Now that we’ve had 25 Hill, the Soap Box Derby movie, Corbin Bernsen is talking about Soap Box Derby: The Series.
“I’d really like to create a TV series on the circuit of the Soap Box Derby,” said Bernsen, writer, director and co-star of 25 Hill. “Like, we’d take the 12 regions and, like American Idol, anybody can come to that region to qualify.”
The top two performers in each region in stock, super stock and masters divisions would advance against the top finishers in the other regions, leading up to a grand finale in Akron on the Sunday after the Saturday completion of the All-American race.
“And maybe even live [on TV], depending on who would buy it,” he said during a freewheeling chat at Derby Downs on Wednesday.
And what would make it happen? Bernsen thinks there are some built-in production advantages, including that all the tracks and racing facilities are already built.
But, he added, “what it really takes is somebody wanting to air it. On the other hand, you go and make it and try and sell it. That’s a cool thing, but not really the way to go.”
Of course, Bernsen has figured out how to make things work before, including with 25 Hill, which began as an idea he had after reading about financial troubles facing the derby. And just talking about a TV series motivates him. “I put it out there only because, when I put it out there and kind of see it in print, it kind of makes me go out and do it.”
Even a year after the local premiere of 25 Hill, the derby and Akron are a strong part of Bernsen’s life and work. He has shot a second movie, 3 Day Test, in Akron and “we just finished the edit … We’ve got the film down to a nice, rollicking 95 minutes or so. And it’s going to be the same distributor as 25 Hill. It’ll be for Christmas, and we’ll start our big sort of blitz in October.”
Support for derby
And, while the derby is now on much stronger footing, notably from the backing of FirstEnergy Corp., Bernsen would like to see even more — including bigger crowds at Saturday’s event.
“I would love for Akron to turn out, even if it’s just for the opening parade,” he said. “That would be awesome, to show they really care. And next year, I promise I’m going to try to get some celebrity power here, too, to get a little bit of that nostalgia like the old days,” when TV and movie stars routinely attended the derby.
25 Hill, for that matter, began national distribution on DVD in early July. Bernsen said he will see how sales have gone “in the next week or so.”
“I feel like the buzz is incredible about it,” he said. Earlier this week, he was at the International Christian Retail Show in Orlando, Fla., for a screening of 25 Hill “and people were just crying and applauding — and these are the people who put it in their bookstores and stuff. …
“This is just getting really nice feedback. I’ve seen the movie at least 100 times, for real, and it kind of gets better and better, like a wine that’s been opened, like the country needs this. It needs the movie. It needs the Soap Box Derby.”
INSP, the Inspiration Network, will be showing 25 Hill at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday. (INSP is on Time Warner Cable Channel 387 in Akron.) And Bernsen was interviewed for a segment about the 75th running of the derby, tentatively scheduled to air on CBS Sunday Morning on Sunday.
“This time in life, it just seems so important to me to just keep reinforcing the notion of community, and family,” Bernsen said. “The power of community and family coming together for common purposes — it’s amazing what they can do. … We’ve seen what’s happened in the political world with the bashing, left/right, conservative/liberal. It’s brutal. And it’s the antithesis of what we need.
“When I go and visit these derby cities … I see people that are on both sides of the aisle. I see people, some who are liberal and some conservative, some who go to church, and some don’t. … That doesn’t stop them from respecting one another. And I think that comes from having this other thing, like the derby … [with] give and take. The truth is, nobody is absolutely right. I’m not saying it’s always in the middle, but there are pieces of both that make sense.”
More plans for Akron
Bernsen would like to shoot more movies in Akron. “There will be something,” he said. “There’s a romantic comedy that I’ve been hinting at and I’m trying to put together. … There’s a great infrastructure that we have here already. Everybody knows I love the town. Ohio’s got this great tax incentive, which makes it really doable. … It’s my little home [film] making town. …
“I haven’t been able to shoot enough of other stuff around here,” he said. “To get out into the woods and the farmland and all that. I’d love to do something using a little bit greater scope of what’s here.”
And he may have some free time. At the end of the sixth season of USA Network’s Psych, in which Bernsen co-stars, his character was shot — and there’s been a big guessing game about whether he is dead. While Bernsen did show up for a recent Psych panel at Comic-Con, he joked, “I don’t know if I have a job.” When asked whether he was in a planned musical episode for the seventh season, he grinned and said, “I can’t say.”
And he enjoyed playing with expectations. “Aren’t I here today, Wednesday? [The Psych folks] are all in Vancouver. I’ll be in New York [today] and back here on Friday, so you tell me,” he said with a laugh. Then he said, “I’m trying to get them to do a Soap Box Derby episode if we get another season. There’s a big derby in Santa Barbara. … Even if I’m not a part of it because I’m dead.”
Reminded that a lot of TV characters seem to be dead but aren’t, Bernsen laughed again and said, “I got shot pretty hard.”
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, in the HeldenFiles Online blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles, on Facebook and on Twitter @rheldenfels. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.