The posters are all over Venice, advertising The Venice Walk, which is not a new dance or a thoroughfare, but an episodic series on the Internet. Now screening at thevenicewalk.com are six seven-minute “webisodes” dealing with the adventures of a group of Venice juvenile offenders and their no-nonsense probation officer.
The offenders are seven high school students who have run afoul of the law in areas ranging from computer hacking to drug dealing to shoplifting. In each “webisode,” the probation officer, Paco, talks with a kid about her/his offenses. Each kid tells Paco that he or she is going to reform. Then we see them doing the very things they said they would never do again.
The language is gritty (too much so for broadcast TV) and the locations are familiar, with the Venice Ocean Front Walk figuring in many scenes.
This high-tech alternative to television is the brainchild of Bob Hegyes, a screenwriter, actor and director who in his earlier days played Epstein on the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter. According to him, the series evolved from an idea he had about continuing his character’s adventures.
“It started off as a project over at Warner Brothers in 1991. It was called ‘The Big Apple’ and [it was about] what ever happened to the Welcome Back Kotter character Epstein 10 years later. Unfortunately it didn’t go anywhere. It sat in my drawer for a while until two years ago.”
Hegyes’s screenwriter friend, Craig Titley, read the script and told Hegyes he’d love to help him with it. After that assist, Hegyes continued on his own, drawing on his experiences with young people for inspiration.
“I played a juvenile delinquent on Welcome Back Kotter as a young man. I played a cop on Cagney and Lacey. I worked with all these kids for three years at Venice High School [as a full-time substitute teacher]. I essentially put all these things that I know about into The Venice Walk.”
Hegyes was also inspired by observing his own kids (he has six). “They’re on MySpace and they’re on the Internet constantly. That’s where I got the computer savvy.
“I had never intended for this to go over to the studios or to do as a movie. I had always intended for it to be ‘webisodic’ in nature, that is on the Internet. I got that from my kids.
“I didn’t have any money to do the project. But I thought it was important that I get it done. So I borrowed camera equipment, lighting equipment, editing equipment. I had a friend who casts Disney projects [and he did the casting]. Everyone who was on this project was pro bono.“
Since launching The Venice Walk in June, Hegyes has received much media coverage, including broadcast TV news stories. There has been interest from companies like Sony. And Hegyes has hired an assistant to answer the fan mail received for the characters, each of whom has a MySpace page.
But while he wouldn’t mind seeing the show go over to cable, Hegyes is high on the concept of Internet TV. “This is where it’s all going to be, in the future,” he says. “Someday, all of it – TV, music, films – will be on one big screen, one system in the home.”
And on a benevolent note, 10 percent of The Venice Walk’s projected budget will be donated to the CAA Foundation’s “Drop Out Prevention Program” at Venice High School.