I wanted to be the Julia Child of the art world. I would bring fabulous art and artists into your living room — inspiration was on its way! How hard could it be to get an art show on television? It was an obvious omission and a tremendous opportunity. I had a spot for my Emmy picked out.
I started my research, and after a five-minute Google search (“San Diego television art shows”) found that San Diego had no such show. Easy breezy, I thought, and formed a game plan: I would start out locally, just like Julia, get a following, and put the art of San Diego on the map. After local (and immediate) success, I would then move to a national/international audience, all the while never forgetting my roots and pimping out our great city. I would be the artist from San Diego discovering art wherever it might be, making the art world accessible and enlightening all. I would be an ambassador for art. Soon enough, I’d be on Dancing with the Stars.
Ten minutes’ more research and I discovered that I wouldn’t be breaking new ground after all. There have been two previous successes featuring art on TV at a worldwide level. Rather than being disappointed, I decided to take this as exciting news.
The Oprah of the TV art world was Bob Ross. Mention art and TV in the same sentence and without a doubt the “man with the afro” will come up. Bob Ross was a legend; his PBS show Joy of Painting reached 93.5 million households. With his calm demeanor and smooth voice, in 26 minutes he would miraculously paint happy clouds, pretty mountains, or some other picturesque scene. Bob died in 1995, yet Bob Ross Incorporated is still successful: his art kits, video lessons, T-shirts, and instruction books sell very well.
The other tour de force was Sister Wendy, the art-history world’s favorite nun. Her BBC series Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting was a hit, and she had a large following in Europe and the States. Sister Wendy left the world of television in 1997 and now lives a life of solitude.
So, with the main competition no longer alive — and Sister Wendy focused on her prayers — I saw my opening. Painting with Prudence would take the TV world by storm! The show would make art exciting and fun. I’d travel the world looking at great art; I’d talk to artists, visit museums and galleries and fabulous locations — oh, and I’d throw in a few art tips and lessons along the way. Like Julia, I’d be a charming snob, one who would educate the world and make the arts cool.
I assembled my team. My friend Jim had recently moved from San Diego to Dallas, his head spinning from a recent divorce. Lacking a full-time job, he jumped right in. Jim came with over 20 years’ experience as a writer and creative director at top advertising agencies.
My 75-year-old mother, who lives in Boston, was also on board. In her late 60s, my mother had enrolled in a Dreamweaver web-design course at Harvard Extension. During her first class, she called me up and whispered into the phone, “I am the oldest one here — older than the professor.” I pretended shock, then instructed her to stop messing around, turn off her cell phone, and focus on the class. When she completed it, she called to proudly tell me that other students had dropped out, but she had prevailed. With credentials and no salary demands, my mom was our official web designer.
I, of course, was the “talent,” an MFA from Pratt Institute, a professional artist “with an eye for adventure,” living in San Diego. With no money, no salaries, and basically no clue, we three set to work.
Jim and I educated ourselves by purchasing a “TV Pitch School,” home-study course (pitching is Hollywood-speak for presenting and selling a show concept). The 15 audio CDs from Mark and Jeanne Simon taught us “how to pitch like a pro.” From the audio CDs we learned that a sizzle reel was mandatory.
A sizzle reel is similar to a short commercial and is used to present a show concept to networks, producers, production companies, and agents. We needed a sizzle, and we needed it soon.
Jim jumped at the chance to leave Texas. He flew west for five days of location shooting. I expanded the team and called in two additional friends to help out — Chip Halsey and Walid Romaya. Chip had graduated from UCLA in 1980 with a minor in Film Studies. He wrote, directed, and co-produced his own feature called The Groundskeeper. Now he works in real estate, and with the market moving at a snail’s pace, he had time to kill. Chip was great at keeping us focused, asking pertinent questions such as: “Exactly what are we doing here?” and “What is this all about?”
Walid, also a businessman and want-to-be reality-TV person, has a show and business called The Prince of Wines. Walid came with an abundance of reality-TV chops and graciously shared his expertise. Most importantly, Walid came with a camera.
Let the games begin.
Day 1. We began filming in my teeny tiny 250-square-foot studio in Little Italy. With three men and me in the small space, it was beyond cramped, and the men had to take turns in the studio. Jim was keen on showing the romance of being an artist. He wanted to capture every inch of the space; lighting and sound strategies were discussed and analyzed. They filmed paint tubes, brushes, paintings, and books. My terrace garden was sure to be a highlight and selling point, so the team climbed out my window and jumped onto the not-so-stable tar-paper roof to film. Horticulturists, don’t get excited: my garden consists of a few potted plants positioned to break up the monotony of the gray rooftop and cinder blocks. But Chip and Walid were pros, and they had the ladder out, shooting film from all angles while Jim kept an eye out for incoming aircraft. He shouted, “Cut — incoming!” often. I was busy perfecting my enthusiastic and welcoming hand movements, sort of a ta-da! motion meant to imply, Look, sitting on tar paper under the flight path is fabulous. Fun fun fun!