Showtime for 'small town USA': Gastonia

It had all the ingredients for a hero's parade:

Adoring Americans, cheering and holding signs from the sidewalks. A marching band and color guard. A troop of Scouts. A fire truck, and cops on motorcycles flanking a 1960 Corvette that held Marine Sgt. Scott Brody, the waving, apparently grateful hero - a POW, presumed dead, but rescued from Baghdad after eight years.

Except it was all fake.

The hero's parade was actually a promotional spot for the upcoming 12-episode Showtime television series "Homeland," filmed largely in and around Charlotte. The series is scheduled to start in the fall.

The commercial was shot dawn to dusk Sunday along a half-block of Main Avenue in downtown Gastonia.

The stretch of Main represented "small town America," so on a Sunday, Gastonia had to unroll its sidewalks.

"It is perfect for our needs," said Kevin Hinds of Los Angeles, a producer for the promotion, not the TV series. "The whole town of Gastonia has been absolutely over the top.

"I wish every town I dealt with was as nice and cooperative as the people have been here."

As the story goes: The hero, Marine Sgt. Scott Brody (played by British actor Damien Lewis, who also starred in HBO's "Band of Brothers"), has returned to his wife and children and an adoring public.

Yet all is not as it seems. CIA agent Carrie Anderson (played by Claire Danes) suspects the hero may instead be connected to terrorists, and is plotting an attack on America.

Gastonia was the first location the producers saw.

"It had already hung American flags along the street, so I said 'Why not here?' " Hinds said. "But our agent said he had two more to show us."

They decided on Gastonia after looking at sites in Concord and Salisbury.

"The streets are wider here," he said.

Sunday, the cast and extras had a regional feel.

The color guard unit is a real unit from the Veterans Council of Union County. The marching band was a real band from Concord. Uncle Sam (played by Charles Griffin of Cramerton) was fake.

The "horizon blue" Corvette was real, bought in 1970 by Steve Pelchat of Charlotte. It was his first car. He drove it and Lewis in the fake parade.

The producers found Pelchat and the car through the local Corvette club.

"It's fun," he said. "Damien Lewis shook my hand. He's cool."

The commercial was shot in segments, some requiring multiple takes on a simmering afternoon.

Before each shot, Joel Piessig, the commercial's director, shouted for the crowd to begin cheering.

In one segment, CIA agent Anderson scans the crowd as the parade passes her.

The cheering crowd holds signs ("Hero" or "Sgt. Brody is a True Hero") and many wear red, white and blue blindfolds with stars and stripes - symbolizing blind patriotism, according to one of the extras.

Piessig gets the scene he wants after several takes and gives the crew, cast and extras a breather.

"If Clint Eastwood was running this thing, it would have been over two hours ago," said extra Jack Falls, a Navy and Air Force veteran and member of American Legion Post 23.

Kurt Osterhoudt walked off the set as a color guard after several redos. In life, he is a two-tour Vietnam veteran and member of the Veterans Council of Union County, which provides color guards and 21-gun salutes for military funerals as well as rides to hospitals for veterans.

He was sweating head to toe, but didn't complain.

"We've had it worse at some funerals, standing in the sun for an hour and a half," Osterhoudt said. "Besides, it's not as hot here as it was in Vietnam."