“City Hall: Toledo,” a new reality television show, will begin shooting its pilot episode on Jan. 4 with the swearing in of mayor-elect Mike Bell.
“I think this show is a great concept and will be beneficial to Toledo and Northwest Ohio,” Bell said. “It’s a shot in the arm for Toledo and is exactly what Toledo needs to put us in a positive light nationally. If done right, it means great things for Toledo.”
The show’s co-creator, Robert Russ, said he seeks to bring a positive spotlight to Toledo and highlight the complexity of city governments.
“I hope by watching the show citizens might respect the enormity of the jobs that those in city government face,” said Russ, a native Toledoan. “People will watch the show and more fully understand city government — inspiring the citizenry to contribute to their city and take part in city government.”
The reality show will follow the inner workings of the mayor’s office and city council, with stories of influential Toledoans interspersed.
“I’ve had enormous support from city council. Everyone seems to grasp the value of what we are talking about,” Russ said. “Mike Bell has been a strong supporter. He understands the value of national exposure and the ability to rebrand the city at no cost to the city.”
Bell said most everything the mayor does is in the public domain, so allowing Russ access is no issue. Bell admits there may be times when decisions are private, but as long as it won’t create problems when Russ airs the footage, he’ll be given access.
“We want people to see how government is run. There’s no story without access,” Bell said.
Although the show will focus on the entire city, the mayor will serve as the “anchor.”
When pitching the show, studios always ask if the city has a mayor who is strong, someone people want to follow, Russ said. In fiction, the lead would be written as a strong character; in reality television you need a real life hero, he said.
“Mike Bell is really a hero. He saved people from burning buildings. He had a cushy job in Columbus and gave it up to fight for his hometown,” Russ said.
The goal is to turn “City Hall” into a franchise that travels from city to city, Russ said. The show has pitched to seven different studios and Russ hopes the series will be picked up after the pilot is filmed.
Other cities were in consideration for the pilot, but Russ fought for Toledo to kick off the show.
“I grew up here. When you say ‘Toledo,’ you might as well be saying my mother’s name. I feel fiercely about Toledo and I want to see it do well,” Russ said. “I was always offended by people speaking poorly of Toledo. I want to show the country that Toledo is a desirable place to live.”
Russ credits Bell’s charisma and love for Toledo as a reason the pilot is being shot in Toledo. Bell went to California and spoke with the show’s co-creator and sold him on Toledo, Russ said.
Russ, who has eight years experience with a camera, will film the first week alone before bringing in other camera operators. The crew will spend three to four weeks shooting the pilot, with stories for following episodes being filmed in one to two week time spans, Russ said.