Cruising down Main Street, New Minas, you might not notice anything unusual in the Duncan Underwood Inn watering hole, besides its amusing acronym. There's actually no alcohol on the premises; the bar is one of the sets for a new TV series shooting in town. Next door is a former Kia dealership. "Fitzpatrick Motors," reads the retro-styled sign above a selection of late-model autos, with a mural like a Soviet propaganda poster, two heroic-looking men staring into the distance, and the words "Need Wheels? Take A Look." (The younger man, is that... Jason Priestley? It is!)
"We've had people come in and try to buy cars and we've found people at our bar as well, looking for a drink," says series creator Sheri Elwood.
Call Me Fitz is a 13-episode half-hour comedy series set to air in the fall of 2010, produced by The Movie Network and Movie Central---with Nova Scotia production veterans Big Motion Pictures one of the partners---starring Priestley, Ernie Grunwald (My Name is Earl), Peter MacNeil (Copper), Kathleen Munroe (Durham County), Tracy Dawson (The Gavin Crawford Show) and Donavon Stinson (Reaper), with guest stars including Rachel Blanchard (Growing Op) and the sole American, Joanna Cassidy (Six Feet Under).
Priestley plays Richard "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, a morally bankrupt used-car salesman whose consequence-free life is complicated by the arrival of do-gooder Larry (Grunwald), another salesman who serves as Fitz's de facto conscience. Fitz might be a special kind of sleaze, though Priestley, with a little more character in his face at 40 than in his days as a network TV star, doesn't see him that way.
"Fitzie is 15, basically. So, he just makes snap decisions and does whatever he thinks is right, whatever is in front of him, he makes that next move with no thought towards what the future ramifications of his actions are going to be," he says. "And once you meet his family you understand why he is that way. He doesn't mean it!"
As a comedy made for cable, it's stuffed with outrageous humour not found on network TV, along with drug use, sex, nudity and a lot of colourful language.
"It ain't Corner Gas," remarks filmmaker Jason Shipley, working on the Call Me Fitz set as first assistant director. "It's out of the box."
"You can say cock and cunt," enthuses Dawson, who plays Fitz's sister, Megan, and also writes for the show. "We've been told by the network we can go there and it's like, 'Do you realize what you're saying to a group of smart-ass, dirty writers?'" She adds, "We're also very lucky to get to see Jason in his underwear."
The show has been welcomed with open arms by the Annapolis Valley community, with over 1,000 locals applying for roles as extras, and Elwood has heard that real estate values have received a bump up as a result of all the production rentals and spending in the area.
"I think they're pretty happy to have us here," she says, after admitting that Nova Scotia was chosen as a location for purely business reasons. "Of course, they haven't seen the show yet, so that's my biggest fear. All these nice people who are helping us out are going to watch the show and go, 'Oh!' But it's got a lot of heart."