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Profile: “Chase Street” Creator Denny Brown
New Amazon Prime drama puts Camden city in the spotlight
By Kate Morgan

Photo: Michael Worthington

Art imitates life, especially if you’re Denny Brown. The 51-year-old Camden native is the writer behind “Chase Street,” a political crime drama that recently premiered on Amazon Prime. While the show draws on Brown’s experiences in Camden, it has widespread appeal as the story of urban America.

“It’s influenced by my past experiences being around the politics of the city growing up,” Brown says. “My dad was the vice president of the Board of Education. The first Black mayor of Camden was my cousin. There’s a ‘ripped from the headlines’ aspect of it. But there’s other stuff too, things that went on in neighborhoods that people might recognize.”

The fictional drama of “Chase Street” unfolds against a familiar backdrop. It was filmed on Camden’s streets and inside its restaurants, shops and rowhomes, and many of the actors either grew up in Camden or have some close ties to the city. “I wanted it to be authentic, have a real Camden vibe,” Brown says. “People from Camden talk a certain way, they relate to each other a certain way. I wanted to make sure that was what really came to the forefront, not just for the viewers in South Jersey, but for everyone who was going to see it as we went national.”

The story of Camden, Brown says, is even reflected in the title. There is actually a Chase Street in the city, but in this case, “it’s a play on words,” he explains. “It’s about the politicians chasing the power, the hustler in the street chasing the money, and the average resident of urban America chasing that elusive American dream.”

With the show’s debut, Brown is chasing his own dream – one several decades in the making. This is the first major writing project for the one-time Camden High School creative writing award winner.

The stories have always been with him, he says, noting that his parents were a strong influence. His mother, Brenda, taught in Camden classrooms for 2 decades. His love for the screen comes from his dad, Gary, who dabbled in screenwriting. “We’d sit down and break down movies when I was a kid,” he says, “anything from ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ to ‘Paper Moon.’”

Still, Brown’s path to a writing career took a back seat to his basketball career.

Anyone who remembers Camden High basketball in the late 1980s will know the name Denny Brown. In 3 years as a starter, he scored more than 1,600 points and led the team to 2 state championship titles. He played at Iona and Coppin State before a career-ending injury.

The idea for “Chase Street” has been in his head for more than a decade, Brown says. Still, it took time for his vision to come to life.

“The first casting was in 2014, and we shot the pilot episode 3 times,” he says. “The first one stunk. Our lead actor quit. We had to recast, shoot all that again. We finally wrapped in 2019.”

After shopping the show around to major networks, he inked a deal with Amazon Prime in late 2019, and then the waiting continued.

“Once they accept it, they don’t tell you when they’re going to release it,” Brown says. “They just release it one day.”

On July 2, 2020, Brown woke up in the middle of the night and opened up Amazon, as he’d gotten in the habit of doing. “It was 3:32 am, and it was up!”

On his social media channels, Brown posted a video celebrating the show’s release and thanking everyone involved. That included “everyone from the people at Corinne’s Place and Donkey’s, who fed us, to the residents that opened their homes for us to shoot,” Brown says. “The city embraced the project as a whole.”

Since the first 3 episodes debuted on Amazon Prime, there’s been tens of thousands of streams and a number of 5-star reviews. The drama’s repeatedly been compared to “The Wire,” an early 2000s series set in Baltimore. Brown embraces the comparison with open arms.

“To be compared to the greatest is a high compliment,” he says. “I’m flattered that people can see some similarities between us and them.”

Now, Brown says, he and his fellow producers are in talks with a major production company about taking the show’s next season to the next level. “On paper, we have 10 episodes ready to go for season 2,” he says. “Whatever happens, Chase Street will move forward.”

No matter how big the show gets, though, Brown says it will always be a show about – and more importantly, for – his hometown.

“This is for the people in Camden,” he says. “You can accomplish anything if you believe in the vision.”

February 2021
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