It's been almost exactly two years since two Sarasota men pitched their idea for a documentary series focusing on the people, places and history of Florida to WEDU, the public television station in Tampa.
Thursday, the first of five episodes of "Diamonds Along the Highway" will premiere. Series host Gus Mollasis and director/writer Mark Reese hope the show will be successful enough to become a mainstay on WEDU and even grow to other Florida markets.
Modeled on the successful travel series "California's Gold," hosted by Huell Howser for 17 years on KCET in Los Angeles, "Diamonds Along the Highway" aims "to tell positive stories about people we admire or places we want to know something about, the history, just the sort of television I want to see," said Reese, a Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker and visual artist who has owned a home in Venice since 1980.
Howser's "come along with me" tagline on "California's Gold" is the stuff of West Coast legend (and spoof), but Reese thought Florida had just as many great stories to be told as California.
"Florida is not different than California," said Reese, whose background includes everything from an ESPN miniseries on the Brooklyn Dodgers to essays and poetry. "It has a lot of diversity; the southern part is different than the northern."
Reese tapped Mollasis, a Sarasotan who was host of "At the Movies" on BLAB TV for insights into Florida's most interesting stories. The first five are Pieter Kohnstam, a Venice resident whose family fled Amsterdam ahead of the Nazis; Gale Fulton Ross, an acclaimed African-American artist who lives and works on Siesta Key; Jack Kerouac, who wrote "On the Road" while living in a small house in Orlando; Carl "Moose" Muscarello, a Fort Lauderdale native who claims to be the sailor depicted in the Sarasota bayfront's controversial sculpture "Unconditional Surrender;" and the mystical side of Siesta Key Beach.
"We started looking and seeking the stories we wanted to do," said Mollasis. "We've got about a hundred of them. As Mark likes to say, 'There are no boring stories, there are just boring producers.'"
The series has music by acclaimed stage, screen and television composer David Amram, whose scores include the music for "Splendor in the Grass" and "The Manchurian Candidate." He and Kerouac performed live jazz and poetry together in 1957.
The series thus far has been funded personally by Mollasis and Reese. They're hoping for corporate sponsorship and, as always with public television, support from "viewers like you."
"We love this state. We think there are great stories here," said Mollasis. "Our goal is to employ some people, too."