PASADENA, Calif. — After 16 years playing a police lieutenant on "Law & Order," actress S. Epatha Merkerson is turning to some real-life crime stories.
Merkerson is the narrator for "Find Our Missing," a series that debuts Jan. 18 on the TV One network. It tells stories about black Americans who are missing, hoping to turn up clues that can solve some of the cases.
The series was born out of a pervasive feeling among many blacks that their missing-person cases don't get as much attention as missing-person cases involving whites, particularly attractive young white women.
"The local and regional press does a good job," Wonya Lucas, president and CEO of the cable network aimed at black viewers, said Saturday. "The national press doesn't really cover these stories to the extent that they should, and that's a void that TV One will now fill."
Each hour focuses on two separate cases. Besides Merkerson's narration, producers fill time by re-enacting some scenes with professional actors.
Two people missing since 2009 are featured in the first episode: Pamela Butler, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency who disappeared from her Washington, D.C., home; and Hasanni Campbell, a 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy from Oakland, Calif.
"We are painfully aware that these are not just stories," said Donna Wilson, executive producer of the series. "These are people's lives."
Blacks account for 12 percent of the population yet are involved in about a third of the country's missing-persons cases, said Toni Judkins, programming chief at TV One. The network is available in some 56 million homes, or about half the ones that have TV.
Producers are working with the Black and Missing Foundation in helping to bring the cases to light.
The show will encourage tips to law enforcement, hoping to break down some of the attitude that makes people feel like snitches, foundation president Derrica Wilson said. She and the series producer are not related.
Merkerson said she became involved because she realized many of these cases needed the attention.
"It's important for me to give back to the community that has given so much to me," she said.