami before Burn Notice. And I had only been to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport before putting this in Dallas."

Whitford's character lives in semi-seedy splendor.

"The conceit is that when the State Fair's not running, he just sits in an Airstream trailer about 40 feet away from the ferris wheel," Nix says. "So it's a lot of production value. It's not upscale Dallas at all, although we'll see hints of that. We're not portraying Dallas as scummy and crime-ridden by any means."

Still, it's decidedly not the Ewings. Nix instead lauds Dallas as a city that has both highly accomplished film crews and "this classic cop show look, down to the power lines in the streets and old brick buildings. You walk around there and think Starsky and Hutch or T.J. Hooker. It is a great city to jump on the hood of a car."

Whitford, who recently separated from actress Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm In the Middle), has grown a mustache for the role and thinks the character needs one.

"Women are very creeped out. I don't know if it's Boogie Nights or what," he says. "And my kids hate it . . . My growing this mustache, I gotta say, it reminds me of a lot of the work De Niro did in Raging Bull."

Hanks and Whitford during Code 58 session. Fox photo

Both Whitford and Hanks also will have to get accustomed to living in Dallas. Whitford, a native of Wisconsin, says he "spent my youth going down to Corpus Christi" visiting his uncle and cousins but has "never really stayed in Dallas for any length of time."

Hanks has been in the city for a "couple of press junkets" and spent a "night or two in Fort Worth not too long ago."

"Shooting on location is never particularly easy," he says. "Especially if you just moved into a house four days before you found out you're going to be moving again. But that's part of the gig . . . and Dallas seems to be a fantastic place to shoot. In a strange way for us, it's kind of like the circus rolling into town. . . It's the hard part of the job, but it's also the fun part. You get to explore new cities."

North Texans in turn can do a little star-gazing, whether the show is filming at Fair Park or maybe down the road in Waxahachie or McKinney.

"This is something that Prison Break discovered," Nix enthuses. "Within 30 miles of Dallas you can shoot anything. You can get into the middle of nowhere and you're just outside of town. It's fantastic."

Enthusiasm duly noted. Now let's get on with the show.