BRADENTON -- A glamour goddess and several significant Hollywood players have joined forces to bring Bradenton to the big time:
A national television show, set in the Friendly City.
Titled “Workers’ Comp,” it’s a sitcom about screwy employees dealing with outrageous insurance claims.
And many of the wild tales will be based on real ones a local company dealt with for more than two decades.
TV icon and timeless beauty Morgan Fairchild will be in Bradenton this month playing the character inspired by a successful local businesswoman.
Most of the pilot for “Workers’ Comp” will be shot at the fictitious Pinnacle Workers’ Compensation Insurance Company.
That happens to be in the actual Pinnacle Plaza on Sixth Avenue where the local company, NELCO, used to have its offices.
It now is home to VADAR Productions.
Virginia Dorris and daughter Dori Sperko built the NELCO professional service company in downtown Bradenton into one of the most lucrative in the state before selling the operation a few years ago.
Now Sperko is president of VADAR.
Sperko’s daughter, Castille Landon, used her knowledge of the family business in creating “Workers’ Comp.”
And she did so with longtime friend and artistic collaborator Harrison Sanborn, who recently directed the independent feature film “Paradise Lost.”
Both Landon and Sanborn are only 19.
The teens’ “Workers’ Comp” script convinced David Sauers (associate producer on the 2009 Ang Lee film “Taking Woodstock”) and Mark Wooster (former Universal Studios senior vice president/legal affairs) to be producers on the show.
That’s when Sperko knew she wasn’t the only one laughing out loud at the story based on her Bradenton business.
Sauers got the teleplay to Fairchild’s manager.
The Emmy-nominated actress was impressed.
And she committed to “Workers’ Comp” in January.
“It’s phenomenal,” Dorris said in an interview last week at the VADAR Productions offices. “I love Morgan Fairchild and think she’s very talented and am quite proud.
“And if you saw a picture of me down the hall there, you would see a little resemblance.”
Her daughter seconded that.
“When Mom ran NELCO,” Sperko said, “she had long, blonde hair and crystal blue eyes just like Morgan’s.”
“Workers’ Comp” has another local link to Hollywood success: Its producer, Bradenton resident Peter Bentley, is also the sound mixer on the hit AMC show “Mad Men.”
“It felt really good when I met the kids and having it done in our backyard,” Bentley said. “It was love at first sight.”
And Sanborn’s father, Ken Sanborn, is founder/chief executive officer of Sanborn Studios LLC, which has a facility in Lakewood Ranch. VadarCorp.com lists “Workers’ Comp” as a “A VADAR Corp & Sanborn Studios Production.”
“Workers’ Comp” focuses on employees who can be as kooky as the injury claims they investigate.
Landon plays Zoe Arendes, the 20-year-old daughter of zany company owner Joan (Fairchild).
“Though Joan has several other endeavors which consume her time, she refuses to validate Zoe by handing over the reins of the company,” reads the VADAR website.
Sperko, who also is executive producer of “Workers’ Comp,” explained the difference between Pinnacle Workers’ Compensation Insurance Company and NELCO.
“NELCO wasn’t an insurance company, it was a professional employer organization. But in our 25-year history we managed more than 8,000 workers’ comp claims,” she said. “A lot of the situations are inspired by NELCO and just the industry in general.
“Virginia Dorris doesn’t believe herself to be as wacky as the Joan character she inspired,” said Sperko, chuckling. “We have to keep reminding her the character is modified to suit the artistic vision of the writers.”
Landon and Sanborn, who is also directing the pilot, were in Los Angeles last week, doing a table read with Fairchild and the other main actors in “Workers’ Comp.” They include Robert Carradine of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Lizzie McGuire” fame.
“Florida is a glorious place to be, so I can’t wait to start shooting our ‘Workers’ Comp’ pilot there,” Fairchild said in an email. “It’s always wonderful to be part of something new and inventive, and I’m sure sparks will fly!”
“Workers’ Comp” shoot dates are April 10-23. In addition to Pinnacle Plaza, locations include a private residence in Palmetto and several in Sarasota.
“This is the first pilot that I am aware of to be filmed in Manatee County, and I have lived here for over 17 years,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is truly exciting when the film industry decides to film in our community, because it opens so many endless opportunities for us as a destination.
“From a tourism prospective, the pilot will hopefully showcase our beautiful destination in a manner that helps us gain market share worldwide,” he added.
The timing for a Morgan Fairchild hit might be perfect.
The Los Angeles Times recently published a piece titled “Paging Don Johnson, Cybill Shepherd? 10 stars we’d like to see this pilot season.”
Fairchild made the cut.
“Former soap star, TV movie aficionado and ‘Falcon Crest’ glamazon, she’s the lead character in an independently produced comedy called ‘Workers Comp,’” the story reads. “The show, looking for distribution, will center on a family insurance business that processes wacky on-the-job injury claims.”
If a network comes calling, Sperko would prefer to continue shooting the show in Bradenton.
“But that’s the call of whoever picks it up,” she said. “We’d like it to be shot here and build a sound stage or do it at Sanborn Studios -- it just depends on what makes sense.”
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 745-7057. Visit his blog at bradenton.com/blogs.