Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Key West TV Series - aired 30 years ago this year

Next to M*A*S*H possibly one of the best shows was ‘Key West’ that aired on Fox in 1993 created by David Beaird d2019, executive producers were David Beaird, Richard Berg d2009, Allan Marcil.  Key West is about a factory worker Seamus O’Neill played by Fisher Stevens who won a million dollars on the New Jersey Lottery on March 26, 1992 (Thur).  O’Neill an aspiring author who idolizes Ernest Hemingway quits his factory job and drives to Key West to pursue his dream of being a writer.

Once there he learns that he is flat broke for the winnings have been seized for back taxes and law suits.  O’Neill begs for a job at the local newspaper the Key West Meteor run by Roosevelt ‘King’ Cole played by Ivory Ocean d2011.  Cole offers O’Neill a job sweeping floors for $4 an hour and O’Neill said that was good money.   

ERROR - The wage offered was .25 below the Florida minimum wage of 4.25 an hour in 1992.

King Cole was the blind and demanding publisher of the Meteor who said secretly that O’Neill had more talent in his little finger than the rest of the office but he also indicated the O’Neill was raw unbridled talent that needed to be harnessed and molded.

Of course there was no time line as to when this all transpired.  All we can do is surmise that the story was based in 1992 – 1993.  First O’Neill won the lottery in 1992 and was established living in Key West when hurricane Andrew hit in August 1992. 

O’Neill is befriended by several locals, Jojo Nabuli a laid back free spirited Rastafarian played by Terrence ‘T.C.’ Carson, Savanna Summer a high class prostitute with a head for business and a heart of gold played by Jennifer Tilly, Paul "Gumbo" Beausoleil the owner of a bar on the water front called ‘Gumbos’ played by Leland Crooke.  Sheriff Cody Jefferson who spent time in a Buddhist monastery and brought his beliefs in Zen to the job played by Brian Thompson. In the show Cody was the law enforcement in Key West but in reality the Sheriff runs the Sheriff’s Department for Monroe County where Key West is located.  Key West’s police department is run by the chief of the department.

Then there was Rikki a local dancer that worked at Gumbo's played by Lara Piper who lived next door to O’Neill, Mayor Chaucy Caldwell who is a recovering alcoholic with her hands full played by Denise Crosby, Dr. Reilly Clark who ran the Atlantic Dolphin Research played by Kim Meyers, Fig who worked with O’Neill at the Meteor played by Maria Canals-Barrera, Flame who was a dancer at Gumbo’s played by Jenna Grodsky.

Not everyone in the show were the shining stars of the island for there was Hector Allegria a property developer who thought he was a gangster wannabe that owned a lot of properties in Key West and was always expanding his empire played by Geno Silva d2020.

The show is a light hearted comedy / drama where O’Neill finds himself in all kinds of dilemma’s as well as the rest of the cast.  I need to point out that there was nothing violent, degrading, sexual in any of the scenes.  Even in regards to Savannah the prostitute.  There is one scene in the beginning of the 1st show where in Gumbo’s one of the dancers, Flame takes off her top but all you see is her back.  Gumbo yells at her to put the top back on.  That probably was the ‘dirtiest’ scene in the entire series.

The show was not only set in Key West but was filmed there as well for in many scenes you will see local establishments and neighborhoods.  As an example in the opening credits is a shot of the world famous Sloppy Joe’s bar where Hemingway hung out.  Speaking of which in the first show O’Neill passes the Hemingway house and wanted to kiss the ground.  In the episode ‘Act of God’ where hurricane Andrew was about to hit Florida, featured a cameo with ‘Captain’ Tony Tarracino himself of Captain Tony’s Saloon.  An interesting note, Captain Tony’s is the original location where Sloppy Joe’s was when Hemingway hung out there.

Hurricane Andrew a Cat 5 storm was in August 1992 and was the costliest hurricane recorded until Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

In episode 5 at 13:07 O’Neill gets a package from home addressed to him at the Meteor.  In episode 4 at 25:21 we see an exterior shot of the Meteor as well as in episode 9 at 9:36.  Considering that in many TV shows and movies, addresses are generally made up unless it is a significant landmark like ‘1 PP’ in Blue Bloods.  I took the address from the package that O’Neill received and put that into Google Earth and it brought me to the exact building that was used as the exterior shots for the Meteor.

Speaking of locations, I was able to drill down to where Gumbo’s Bar was located, Jojo’s home that was used in episode 4, the old Court House on Greene Street which was featured in a few episodes, the background that was used when O’Neill tried to catch a plane to get off the island in episode 7 when hurricane Andrew approached.  And several other locations.  I went over what I've found further down in the post.

Back to Jojo’s home, in a later episode, episode 8 his home was referred to as being in a house boat that was trashed in the hurricane.  Prior to that in episode 4, his home was located in the back of where Blue Heaven is at the corner of Thomas and Petronia streets.

Several of the streets in the show were not paved even where Gumbo’s was located.  Today all of the streets of Key are paved and where Gumbo’s was has grass in front of it.  Then again this is 29 years after the show aired.

There was a major error in the show that no one caught on.  In episode 10, “We The People” the Federal Government set up road blocks preventing people from leaving Key West until their cars were searched for illegal aliens.  The truth is there was indeed a road block in April of 1982 but up further north of the merger where US1 and Card Sound Road meet on the mainland.  About 124 miles from Key West.  In the episode Mayor Caldwell and Sheriff Jefferson are involved with a federal agent at the road block.  The actual event was 11 years earlier than when the date of the Meteor was shown in episode 9 and 10 years earlier when O’Neill established himself in Key West.

In another blooper, in episode 6, "The Greening" one of O'Neil's friends is sitting on the beach wearing a yellow tee shirt with 'Conch Republic' on it.  This episode predates episode 10 from above provided that the list of episodes runs in an established time line.  As such based on the shows time line the Conch Republic did not exist until episode 10.

But the events of 1982 caused the formation of the Conch Republic which was highlighted in the show, even thou the timeline was incorrect.  But it made for an interesting episode.

The cast played off perfectly with each other and brought a sense of enjoyment to the viewers.  The series ran for only 13 shows not even a full season and was canceled suddenly without any explanation.  In doing some research I learned that Key West was up against 'Roseanne' which was a heavy hitter at the time and as such Key West had no chance in surviving.

The show is a fabulous look at a fictional life being based and filmed in paradise. It is a shame that Fox and Viacom pulled the plug way too early on the show for it had great potential.  Maybe if it was shown on CBS, NBC or ABC would have given it a fighting chance for longevity.  As I understand the show still lives and is shown weekly at the Green Parrot Bar on Whitehead Street in Key West.  I just hope their copies are in better condition than the ones I’ve seen on the internet.

I learned that the original name for the show was "Sex And Politics At The End of The World" and FOX changed it to "Key West".  Personally I like that better than the original name.

One of my hobbies is to try and locate filming locations, the show Key West is no different.  It is like playing detective.  I want to thank Allan Marcil one of the producers of this wonderful show for providing me with a few of the locations.  Starting towards the east, the Atlantic Dolphin Research was filmed at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key.

Gumbo’s, a favorite hangout was filmed at the former location of Turtle Kraals for the pilot episode right off of the head of Margaret Street.   After the pilot Gumbo’s was filmed in The Boat House located at the Coconut Mallory Marina and Resort right off of route A1A on the eastern coast of Key West. 

Next O'Neil’s trailer was in one of the trailer parks located on the east side of Key West.  There are a few there and I am still trying to drill down to the exact one.  If anyone knows which trailer park, I'd love to know.

Moving deeper into the city itself, the Meteor was located at 535 Frances Street behind The
Porch of Frances Inn.

Staying on the northern side of Key West the Waterfront Playhouse located at Mallory Square was in the background in Episode 7, ‘Act of God’ when O'Neill tried to catch a seaplane ride off the island before hurricane Andrew hit.

Moving south a few streets we come to the intersection of Front Street and Fitzpatrick Street where Mayor Caldwell was having lunch at a roof top restaurant in Episode 12.  In the same episode Sheriff Cody rides his bicycle from Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street, making left onto Greene Street then a right onto Whitehead Street to stop at an open air restaurant to talk with Savannah.  I have not been able to locate that restaurant at all and using Google Earth going back to that era did not yield any positive results.

Speaking of Sloppy Joe’s, it was seen in the opening credits of the show.

We keep going south on Whitehead Street we come to then old Courthouse which was the scene of several episodes.

We continue our trip south until we come to the intersection of Thomas Lane and Petronia Street.  Behind 729 Thomas Lane was the location of Jojo’s home in episode 4, ‘Less Moonlight’ when Sheriff Cody delivers Mayor Caldwell to Jojo to be his slave for the day.  In the same episode going west a little bit on Petronia Street Mayor Caldwell was giving Jojo a ride on a three wheel bike towards his home.

On the same intersection in the opening credits we very briefly see O'Neill riding his scooter from Petronia making a right onto Thomas.  Also in the opening credits we briefly see Shamus greeting and sitting down at a table on the sidewalk with some people on Petronia right across the street from the building where Jojo’s home was.

We continue onto Whitehead Street we come to the Hemingway home and museum.  In the opening credits O'Neill is seen sitting at a table outside typing away.  In the pilot episode O'Neill and Jojo come to the museum and O'Neill wants to kiss the ground of the property all because his idol, Hemingway lived there.

Finally is the lighthouse on the corner of Whitehead Street and Truman Avenue which is seen in several episodes and in a scene in episode 5, ‘Pieces of Man’ where O'Neill is at the catwalk of the lighthouse with Savannah and he scatters the cremains of a Bertram Stoddard.

The show was canceled long before it's time.  It could have gone on for a few years very successfully for there was plenty of fodder for more episodes. I am sure a lot of people would like to see it come back, but the cast has aged and two have passed on.  It would not be the same, or would it?

In a later entry, I am going to look at what episodes the cast appear in and address the various story lines that were in each episode.

 In closing, Long Live The Conch Republic.