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Tuesday, May 13, 2003 02:20 pm

Dead air

Local TV producer thinks there’s a future in death

If you noticed a camera crew shooting around town this week, don't get too excited: Reese Witherspoon and Sally Fields aren't back. In fact, this is one production you definitely don't want to be an extra in--unless, that is, you have a case of progressive rigor mortis.

It's a pilot for a television show tentatively named "R.I.P. TV," and it's all about death and dying. "It's like Insomnia in a cemetery," says creator Richard Fazi Falzone, referring to the Comedy Central show that travels the nation interviewing people who stay up all night. Falzone's show would travel the country in a trademark hearse, covering everything from cryogenics labs to pet cemeteries, seeking out the mysteries or legends every little town has about its departed.

"I want to get to the bottom of this thing called death," Falzone says.

Springfield just happened to be a good place to start, since there's a museum devoted to funeral customs, the picturesque Oak Ridge Cemetery, a couple of trade associations for undertakers, and an abundance of funeral homes.

Falzone is an actor, playwright, and director who grew up in Springfield but has spent the past few decades in California. He has made one award-winning industrial film and one independent feature, My Life as a Sheep, that was screened here a few months ago during the Route 66 film festival. Even Falzone describes his feature as the kind of movie most people don't get. "A lot of people say it just isn't their cup of tea," he says. "But they do say it's well-directed."

Falzone returned to Springfield just last year to finish editing his film, to recover from a failed relationship with a platinum blonde, and to be near his folks, especially the grandparents who raised him. He says his friends in California want him to come back (there's talk of making a movie out of a play he wrote), but when he tells them about his "R.I.P. TV" project, they say, "That sounds like you."

Falzone has discovered he likes Springfield more than he thought he would, though it's tough to find enough people with the right skills to comprise even a small production crew. "That was a challenge, especially to find a sound man," Falzone says.

Pilots are, by definition, purely speculative projects, with no guarantee they'll ever be shown on TV. But Falzone claims several agents and production companies have already expressed interest in "R.I.P. TV."

"Everything in life is a long shot," says Falzone, who claims he partially financed his feature film on the winnings from a lucky day at the racetrack. "It's also about attitude. I happen to believe every day you spend above ground is a winner."