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For their own good
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TV pilot will film in Tarpon Springs
By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2007
TARPON SPRINGS - Over the years, plenty of film crews have descended on Tarpon Springs, interviewing old-time spongers, trailing diving boats and recounting the fishing town's unique history.
So having a TV crew in town isn't a huge deal.
"I wouldn't say we're starstruck, though we're certainly appreciative of the notoriety," Mayor Beverley Billiris said of a TV pilot being shot in the city.
But this time, the project has no Tarpon Springs-specific themes.
No Greek immigrants.
And its cast boasts a rising child star.
C.J. Sanders, 11, played a young Ray Charles in the Academy Award-winning movie Ray. He also was a recurring character, Anthony, on the TV show Six Feet Under. And he plays Ice Cube's son in the upcoming First Sunday, due for release in January.
The Tarpon Springs project, which he headlines, is a potential TV series about a group of kids who unravel mysteries and run their own newspaper. On a budget of $425,000, a California-based crew will shoot a pilot and first episode during 10 days in early December.
They recently moved into their temporary headquarters, an old assisted living facility behind the Police Department. Though the building's paint is faded and plaster crumbled, sheets of paper reading Kid Edition, the show's name, are taped to windows. Several rooms are now makeshift work spaces - a front office with wireless Internet, as well as makeup, art and costume sections.
It may seem slapdash, but the TV industry moves quickly.
Show producers saw Tarpon Springs for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Once they've finished shooting, they'll shop the sample episodes around to networks like ABC, Nickelodeon and Disney.
The show is the brainchild of Stacie Sanders, C.J.'s mother. His father is former NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders and the project is strongly supported by a team of professional athletes. Boxer Antonio Tarver, Steve McNair of the Baltimore Ravens and George Foreman Jr., son of boxer George Foreman, are just a few of the show's producers.
Director Jeff Prugh, who coincidentally grew up in Brandon, said Stacie Sanders wanted to create "a positive show for kids."
The plot centers around five middle schoolers, three boys and two girls, who solve mysteries and make good by sniffing out injustice and writing about it in their school newspaper, the Kid Edition.
In the pilot episode, the kids vindicate a local woman rumored to be a cannibalistic witch. In the second, they discover elder abuse in an assisted living facility where they do volunteer work.
The show tries to teach that "people from diverse walks of life can come together and make good," Prugh said.
Stacie Sanders, who lives in Los Angeles, contacted Prugh with her idea, because he had worked with C.J. on the short film Thomas in Bloom. She then bounced the concept off Tarver, a friend, and his Tampa management got on board. A producer from Miami was interested, and it made sense to shoot the pilot in Tampa Bay, Prugh said.
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Film Commission pointed the producers toward Tarpon Springs.
"They showed us a bunch of locations," all around Tarpon Springs, Prugh said. The city had most of what they needed, and "City Hall was perfect for the school."
Once shooting begins, crews will stake out spots on Main Street and, on weekends, throughout City Hall. Mayor Billiris' office will serve as the office of the school principal. The Zone Lounge will pose as a kiddie coffee shop called "the Huddle."
Though there's no guarantee the show, if picked up, will continue to shoot in Tarpon Springs, Billiris said she welcomes the exposure.
"It will highlight different aspects of our community," she said. "Free publicity is always a good thing.