The Sherman Hemsley Television Pilot in 2000
I arrived in Orlando from Los Angeles in January of 2000 to produce a short presentation video to help sell an idea for a TV show starring my long time friend and associate, Sherman Hemsley. I had written the script in California, and Sherman, then in Orlando with new business associates, was happy with it. It was called Love Thy Neighbor, about Freddy Dunn (Sherman) a schemer much like George Jefferson who runs a funeral home. He raises a college aged daughter (Lark Voorhies) who has her own rock band, aided by his wacky sister (Thea Vidal), in a nice Orlando suburb. Freddy comes into conflict with his new Latino neighbors (Billy Hufsey and Deborah Magdalena).
It was funded by Garage Group Productions, an Orlando-based company, with post-production facilities provided by Century III. The size and scope of the project grew to where it was decided to produce a full blown half hour TV pilot, before a live studio audience at one of the stages at Universal. Thinking the facilities were still production ready, we found we had to “four wall” a production stage. We had to bring in a set lighting expert from Los Angeles to wire the barren studio for lights. We hired a local art director to build the sets, which were impressive, and local wardrobe, propmaster, make up and production personnel. We also cast several Florida actors. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. My long time associate from California, Gary Shimokawa, was brought in to direct. And we hired four camera persons, all female, from New York, as well as some writer associates of mine from Los Angeles to help out.
Logistics were crazy for a while, but it all came together in late April finally of 2000, and was a great success – Sherman was in top form, and there were a lot of laughs. The ambitious production came off well. The experience in Orlando was longer than I’d thought it would be, but the people were gracious. During off time, I took little excursions to Daytona Beach and Tampa Bay, I was able to go on a boat ride on one of the many lakes, and attended a spring training game in Kissimmee… not to mention all the roller coasters I could stand at Universal Studios.
The story of the production was in all the papers at the time. Unfortunately, nothing came of the project when we tried to pitch it back in Los Angeles, but it was a good show. It was a moment in time as I’m back in LA, Century III is gone,the Garage Group is gone, and sadly Sherman Hemsley is gone. – Robert Illes, TV Writer/producer
Comment retrieved from the original Orlando Memory site