By JEFF HARRELL
South Bend Tribune
10:05 PM EST, December 5, 2012
SOUTH BEND -- A full uniformed police officer with scars on his face and undead black eyes drags his back leg into the downtown intersection of Jefferson and Lafayette and flails his arms.
Motorists stopped at the light in front of South Bend's County-City Building can't believe their eyes. Drivers of passing cars glance with double-takes.
Is that ... a ... zombie? A cop zombie, no less?
Yes ... and yes ... directing traffic for a projected TV show shot in a world where zombies rule.
These zombies even have their own television network.
"Good," Jack Olesker shouts from the street corner in front of WNIT's studios, where more "zombies" await their own instructions.
Inside the WNIT Television front lobby, a blood-dripping placard tacked to the front of the information desk spells out the newest -- maybe the first-ever -- promise of a full-fledged television series to be filmed right here in South Bend.
"ZTV -- The Zombie Network."
"ZTV is the pre-eminent broadcast network run by zombies producing shows with zombies in it for this zombie world," Olesker, the show's executive producer and writer, says of the premise.
"The series," he says, "is kind of '30 Rock' or 'Network' with zombies in it."
If Olesker has his way, zombies will be associated with South Bend as famously as the Fighting Irish leprechaun.
But first things first.
Wednesday marked the first day in which cast members -- all locals hired through Wicked Jester Entertainment of Mishawaka and Act II Model & Talent Agency in Granger -- stepped in front of cameras in full zombie dress to shoot the show's promo trailer.
The promo for "ZTV" is being shot for Kickstarter, the world's largest funding group for creative projects, in an effort by Olesker to raise production money to film a scripted, half-hour pilot episode.
"And then I will take that, along with a series bible that explains the entire show, to the networks and the cable broadcasters and we pitch it to them in an effort to get a pickup for the 13 episodes for season one," Olesker says.
If this were Los Angeles -- where Olesker spent 19 years working as a novelist and executive with DIC Entertainment writing for such series as "The Care Bears," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and developing one of the most successful kids' series of all-time in the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" -- filming what amounts to a sales-tool demo would hardly put a wrinkle on a trade industry broadsheet.
But in South Bend, zombies or anything being filmed on the promise of a locally produced TV series is news.
"This would be a tremendous boon for the community," says Angel Hernandez, vice president of production at WNIT, citing the success of the AMC network's "The Walking Dead," which is filmed in Atlanta. "It's meant a lot of dollars for the Atlanta community.
"For us here at WNIT, it means the opportunity of producing a program of this nature, of being the work for hire that's going to be through the production," Hernandez says. "It's a tremendous boon for our staff to be involved in a project like that ... multiple cameras, lighting, great technicians, a lot of the major production elements that you see in any big-time production."
Without the hassle of producing a TV show in a big-time market.
"Shooting in L.A. has its pros and cons," Olesker says. "You get a lot of talent, a lot of professionals, but it can be a nightmare. And what you have to go through with contracts and with permits, and you can go out of your mind."
So, zombies are coming to South Bend -- if Olesker can get financial backing to shoot a pilot, and if a national network buys the product.
A tough sell? Probably, although Olesker has one thing going for him when he makes his sales pitch -- a hot commodity evidenced by a zombie film, "World War Z," due out next summer starring Brad Pitt.
"That film was budgeted at $150 million," Olesker says. "I can tell you that the studios do not spend $150 million on a project unless they've done a heck of a lot of focus-group research to see if it's hot."
It's no secret that the undead are alive and well at the box office these days.
"The appeal is that it's the darkest of dark horror," Olesker says.
Whether zombies appeal to the city's politicos comes down to dollars, cents and a network buyer.
"I'm waiting to get a pickup for a national broadcasted show," Olesker says. "At that point, I would love to sit down with the mayor, talking with the city council members, and say we're bringing a tremendous opportunity by having 15 million to 20 million viewers across the country a week watching the show (filmed) exclusively in South Bend.
"My belief is that the upside for the city will be tremendous."
Staff writer Jeff Harrell:
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